Why Gender-Specific Books Are Harmful To Kids

My first favorite book was The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food. My mom read it to me so many times that I could eventually recite it from memory. I have no doubt that all of those hours spent reading with my parents when I was little became the foundation for my career as a magazine editor.

Now, part of my job at Parents is handling our coverage of children’s books. Every day, I get boxes and boxes of books in the mail (I often have to make two trips to the mailroom because there are too many to carry!) I love poring over all the stories and pictures that will shape the minds of young kids—and maybe even change some lives.

So naturally, I was intrigued by this Let Toys Be Toys campaign in the U.K. to stop labeling gender-specific books and toys. The petition—which has been gaining momentum as booksellers and writers lend support—calls for publishers to stop labeling books for a particular gender, either in the title or on the packaging. “Telling children which stories and activities are ‘for them’ based on their gender closes down whole worlds of interest,” the petition states. I couldn’t agree more. Children should be able to decide for themselves which stories and activities they find interesting.

Here in the United States, I occasionally see a book labeled for one gender, but it’s not as common as it appears to be in the UK. Still, it’s evident that even if publishers aren’t declaring books specifically for boys or for girls, they’re still marketing some of them that way. Books for girls are covered in pink flowers and cupcakes, while boys get trucks and cars. But what about the boys who like baking and the girls who like construction vehicles? We should let children decide what interests them as an individual, rather than pushing them towards one topic or another. Besides, we should want girls to learn some science and spatial skills, and we should want boys to develop some nurturing behavior. Let’s encourage our kids to be well-rounded.

While the Let Toys Be Toys campaign is not focused in the US, we could still borrow some of its tactics. We can reach out to publishers to let them know that we want books marketed for both genders. It’s so easy to reach out through an online petition or Twitter, after all. We can also spread awareness of the issue to others. But above all, it’s up to parents to encourage their children to select stories that interest them, regardless of any social stigmas or what companies are pushing towards them.

On a brighter note, I also see plenty of wonderful books here in the office. Each month, I’m bummed that I don’t have room in the magazine to cover all the creative and imaginative stories for kids of both genders and all ages. These are the tales we want to share with our kids. Looking for a place to start? Check out our Best Children’s Books of 2013 list.

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