Boys vs. Girls [UPDATED]

UPDATE (1/9/2013): It’s been over 2 years since I wrote this but all of a sudden my now 4 year-old is interested in these books again. At the time I originally wrote this, I didn’t post the names of the books. I don’t know why. Anyhow, they are Treasure Hunt for Boys and Treasure Hunt for Girls.

Some VERY kind commenter, Erinaccia, sent me the following image through the comments to this post:


This is absolutely AMAZING.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, Erinaccia.


My son is nearly two.  One of his favorite things to do these days is to tell us what things are what.  In that spirit, we wanted a book that had pictures full of stuff that he could point to and identify.  We learned from one of our friends about such a book (whose name I am purposefully withholding – if you want to know it, email me).  We then learned when trying to purchase it that there are two versions: the “boy” version and the “girl” version.  In a moment of self-congratulatory and self-proclaimed progressive parenting, we purchased both, not wanting our not-yet-two-year-old son to only view so-called “boy” images.

Before you make the jump, here is a selection of the images from the two books.  Can you tell which are for boys, which for girls, and which ones appear exactly the same in both versions?

The answer, folks, is “girl”, “boy”, both.

Now, let’s compare.

First, all the images that are identical (the “girl” version first, the “boy” immediately follows).

The Jungle.

There are three figures here, a woman, a man, and, well, someone whose gender is ambiguous in the picture.  I like this picture because the person whose gender is not obvious is doing something very active: they are looking at us/the jungle through their binoculars.  The woman is also shown as being active with her net and the bug that she has caught with that net in her jar.  She appears dressed for the jungle in a uniform of some sort.  The man is simply standing, dressed as a tourist.  And he has on glasses (perhaps that is why he is still?  Because he is a nerd?).  There is a trace of pink.


The Wizard’s/Witch’s Den.

Again, not so bad.  The old wizard dude is sitting, wearing glasses, with an open book in front of him.  There is a boy to the right, perhaps an apprentice.  The witch on the left has dark skin, cool green hair, no warts, and is mixing potions.  She’s basically Hermione, right?  She is the only person in the image doing anything active.  It’s her laboratory.  I like that.  No pink but a fair amount of purple.


The Beach.

Lots of activity.  One girl (with dark skin) is out snorkeling (and waving to us), another is building a sand castle.  There are two guys in the water (one light skinned, one darker) playing with a beach ball, another is eating an ice cream cone while buried in the sand.  No pink anywhere.


Now comes the problem. Let’s compare the images that are similar in theme but are different depending on which book you are looking at. Again, the “girl” image will be first, followed by the “boy”.


The Farm.

Here in the “girl” image, there are still women who are active in the picture (three are riding horses and competing, while another stands with her trophy).  There is a guy in the shot.  He is unloading the horse from the purple trailer.  The horse has a pink blanket on with a cute little pink ribbon by the neck.  But I find this a troubling image when compared to the one below it.  Because the implication in the shift between pictures is that 1) women don’t do hard labor on farms and 2) men don’t compete in horse shows. And women do compete, they are watched, and they are judged.

In the “boy” picture of the farm, there are no women. The man on the left is still removing a horse from a trailer, but now the trailer is blue, the horse has a red blanket and no ribbon.  No man (other than the repeated trailer guy) is simply standing.  The man with dark skin and awesome sideburns in the back is roping cattle, the other two are on horseback looking as if they have just returned (the one horse is thirsty from his excursion).  There are no little flowers in the lower right or left, no banners, no pink or purple, no spectators (other than us, I guess). 


Medieval Times.

I think these images are much more stark than the one above.  The most active thing that the women are doing in the “girl” picture is holding a dog (is that a chihuahua?), waving while holding a dog and being pulled along in a carriage, and picking roses.  There are three men in this picture including the light-skinned knight on horseback (and that is a dude – see the five o’clock shadow?) and the two man servants.  There are birds! and roses! and pink, pink, pink, including pink luggage! pink gifts! pink roses! a big pink carriage!  This picture is full of privilege and money, and crowns.

In this “boy” image, the three women who appear are all there to witness the feats of their active men (the most active thing they are doing is clapping for their men).  One dude is shooting an arrow, another is performing as a jester, and two are jousting.  Nothing (not even the dresses) are pink.  There are lots of weapons, wine, and brown birds (no doves here).


The Bedroom.

Again, stark contrast.  First and foremost, the girl’s room is PINK and the boy’s is BLUE.  The kids on the left side of the images are both reading books.  The boy on the right is playing with a train set, the girl with a tea set.  Girls have mirrors, dresses, pictures of ladybugs, lots of dolls, crowns, jewelry, doll houses, combs, flowers on their windowsill, pink bags, and little Russian wooden dolls with pink flowers on them.

Boys have clocks, dinosaurs, boats, cacti, four-door cars, robots, pool balls, soccer balls, basketballs, footballs, soldiers, trucks, castles, helicopters, brown bags, race cars, and planes.  The closest thing to clothes in the room is the scarf on the end of the bed.  And there isn’t a single mirror in the room (versus the two in the above picture).


The next category of images are those that only the boys get to see in their book.  So, what do boys like?  What do boys like to imagine themselves doing?  What do girls NOT get to identify.  Let’s see…



No women.  No pink.  Weapons.  Skulls.  Empty Bottles (presumably with letters in them, not rum, right?).  Scary sharks.



Roar!  No pink (though there is some purple).  Exploding volcanoes!  Things flying!


The Moon.

No women (I guess this isn’t for sure.  Those astronauts are basically identical and have no visible hair or five o’clock shadows…).  Astronauts.  Aliens.  Rockets.  No pink (again, purple).


The Shop.

Okay.  There’s a girl.  And she’s active.  And she’s wearing pants.  And a headband.  A kid with glasses is in the back riding his bike (with helmet on, thank goodness).  Someone is under the car repairing it.  And the largest image is the dude in the front (5 o’clock shadow!) measuring a skateboard.  There are tools, paint, a car, bike, skateboard, nothing pink in sight.


And now onto the images that only appear in the “girl” version.  What do girls like?  What do they want to identify?  What don’t boys care about?



No men (because what would they possibly be in this image?).  Pretty dresses.  Pink.  Purple.  Butterflies.  Flowers.  Stars.  Wands.


Another Farm.

There are lots of animals (’cause the ladies like animals, am I right?).  The horse has a purple blanket.  No pink.  The woman is old, having glasses, wrinkles on her forehead, gray hair. She is carrying a basket of apples and wearing a dress.  The man (5 o’clock shadow) is carrying a bucket.  There are pretty flowers on the bushes and the vine on the left.  There’s a male scarecrow back in the field.  There’s one dog and plenty of cats.  There are clothes on the line, two tractors, a silo, a water pump, and some cows. [My husband just reminded me that girls like horses. Because every girl wants a pony.]


The Vet’s Office.

More animals! There are three women and two men.  There is both a male vet and a female vet (the male vet is more forward, the female vet is in the center of the image).  The assistant is a woman.  A boy has brought in his dog, a girl her bunnies.  There are needles, stethoscopes, x-ray, medicine bottles, animals of all kinds, a computer, bandages, even a car outside in the parking lot.  The male vet is wearing glasses (apparently the only women who need glasses are old farm ladies).  No pink.


The Kitchen.

And there’s the other lady in glasses: mom in the kitchen.  She’s there with her daughter, who is wearing a head band.  No men.  There are some cacti in the back, some potted flowers.  The woman on the left is making a sandwich, the one on the right cookies.  There’s a sink full of dishes, gloves to protect their skin from drying while doing dishes, lemonade, a tea kettle going off on the stove, a platter of pretty sandwiches in the front, a display of desserts on a rack of plates.  Pretty pink cups with tiny little white flowers on them.  These ladies are preparing for a party, right?  Hostesses.


So, I don’t think there is much else to say here.  There are things I like about the representation of the people in this book (the diversity, the fact that women are shown in many instances as active). But there are gender stereotypes not only in the images but in the selection of images in each book.

Even though we purchased both versions and show them both to our son, he’s still learning that men are pirates and cowboys, and that they like trains, aliens, and dinosaurs.  He will also learn that women work in the kitchen, they are the only fairies, and that they like pink.


15 thoughts on “Boys vs. Girls [UPDATED]

  1. My suggestion would be the Barbie Liberation Front solution. (They were the ones who swapped out GI Joe and Barbie voiceboxes in the talking dolls.)

    Cut out various female and male characters from either book and replace them in the other. So that the person baking cookies is male and the astronauts are female.

  2. That’s a great idea. My first thought, though, when I read this was “You mean, mess up a book?” Somehow those objects are sacred to me, as if they must be forever in the form in which I bought them (which is something I have been dealing with since having a son who likes to pull at, bend, bite on his books while being read to). Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. I’m not even clear on why a picture book needs to be gendered. One for boys, and one for girls? I don’t understand. Well, I understand to the extent that in the U.S. you MUST be boy or girl and not exhibit too many stereotypical characteristics of either, lest you be labeled. It gives me a headache.

    I don’t like my kid to watch TV because of the gendered/racist/ableist attitudes, and now I’m not sure he’s going to be allowed to read either.

  4. I agree. We at least thought we were combating something by getting both books and having him point things out on the fairy page and the kitchen page. But I quickly realized that he was also learning that only girls are fairies and only girls are in the kitchen. Yuck. Sometimes I don’t know what to do about this gender dichotomy thing. It is incredibly hard to fight against it even when you are aware of it, deconstructing it, etc. And seriously – why aren’t there just 2 different books like this that aren’t divided by gender? Why?

  5. Additionally – the girl in the shop image is cleaning. Her activity is cleaning, unlike the non-gendered person under the car.

    (here from Shakes)

  6. Maybe make a “Everybody” book to go with the gendered books? Scan the books, or get color copies, and cut and paste to create your own book without defacing the existing ones?

  7. Thanks so much for this. I would like to know the names of the book. I’d like to have them for my own library as well. I have 4yo and 6yo nieces I spend a lot time with. They have already, completely from their own observations, decided that some things are for boys and some things are for girls. Well, Auntie Sash is just going to see about that. 😉

  8. It feels impossible a lot of the time. It really does. Being aware of it helps, but it’s damn exhausting to point out the bias that is so insidiously pervasive. Plus dealing with the people who tell you you’re being too “sensitive.” They’re kids! They don’t understand!

    They DO understand. They DO internalize this.

    Very frustrating.

  9. Pingback: Things making me go, “Hmmm.” « Life V 2.0

  10. Can we hire Erinaccia to make a proper book for us?! LOVE the new image. :o)

    Thanks for doing this. All of this is completely overwhelming. I saw a teething toy today clearly marketed to girls (I knew this not only from the grossly pink packaging, but from the label that said “for little girls”.) The teething ring was a freaking diamond ring, all blinged out. Obviously, 3-month-old girls…you should get a good look at this massive diamond ring…study it…you’ll need one to determine your worth one day. Oh, and don’t worry boys…you can’t wear diamonds or pink things. In case you were confused, we clearly labeled this “for little girls.” Ugh.

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