Some of you may have heard the uproar of Shannon Hale’s author visit to an unnamed small school. Hale is author of many novels, including the Princess Academy novels, Ever After novels and Austenland, to name a few. If you haven’t heard about it, you can check out her Tumblr post which explains it all. A brief explanation would be she went to the school for an author visit and was only allowed to speak to the girls. But please don’t just take my word for it. Hale has some profound and meaningful things to say about this issue and I think it is well worth your time to read it.
Some of you may be saying, “What’s the big deal? She writes books for girls. Why would boys want to hear about princesses anyway?” Which means you didn’t read Hale’s Tumblr post. Go do it now! But if you didn’t, let’s just think about this. Hale was there to promote her new book, Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters, but from her description, it doesn’t sound like she was there to necessarily talk about that book. She was there to talk about what it’s like to be an author. I’m pretty sure that is universal. And as a side note, another school that did something similar had all their students attend an assembly with a male author. The message sent is that male authors have something worthwhile to say to all students, while female authors only have something worthwhile to say to girls.
This is a poisonous, caustic message that eats at the very fabric of gender equality, and boy’s and girl’s perceptions of themselves and each other. If a female nurse came to tell children about her job, or a teacher, or a policewoman, lawyer, doctor, scientist, engineer . . . would that female only have worthwhile things to say to girls? Would parents cry foul if Johnny, who has always wanted to be a policeman, was excluded from a talk about being a policewoman? As a parent, I know I would. And as a parent I am horrified that these boys were excluded from learning what it is like to be an author.
A fellow AWer pointed out that maybe Hale or her publicist didn’t communicate what was going to be discussed. Maybe it was a misunderstanding. While this is possible, I tend to think that since Hale has encountered this before, and she’s been doing school talks for a long time, they know what to communicate at this point. Most other schools have not excluded boys from the assemblies, so why these couple of schools? And as Hale pointed out, she isn’t naming names or trying to shame anyone. It’s just about highlighting a problem that exists in our culture.
So what is that problem? Living in a small town with four boys, I have seen first hand what this is. I am far from perfect, but let me just say that I try to raise my boys in a neutral environment. That’s not to say that I go out of my way to buy toys or have them watch programs or read books that are “girl” related in the same quantity that I expose them to “boy” related. But whatever they show an interest in, it is encouraged. My almost three-year-old son (one of the twins) has a baby doll that he carries everywhere. I mean everywhere! He calls her Baby Sister, and he can’t go to bed, come downstairs, eat dinner or generally function at all without his beloved Baby Sister. He rocks her, he feeds her and covers her with his favorite blankey. My boys also have a toy kitchen and big stack of toy dishes and plastic food. It all belonged to my six-year-old until he passed it on to his twin brothers. Now I eat dish after dish of imaginary food at the hands of my little chefs. It’s probably one of their favorite toys. There’s also a doll house left over from my fifteen-year-old. I think he got it for his seventh birthday. I had my reservations about whether he would play with it, but he and his sister had hours of fun with their tiny stuffed animals living in this house. Later, it was staged as epic battles with green plastic army men and tanks. Now the twins parade little super heroes through the hallowed halls, giving them a rest in the bunk bed and letting them kickback with a wooden TV on the wooden couch.
And you know what, they still play soldiers and knights and pirates and run cars and trucks over every inch of my house. I still have to break up fights between my aggressive boys and though the twins are too young, the six-year-old and the fifteen-year-old play soccer like they breathe air. My teen kills zombies and aliens by the droves in his video games, and as far as I can tell, all my boys like girls. Not that it would matter to me.
I guess my point is, letting our boys and girls be who they want to be isn’t going to make them gay, or feminine, or masculine, or less male or female somehow. Parents need to to stop trying to make their kids be “male” or “female” and just let them be!
I see this in our community all the time, with the “Football is a man’s sport and soccer is for wimps!”, “Men drive trucks!”, and “Real men don’t cry!” There seems to be a little more leniency for girls. If a girl wants to race cars or join the military or do anything that has been a man’s category for so long, they’re breaking the glass ceiling. But if a boy wants to be a nurse, or a fashion designer or a stay-at-home parent, they are often considered less masculine. (Of course, girls still have to contend with expectations of beauty and body image, but that’s for another post.)
There’s a myth perpetrated about what real men do and don’t do, and it makes me sick. I know fathers—and mothers—don’t think they’re doing any harm by teaching their kids values that they themselves uphold, but you are. By telling your child from an early age that their is value in X, Y, and Z, but no value in A, B, and C, you may be setting them up for disaster later on. What if they really love A, B, or C, and you’ve shown them that real men don’t like that, or girls shouldn’t do that? How are they going to feel, or repress, or deal with a differing value system than yours. Rather, if you teach your children that there is value in many things, and they will be loved even if they are different from you, you’ll have a relationship that will last through hard times.
In conclusion, I think we as parents, teachers and just human beings in general, need to look at what we are teaching children with our actions. By excluding boys from this assembly, that school taught those kids that females have less value than males. That males aren’t supposed to like books written by a girl, or about girls. Sure, most of those boys are never going to read books written by Hale, but does that matter? If there were potential budding authors among those boys, they just missed an opportunity to hear a real, successful author talk about her career. And even worse than that, they were taught that it doesn’t matter.