Last week I walked into my local library looking for children’s books to inspire me for a project. I was looking for something children could be inspired and motivated by, even in the smallest of ways. It may seem like a lot to ask but a positive message of hope, achievement or fun was all I wanted. But mainly I was looking for something without boundaries. It was a task I found hard to achieve.
Books have always been a great source of enjoyment for me, I favoured Owl Babies, Not Now Bernard and anything that featured a dog when I was young. I went on the read anything and everything, I carry something to read with me all the time and never want to lose the faith I have in reading. However wandering around the library really made me look, I searched through every shelf to try and find something that didn’t send some kind message of restriction. When I say restrictions I don’t mean the sensible kind that prevent you from running into heavy traffic or being hurtful; I mean the messages that are sent that tell children in particular that they can’t achieve something.
I couldn’t look past the books that screamed BOYS DON’T CRY and GIRLS CAN’T PLAY WITH TRAINS though they may not have directly said it, to me it might as well have been the title. There was a princess cookbook that was entirely made up of women and girls cooking for family parties while the men waited patiently on the plaid rug. There were books on playing sports with heavy focus on the importance of achievement in football over all else, only featuring boys. In short it was all very gendered. Each book told children that whilst a boy held a football a girl is supposed to hold a flower. Some books were picture books with these exact illustrations. What message are we sending children about their gender and what they can and can’t do before they can read?
A friend recently told me about her research into Self-efficacy, what we believe we are capable of. She said that if we believe a task is too difficult we have low self-efficacy because we believe we are not capable of completing it, this is often surrounded by negative thoughts and anxiety. Perhaps I’m making a big leap here but if we constantly tell children from a young age that they cannot do something then this will reflect upon there adulthood. If we tell girls that only boys become astronauts then surely they begin to believe that they are not capable doing it because they have low self -efficacy. This surely should not be the promoted ideal.
This is not the fault of the library I visited, I have since wandered around a variety of bookshops and other libraries only occasionally finding gender diverse books with opportunities galore. Maybe it’s hard to achieve in children’s literature. Maybe it doesn’t sell. Maybe girls would rather read about princesses and boys would rather read about fireman. But to me there should be options. Options that represent both sexes and diversity of all kind. I want to see more books available that are different, inspiring and creative, because boys can bake and girls can kick a football if they want to.