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Genderless Baby’s Parents are Right: Boy or Girl Matters Too Much

By Madeline Holler |

scholastic book clubs, scholastic books

Genderless baby is going to have a tough time ordering books!

Judging from the comments and other posts at Babble about the family that won’t say whether their third child is a girl or boy, it’s clear the family is on to something. Our kids subjected to preconceived ideas about what it means to be a girl and what it means to be a boy from birth (from before birth, even).

Countless studies have shown that — baby in a blue onesie gets called strong, same baby in a pink onesie gets called precious and sweet. It comes from adults, traditions handed down, whatever. And it comes from marketers. I’ve ranted in this space plenty about it, a favorite example being  Target ads that featured boys squirting water guns and girls squealing with delight.

So I feel something like a broken record to call out yet another company for sexist sales tactics, but I’m going to anyway because (1) it’s important and (2) this time it was my kid who pointed it out to me.

Not to pick on Scholastic, but the final book order form of the year included a page called “SeeSaw’s Favorite Boys & Girls.” Boys books on the left side (green background), girls books on the right (pink/purple … sigh). There’s a Classic Boys Chapter Books Pack and a Classic Girls’ Chapter Book Pack. Boys get Runaway Ralph, The Chalk Box Kid (never heard of it) and Encyclopedia Brown. For girls, there’s Charlotte’s Web, Pippi Longstocking and Ramona Quimby Age 8.

The boys is billed as “three page-turning classics you won’t want to put down!” and the girls gets written up as “three of the all-time best chapter books — ever!”

True. All of it! Except for the part about these books being gender specific. I loved Runaway Ralph and the Encyclopedia Brown series. So did my husband. I’ve never really cared for Charlotte’s Web (I know!) but plenty of kids — both genders — have been really moved by it. Pippi Longstocking isn’t just a girl’s book, either. That girl’s a freak and kids know it.

So why the division?

I know our kids are very, very used to having things packaged to them in this way — appealing to their gender. Making boy/girl packs boosts sales no doubt. It’s only from years and years of pointing it out to my daughter that she caught the boy’s pack thing. But I think it’s a real disservice to our kids to let it happen uncommented on. I know Scholastic has money to make — and this is what kids look for. But only because we’ve taught them too.

There’s nothing stopping me from ordering the boys’ pack for my daughters, I realize. But what’s frustrating to me is that the message is plenty clear to them. My years and years of lectures may have made my girl more aware that this is how she’s thought of in the marketplace, but the message that she is first and foremost a girl still gets through in other ways.

Mercifully, The Great Brain series never shows up, so I get to market those to my kids (I still have my copies from childhood). One girl down, one to go with those. I loved those books as a little girl and never once thought I was crossing some sort of line — or making a statement — by reading them. I’m not sure that’s what it feels like for my kids (0r yours).

So, to the genderless kid in Canada and his/her very motivated family, I love what you’re doing. Maybe Scholastic will tailor a special Classic Genderless Chapter Books Pack for little Storm.

Photo: ginavinevetto via flickr

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About Madeline Holler


Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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6 thoughts on “Genderless Baby’s Parents are Right: Boy or Girl Matters Too Much

  1. Amanda says:

    You really “love what they’re doing”? Really??? Speaking out against gender sterotypes and being open-minded when it comes to toys, books, etc. is one thing. But screwing with your child’s future psychological well-being to make a political statement is quite another.

  2. Maggie says:

    Maybe StrollerDerby could consider making it easier for parents (and others) to speak gender-neutrally by beginning to use one of the experimental pronouns proposed to replace the awkward ‘he/she.’ ‘Ze’ is increasingly frequent on college campuses. You could look it up.

  3. lam says:

    I’m with you, Sierra. It’s a pain in the ass to shop, too, with all the gender separation of clothes, toys, and books. It’s infuriating to have these messages of gender specific interests and values (strength, beauty) directed at my children. I don’t think these parents are scarring their child for life by de-emphasizing gender. And we can’t ignore the connected issue of expected sexual identity that follows gender stereotyping. I think giving their child some more room in these regards can’t be a bad thing.

  4. Ri-chan says:

    Eh, I always read whatever I wanted in school, there was a bigger stigma on reading itself than WHAT I read among my peers lol. The books you listed, it sounds like the “boy books” have male protaganists and the “girl books” have female protaganists, which may be a good way to help children connect to the main character and want to read more…

  5. Anony says:

    I would guess that Scholastic’s motivation behind the boy/girl marketing is based on their own market research. When I signed up to purchase my son’s books online (if you do, you help your classroom earn free books, by the way), they asked if he was a boy or girl. No other personal info – the classroom was already enrolled by his teacher, so they knew the age. So now they look at what boys in first grade purchase the most. And they look at what girls in first grade purchase the most. Then they put together their ‘suggestions for boys’ and ‘suggestions for girls’, based on what, historically, has sold the most and is most likely to appeal.

    As for the parents messing (or not) with Storm’s psychological development… If they want Storm to be truly ‘genderless’, and to be raised in a completely ‘gender neutral’ environment, are they also not referring to themselves as Mommy and Daddy? Because those are gender assignments. Are Storm’s brothers not referred to as “brothers”, rather “siblings”? And do they ALWAYS not use any kind of pronouns other than “they” or “we” when discussing almost anything personal? Society gives gender clues everywhere – it’s not just about preferring pink over blue. Gender is a part of our identity, and that is not a bad thing. I feel really sorry for that child.

  6. Andrew says:

    Empirical evidence clearly shows that girls and boys ARE different, and not just physically. Any honest parent can SEE that. So why is it wrong for businesses to notice the OBVIOUS and market appropriately? Madeline Holler is simply trying to promote a vision that conflicts with reality. Welcome to liberalism 101.

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