Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Dangerous Book for Boys: Dangerous, All Right

It’s long been one of my soapboxes that something vital is being lost from childhood. When I was a kid in the Fifties and Sixties, our knees and elbows were constantly covered with scabs at various points of healing. Yeah, I’m a klutz, but the main culprits were skates that clamped on your tennie runners with a key (and came off when you hit a crack, sending the wearing flying), adult-sized bikes for 6-year-olds who couldn’t sit on the seat and touch the ground, monkey bars underlain with blacktop—the list went on and on. I remember pumping to get swings up as high as they would go and then jumping out, flying down the hill on my English racer with arms and legs proudly splayed out to the sides, climbing trees to dizzying heights. Today, parents are so afraid of their children being hurt or kidnapped (and schools and playgrounds are so afraid of being sued) that kids spend most of their lives playing video games and cruising the Net.

So on one level I think the wild popularity of The Dangerous Book for Boys is great (it's also great for the bottom line of one of my publishers, Harper Collins). Its target audience seems to be twenty-something dads who never had a chance to make periscopes and trip wires, fashion their own bows and arrows or slingshots, skim stones across a lake or go fishing. Basically, this is a book to help sissified men teach their boys the manly, boys-own pastimes of yore. So what’s my problem?

I have two problems: First, I’m FEMALE, but I didn’t need this book to teach my girls how to do this stuff because I did it myself as a child. So why is this a “Book for Boys”? My second problem is the way this book is being marketed. It’s as if these activities are a secret, male-only club that not only makes the guys manly but by extension makes them essentially better than the ladies. And I don’t like the message that sends to either boys or girls.

I was already annoyed before I went to and watched the book’s trailer. It begins with the father bearing the boy off for a day of manly adventures while mom (dressed in white slacks) stands over the stove making breakfast and bleating in confused accents, “But where are you going?” We see her again later, daintily weeding the garden (still in those white pants!) and getting annoyed when the “boys” splash her. Then we see her at night, annoyed that they’re not home. But then hubby comes in and presents her with a bouquet of flowers, and all is well.

All is not well. Why isn’t this “The Dangerous Book for Kids”? Why do we have to define manliness by diminishing those of us with two XX chromosomes? My mother—now 90—was a mean baseball player in her day. In all my pictures of her as a child in the Twenties (no, I'm not a senior citizen; for some reason the women in my family don't seem to breed until they're in their late thirties), her knees and elbows are covered with scabs at various points of healing. She climbed trees and ran the neighborhood with her four brothers. Please don’t tell me that my grandparents were more enlightened than the parents of today.

Watch the trailer here.


Chap O'Keefe said...

No, I won't say it, but parents probably WERE. For a while, anyway. Go back far enough though -- say, Victorian times -- and you'll probably find females striving against the same restrictions to do things considered fit only for males. Hope you enjoy meeting Misfit Lil!

Charles Gramlich said...

Sounds like a marketing move. They want to create a feeling of "it's just for boys" so that boys will be intrigued. At the same time, girls will probably want to read it if it's "just for boys" while boys would not want to read a book that was "just for girls." Yes, it is unfortunate.

Sisker said...

The Wall St. Journal has an article about this book in today's issue, page B1. Will be glad to send you the link.

Kay Sisk

cs harris said...

Thanks for the tip, sisker. I googled it. Scary that it doesn't seem to be rubbing more people the wrong way.

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