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Fashion, friends, and fun stuff-everything is covered in this volume petite enough to fit in any girl's purse.
Bart King, the author of The Pocket Guide to Girl Stuff read this blog post and reached out to me with a nice e-mail. I think it is only fair to give him a chance to reply to this post. I asked him if I could publish our email exchange, and he was kind enough to say yes. So here you go!
EMAIL FROM BART KING - AUGUST 3
You caught my attention with the title of this blog post, but I was a little surprised at your analysis of the two books in question.
The primary reason for my surprise was that while you considered the books’ Tables of Contents and Amazon descriptions, you didn’t read them. If you had, it’s possible that you might have had a slightly different opinion.
As a history lover, I believe most people like having background. So: I taught middle school for 15 years, and still visit schools regularly. I love working with kids, and as a teacher, I was in charge of my school’s reading program. Getting kids excited about reading was then (and still is) my primary professional goal.
And what I want for ALL of my students and readers is for them to be empowered, educated, and entertained.
In 2002, I was contacted by an editor about writing a book for middle-schoolers. She’d worked with me on a previous project and wondered if I had any ideas about appealing to reluctant readers.
In fact, I’d been waiting for someone to ask this, without even realizing it. The bulk of my reluctant readers were boys, and over the years, my colleagues have had the same experience. While that is anecdotal, studies show that this gender distinction in reading is the case nationwide. This is what led author Jon Scieszka (aka, the First National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature) to start his literacy program, Guys Read: http://www.guysread.com.
The question I asked myself: “Can I write a book so irresistible, boys who are reluctant readers will find it engaging?”
The Big Book of Boy Stuff (2004) was my answer to that question. And I was surprised when my editor then asked to write The Big Book of Girl Stuff. After all, I’m the wrong guy to write that book — as is every EVERY guy.
So I declined the offer.
But my editor asked if I let my students off the hook so easily when they were presented with a writing assignment they didn’t think they could do.
“Humph,” I thought. And despite my gender disenfranchisement, two things made writing the book possible:
1. I got a lot of help (as described below).
2. I took a leave-of-absence from teaching to devote myself to doing the best job I could on Girl Stuff full time.
Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that the CEO of the book’s publisher is a woman. And I'm almost certain that every one of The Big Book of Girl Stuff’s editors, designers and publicists (and the book’s artist) were women as well.
Anyway, I asked 55 of my former female students (most of whom were in high school and college at the time) to help contribute to, edit and proofread every chapter in the book. The vast majority of my ideas came from interviews and correspondence with those young women—as well as from my five sisters (whose input you were happy to wave off).
Girl Stuff came out in 2006. The two pocket guides you saw are adapted versions of The Big Book of Girl Stuff and The Big Book of Boy Stuff. Keep in mind, those source books are sizable, and contain a wide range of material. Both books have heaping amounts of material on topics that have nothing to do with gender, for example, gross stuff, humor, activities, sports, practical jokes, etc.
Now, as to the book covers and tables of contents: I didn’t have final say over what material would go into these two pocket guides in question. I didn’t have “first” say, either. I wasn’t asked.
This is unfortunate, because a quick glance at their table of contents do not perfectly capture the tone, contents, and messages of their respective books. And some of the most seemingly gender-normative material did go into The PocketGuide to Girl Stuff. (I write “seemingly” because it’d appear that way after a glance at the ToC.)
As to the actual covers, when I learned Girl Stuff would be pink, I howled in disbelief. After all, I wrote a section in the book about how foolish and arbitrary these gender-based color distinctions are! (I also write about the history on this topic—for example, at the start of the 20th century, pink was considered a “boy” color, because it was the watered-down version of the oh-so manly red.)
Anyway, as with the pocket guide contents, the cover decisions were made inside my publisher’s marketing department.
So hopefully you’re getting an idea of how a “sh***y pink book” written by a “sh***y male author” came to be. Which reminds me of a conversation that took place in one of my middle school classes.
STUDENT ONE: Is it sexist to tell someone they can’t write something because of their gender?
STUDENT TWO: Duh!
(So maybe your statement should be amended to a “sh***y pink book” written by a “sh***y author”? )
John, since you mentioned the President of the United States, I’ll point out that the second chapter in Girl Stuff (“Girl Power!”) is about women in leadership. In it, I point out the then current numbers of female senators, representatives, governors, and so forth. And obviously, I dwell on the lack of a female president to date. However, I was happy to this week update that passage to:
“In the United States, there are 100 senators. Yet as of 2016, we’ve never had more than 20 female senators at any one time. There are 50 governors. But there have never been more than six female governors at any one time. There are 435 U.S. representatives. But there have never been more than 84 female representatives. So what’s going on?
“It gets worse. The odds that a boy will grow up to be the president of the United States are about 10 million-to-1. But until Hillary Clinton was elected in 2016, the odds for a girl to become president were infinity-to-1. What a rip-off!”
This change will be reflected in the book’s next printing, early next year. (And yes, I’m confident about —and happily anticipating— the election results.) And since books can be altered and edited as the years pass, I’ve been lobbying for other changes as well, including ones discussed here.
Finally, I’d like to address something else, John. On the occasions that an author writes something that I think I disagree with, I write to them. I do this for a variety of reasons, but mostly it’s in the interest of discourse. (This also explains why I read a book before I write about it.)
The way that you chose to express yourself — with an incensed blog entry — is another way to go. It’s a great way to express your free speech, though in terms of consciousness raising or starting a productive dialogue, it something to be desired.
After reading your reader comments, I have to wonder if what you were really trying to do was publicly “shame” me over the Internet. I don’t know for certain if that was your intent, so I’ll hold off on the “torches and pitchforks” jokes. Still, it’s enlightening to read Mari’s message that I’m “the perfect example of what’s wrong with society.” Really? I’ve been really off-base by being a lifelong proponent of gun control? A Sierra Club member since high school? A volunteer for Start Making A Reader Today? A guy who rides his bike as much as possible to reduce carbon emissions? Okay, enough already.)
Also of interest is the message from a visitor who senses “a new Amazon review” coming on. Sheesh, I wonder where she got the idea or reviewing a book she hasn’t read? :P
In closing, I’ll just say there are countless cases where the “shaming” approach has gone wrong, sometimes in really unfortunate ways. (Jon Ronson’s book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, provides an interesting analysis of this phenomenon.)
I hope I’ve expressed myself in a thoughtful and even-handed manner.
MY REPLY AUGUST 3