I’m a total, pathological book collector (I can read too). An engineer required that my house have steel posts installed in the basement for fear of a collapse. So, rarely can forty-eight hours pass by without my stopping into a book store and more often than not a purchase is made.
At my favorite Barnes & Noble store across from Lincoln Center I whiled away almost an hour yesterday before my opera performance (I was in the audience, not singing).
And I noted two books, side by side, discounted and prominently displayed. One, with a bright red cover, had the embossed title “Dangerous Book for Boys.” Hmmm. Next to it, with a, shall I say, softer colored cover was “Daring Book for Girls.” So I examined both. Their style was very much in the early twentieth century mode of children’s releases. While someone like me in the quickly darkening sunset of life recalls very well once owning many such books, I wonder if parents today largely recognize the historical allusion.
Anyway, that book for boys features a lot of information on all kinds of activities, none really dangerous unless unsupervised, that tradition associates with males on the cusp of just hitting puberty. And that “Daring Book for Girls?” Pretty bloody domestic. Most of the “daring” activities wouldn’t have fazed parents who were thrilled by the Wright Brothers breathtaking adventure.
I don’t know if these volumes will sell well. But with women on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, flying fighters off carrier decks, teaching law, battling fires in major cities and running police departments, the book for girls is rather anachronistic.
Of course there is every right to author and publish these books but their prominent display in a book store on the Upper West Side brought home how enduringly endemic stereotyping remains.
-Ralph Michael Stein