Thursday, July 28, 2016

'The Pocket Guide to Girl Stuff' Is Just as Horribly Sexist as You Think It Will Be - Updated with Author Response

Today is my daughter's sixth birthday. Let me tell you a little bit about her. She looks out for herself and others. She is a leader. She gets in a group of people and makes them feel important. She never says "look what I did," she says "look what we did." She looks at the world in ways I didn't even know existed. She is everything that is good and right about the world, and I am confident that there is no ceiling, glass, concrete or plate-metal, that can keep her from leaving her mark on the world.

This morning we took her to breakfast for her birthday. Her grandpa gave her a crisp twenty-dollar bill to spend on whatever she would like. At the front of the restaurant is a small gift shop with a selection of books. That is where she found "The Pocket Guide to Girl Stuff" written by, of course, a male named Bart King.

Here is the vomit inducing Amazon Description :

Girls can be a mystery-even to themselves. Sometimes girls just need a little guidance and know-how. They get that and more with Pocket Guide to Girl Stuff. Acclaimed author Bart King delves into the secret world of girls-with the help of his five sisters and fifty other girls, of course. 

Girls can: 

Take the Friend Test to see how their friends rate. 
Discover their celebrity name! 
Learn the greatest, super-duper amazing diet of all time! 
Figure out why boys do annoying things. 

Fashion, friends, and fun stuff-everything is covered in this volume petite enough to fit in any girl's purse.

The oh-so-helpful chapters to this conveniently purse sized tome of self-understanding for my daughter included, "Chapter 1 - Boys" and "Chapter 2 - Friends, Cliques, Secrets and Gossip." I took a couple gulps of air, choked back some profanities and came up with...

"Yeah, we're not getting that book."

"But says it is for girls."

Stevie stepped in. "Any time anything says it is just for girls or just for boys you should leave that thing where it is and go find another thing. This book is stupid."

"It's not nice to say stupid, mom."

"It may not be nice, but this time it is right."

She was right. The book was stupid.  The Boy version was just as stupid. Where girls got a chapter on boys, boys got a chapter on "experiments." Let me type that again so it can sink in. Boys got science. Girls got boys. What the EVER-LOVING F*CK?? Also.. let's not even start to unpack the "boy" chapter titled "weapons."

This book was not written in the 50's. It was written in 2009. Bart King is an actual person who thinks this shit is OK.

It is not OK.  I don't care how many of his sisters Bart asked.

I try not to get too riled up about the general stupidity of the world, but this really got to me. This waste of paper found its way into my daughter's birthday, just like crap like this is going to work its way into many of her days from here on out. I almost bought the book just to throw it away. I wish I could buy all sexist shit out there and throw it away. 

I shouldn't have to tell my daughter that girls are more than boys and gossip. That is not a lesson we should need to teach. 

My daughter is and will be more than boys and gossip. She may have to claw her way through a world of shitty pink books by shitty male authors to do it, but I have faith in her. Why? Because I see the strength of my wife in her, who is willing to call stupid things stupid. I see the resolve of her grandmas in her, who have shown her what a lifetime of work and dedication can build. And most of all, I see her in her. She is a singular and self-contained ecosystem of awesome. She is the beginning of all things her. 

On the car ride home from breakfast I mentioned that for the first time ever, a girl is very close to becoming President of the United States. She shrugged it off as if it were as normal as the orange juice she had with breakfast. 

I like that. I like a world where pink purse books are stupid and women presidents are normal. 

Happy birthday, daughter. The world is yours. It's not perfect yet, but you're helping.


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!


Dear John,

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.

I did.

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:

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?

(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.


Bart King

Bart King 


Hi Bart, 

Thanks for the kind and thought out e-mail. You're right.  I didn't read the whole book, but I did thumb through the chapters and read more than the chapter titles. I was not impressed with what I read, and when I saw the description on Amazon I was even more sure that a deeper reading was not required. But hey, I have been wrong before and am open to that. If you would like me to do a thorough reading and a longer review, I'd be happy to give the books a second look and write another post. I'm not going to purchase it, but if you have review copies available feel free to send one my way. Perhaps there is more inside that I missed.

That said, I think criticism of the way the book is presented and organized was fair, even if it was angry. A guide for girls organized by gossip, boys, beauty, hair, and shopping? Come on man. You've got to know that is shoehorned, stereotypical, and yes... sexist. Dieting?? Ugh... sorry. Getting riled up again. 

Anyway... your points about public shaming, how I choose to express myself, and my incensed blog entry are fair and well received. My intent was to vent my displeasure with the books, not to shame you personally. I can see how it came across poorly and apologize for any pitchfork pokes that came your way. You seem like a nice guy, and your taking the time to reach out only drives that point home. Also, I agree -  Ronson's book is excellent.

If you would like, I would be happy to add our correspondence to the end of the post and mark it as updated. I think you have a right to defend yourself, and to call me out for rushing to judgement. Let me know. 

Thanks again, 



We emailed back and forth a few times after that, but this was the meat of our exchange. He is sending me a full copy of the book, and I will be sure to follow up with any new and exciting revelations. Thanks for reading!



  1. You should send this article to Bart King! My girl just turned four and I am already on the lookout for horse shit like this to keep away from her!

  2. "I like a world where pink purse books are stupid and women presidents are normal." Well said, John. Peace, and keep up the excellent work.

  3. My youngest daughter is 14 and would probably laugh this off. She's very sure of herself and has never bought into all this stereotypical horsepoo.