When Cate Blanchett accepted her Oscar a couple weeks ago, she told the world that movies with women at the center are not a niche market, that those movies make money. I couldn’t agree more. And it’s not just my opinion, or Blanchett’s, of course. “Catching Fire” starring Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen is the highest grossing movie of 2013 while “Frozen,” starring sisters Elsa and Anna, just crossed the billion dollar mark in worldwide ticket sales.
So why do we still think of women and girls, one half of the human population, like some kind of special interest group? As the mom of three young daughters, I am particularly frustrated by how this gender myth– that boys won’t engage in media about female protagonists– is perpetuated in kidworld, where stores like Target or Toys R Us divide merchandise into generalized and stereotyped boy/ girl aisles and On Demand categorizes TV shows starring girls into a separate group.
There’s another place we really need to stop segregating kids and that’s in the girl empowerment community. There are so many great “best of” lists that go around the internet featuring media with strong girls, but too often, there’s a persistent preposition problem: books about girls are promoted as for girls. Books about girls are for everyone.
New York Public Library’s site just put out a great list featuring books like Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake, and Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat, among others. Typically, this is how the list is headed:
Girl Power: Books for Bold Women.
The listmaker goes on to introduce her amazing books with this qualifier:
Smart, strong women deserve books filled with smart, strong female characters. Luckily, there are many books with protagonists who speak out for justice, make courageous choices, and know that womanhood is beautiful. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of recommendations for the woman who expects her fiction to be as bold as she is. From Haitian short fiction to literature of the southern immigrant experience, these books will make you believe in girl power.
Smart, strong people deserve books filled with smart, strong female characters.
If I didn’t see this happen so many times, I wouldn’t blog about it, but here’s the thing: I’m grateful dedicated people are making these lists, but as long as we keep segregating the fiction world, we’ll segregate the real one. Please, keep an eye out for how often you see media about women and girls marketed as for women and girls. If you’re a parent, please seek out books, movies, games, and apps featuring powerful female protagonists for your sons as well as your daughters.
Update: Please sign the petition from Let Toys Be Toys For Girls and Boys asking publishers of children’s books to stop marketing to books to girls or boys.