It is with great trepidation that I wade back into reviewing another gendered book about children. The last time I did this, (and for the same publisher, too – Hello, HarperCollins publicist, Felicia Sullivan!) I reviewed a book called Home Team Advantage, a book about the importance of getting mothers involved as sports coaches for youth athletics. Although the concept is something I can get fully behind, I found her point of view regarding girls’ sports to be so radically different than my own that I ended up coming down a bit harshly. For full background, I played serious junior tennis when I was a kid, got a college scholarship, national ranking, even played in a few professional tournaments on the satellite level (like AAA baseball). I played against hundreds of girls over a period of 12 years, and was on the high school track team, and the girls I played against played to win, not to discuss their feelings and braid each other’s hair or whatever her view about female athletes is. (It is possible I’m being a bit unfair here. She wasn’t that bad, but she did quote James Dobson as an authority figure on child-rearing, so you see how we wouldn’t necessarily see eye to eye on a few things.)
Anyway, I wrote the review, I posted the review, I pissed off quite a few people with that review. Mostly moms who bought into the Mars/Venus bullshit and thought I was an asshole, which is fine. I am an asshole, so I don’t begrudge anyone their accuracy, even though I may not agree with the methodology they used to arrive at their conclusions.
Quite a few of them got a bit personal, and decided to ignore the really long intro I wrote in the review where I described in exacting detail my extensive childhood athletic history, and focus instead on the fact that I own a sex toy store and told me I had no right to review the stupid book because of that. And one overzealous mom decided to go to other blogs and link my review and call me a child molester.
Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the internet at its finest.
I haven’t learned a damned thing, you Mars/Venus moms, so suck it. I’m reviewing another gendered book, this time Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden’s Dangerous Book for Boys, and I’ll get this right out of the way: Hal Iggulden is a bit of a nitwit when it comes to the gurlz.
I think we’ve come through the period when we said boys and girls were exactly the same, but they’re not. Boys and girls have different interests, different ways of learning, and there’s no real problem in writing a book that plays to that, and says, let’s celebrate it. Let’s go for a book that will appeal to boys.
Who’s the “we” who said boys and girls were exactly the same? Was it Conn and Hal? Because it wasn’t me. I think this is another case of someone saying “not really that different” and other people hearing “exactly the same.”
Then there seems to be the issue of a number of women saying, “We like that sort of thing, too,” and Iggulden sticking his fingers in his ears and saying, “No you don’t! No you don’t! La la la la la la I’m not listening to you!”
My problem with this silliness is that kids, when they’re little, try to live up to adult expectations. If you’re coming down heavy handed with the gender divisions of girls-do-this and boys-do-that, kids will think that girls do this, and boys do that. When they’re older they may outgrow it, but early lessons are often learned well. I do wonder if the fact that girls don’t very often have a mentor who will show them how to make a water bomb or a battery or a paper boat, and the assumption from the get-go is that there’s no point in showing girls how to do any of that stuff because they won’t like it, causes us to create a bit of our own reality that has nothing to do with “hardwiring” and every bit to do with cultural expectations.
**Tangent – Another personal anecdote in a sea of personal anecdotes: Last year at the birthday party of my older son, Alex, I got engrossed in putting together a race track that he’d received. The track came with instructions that looked like it had been run through Babelfish and back again, so it was slow going. My mother, after watching me mutter for several minutes, began this relentless campaign to get me to stop doing it. Instead of saying, “I didn’t come over hear to listen to you swear at a piece of plastic track. Put it together later,” she said, over and over, “You should leave this for the men to do. They’re naturally better at that sort of thing. Let them do it.” And when I started putting the stickers on the pieces to see if that would help direct which piece attached to what, she started laughing and said, “Decorate it with stickers! That’s something you can do!”
Internet, I love my mom, but I wanted to kill her. And I put that fucking track together, too. And got buzzed on Heineken while I did it. And then Alex broke it in the first ten minutes of playing with it.**
That being said, I’m equally snippy over the people who keep saying things like this book “allows boys – but not their sisters – to learn how to play marbles…and build tree forts.”
I’m pretty sure we girls are allowed to read it. I don’t think anybody’s going to come along and snatch it out of our delicate, manicured hands. Which is great, because this book kicks so much ass I think everyone should buy it. I seriously cannot say enough good things about the book itself. It really has everything, from the previously mentioned water bomb instructions* to gift wrapping, marbling paper, and poetry (quel butch, no?) to famous battles and true-life tales of derring do. So much is cool in this book that I keep wanting to add to the examples I’m giving. Bugs! Stars! Codes! Invisible Ink! Grammar lessons and Latin (for reals)! Seriously, Latin.
And my four year old has gone completely apeshit for it. The photos I’ve peppered the review with here are of him learning how to fold paper airplanes and tie a reef knot. (Even though I did get the memo that I’m not supposed to be interested in this kind of stuff, I have to admit I got a real thrill when Steve came home and Christopher ran to show him his airplane and his mad knot-tying skills and said, “My Mommy taught me how to tie these knots!” Hee!)
Parents! Spinster Aunts!: The section on knots kept him quiet and busy for 3 1/2 hours.
It has an old-fashioned, visually appealing cover, which lends well to the straightforwardness of the text. And here I give props to Iggulden: he’s gotten the tone exactly right, breezy and gentle, not drowning in self-awareness or cynicism, and, despite what I may have led you to believe with my griping about his weirdo attitudes, it’s not remotely macho or posturing. It’s just a really, really excellent book that features the very, very best parts of being a
*Steve and I got into a gi-normous fight yesterday when assembling our water bombs. Of all the how-tos, the water bomb instructions were by far the weakest. Steve, being a former boy (!) has had experience in this arena, and was trying to help me assemble it, and we had to throw the instructions pretty much out the window, because they suck. His way of helping was to snatch the paper out of my hand and do it himself.
“That does not help me learn,” I told him. “What helps me is if you show me while I have my own piece of paper so I can fold while you are folding.” And he wouldn’t give me back my piece of paper! So I had to get another sheet and give him my old one, and he tried to take that away, too! Then he said that out of 7 billion people on the planet, I am the only one who takes issue with his teaching methods. Internet, tell me this is not true.
Anyway, I wanted to kill him until the absurdity of two 40 year olds fighting over the right way to make a water bomb finally got to me and I cracked up, which caused Steve to prematurely declare victory. Most married couples fight over money. Not us.
Dangerous Book for Boys
by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden
May, 2007 by HarperCollins
Hardcover, 267 pp
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