Practical Survival Is For Boys, Sleepovers Are For Girls, Says Scholastic

Listen up, publishing industry: I am so over this crap.
Publish date:
June 8, 2012
sexism, books, gender essentialism, gender-neutral, what fresh hell is this

It should come as no surprise to anyone to learn that the Scholastic Book Fair was one of the highlights of my year as a child. I was so excited when the forms were passed out and I would spend hours poring over the list to make my selections. Inevitably, I’d pay for my books in the change my father got as part of his tips from working at the bar1 and I’d painstakingly write my name in the front of each one as soon as I got it.

Much to the consternation of other kids in line who wanted me to hurry up and get out of the way already so they could pick up their 37 “Goosebumps” titles.

Scholastic is, like, the kids’ publisher in the US; if you read books and you are a kid, you are probably reading Scholastic. They’ve got a strong reputation as an educational publisher as well, and it’s made them the top of the world market.

But I’m rethinking my love for the company in the wake of this post at Interactive Reader about one of the most mindblowing sexist pairings of books ever: a “his” and “hers” set of “How to Survive Anything!” books that reads more like a throwback to 1952 than something a publisher would seriously produce, let alone sell, in 2012.

No girls allowed!

The “boys only” version of the books comes with some useful tips, like sheltering in place during forest fires, what to do during an earthquake, and how to handle medical emergencies. There’s also some fun and silly stuff in there too, like dealing with vampires and zombies. Overall, though, the book is slanted in the direction of practical advice for people who, you know, want to be prepared to survive things2. It sounds fun. I would buy it for young people of any gender, honestly, despite the warning label; not least because it’s the kind of book I loved as a bright young thing.

In the “girls only” version we have such helpful information as “how to survive a crush," "how to spot a frenemy," "how to survive a breakout" and “how to turn a no into a yes3.” And, of course, how to teach your cat to sit. Boys get practical information about real-world survival, girls get sparkles and pink hearts and stars. Got it.

To the pink corner, girls!

What’s really bizarre is that the cover of the girl’s version has a girl confidently ziplining through the trees with a big grin on her face. It’s the kind of cover I would expect to see on a book championing girl power, you know? Like I would open it and expect to see useful tips like, say, how to shelter in place during a forest fire or the best way to deal with a broken leg. And, yes, maybe some fun silly stuff to balance it out and break up the serious content a bit, like how to deal with a yeti or the best way to distract a kraken.

Instead, you crack open the cover and find a bunch of sexist, gender essentialist, gross crap. Apparently boys don’t need to learn to plan the perfect sleepover or survive a fashion disaster because they’re too busy surviving croc attacks. I’m reminded of my days working in a bookstore, when we got “The Dangerous Book for Boys” versus “The Daring Book for Girls.” The content of these books had a similarly repulsively sexist divide.

We live in such a gendered world. Children’s toys, books and everything else are firmly broken up by gender, creating rigid lines that no one is allowed to cross without incurring raised eyebrows. Gender neutral material for kids is out there but it can be hard to find, and sometimes it’s laden with its own weird baggage. What’s so hard about just publishing one damn book called “How to Survive Anything!” that doesn’t assume or demand anything about the reader’s gender?

Listen up, publishing industry: I am so over this crap.

Lots of my friends are in the age range where they’re having kids and I want to be able to buy those kids cool presents. I can find tons of neat stuff for the boys, but almost nothing for the girls; or I have to break down and buy “boys’ things” that are clearly labeled as such for girls who are interested in things like engineering or wilderness survival or becoming doctors. Because even the “girls’” versions of such things are all pinkified, sparkly, and icky, like it’s somehow necessary to infantalise them to get girls interested.

Meanwhile, the little boys who are interested in things like fashion and cooking are forced to endure mockery and teasing because there’s nothing out there for them. I can find a gazillion cookbooks very transparently aimed at young girls who want to learn to cook, but there’s nothing for young boys – and girls and boys alike may not be interested in a set of sparkly rainbow measuring scoops with their cookbooks.

Can we, like, maybe pretend that we don’t need to divide everything into “boys” and “girls”? Compete chapter list below:

Boys Only: How to Survive Anything! Table of Contents:

  1. How to Survive a shark attack
  2. How to Survive in a Forest
  3. How to Survive Frostbite
  4. How to Survive a Plane Crash
  5. How to Survive in the Desert
  6. How to Survive a Polar Bear Attack
  7. How to Survive a Flash Flood
  8. How to Survive a Broken Leg
  9. How to Survive an Earthquake
  10. How to Survive a Forest Fire
  11. How to Survive in a Whiteout
  12. How to Survive a Zombie Invasion
  13. How to Survive a Snakebite
  14. How to Survive if Your Parachute Fails
  15. How to Survive a Croc Attack
  16. How to Survive a Lightning Strike
  17. How to Survive a T-Rex
  18. How to Survive Whitewater Rapids
  19. How to Survive a Sinking Ship
  20. How to Survive a Vampire Attack
  21. How to Survive an Avalanche
  22. How to Survive a Tornado
  23. How to Survive Quicksand
  24. How to Survive a Fall
  25. How to Survive a Swarm of Bees
  26. How to Survive in Space

Girls Only: How to Survive Anything! Table of Contents:

  1. How to survive a BFF Fight
  2. How to Survive Soccer Tryouts
  3. How to Survive a Breakout
  4. How to Show You're Sorry
  5. How to Have the Best Sleepover Ever
  6. How to Take the Perfect School Photo
  7. How to Survive Brothers
  8. Scary Survival Dos and Don'ts
  9. How to Handle Becoming Rich
  10. How to Keep Stuff Secret
  11. How to Survive Tests
  12. How to Survive Shyness
  13. How to Handle Sudden Stardom
  14. More Stardom Survival Tips
  15. How to Survive a Camping Trip
  16. How to Survive a Fashion Disaster
  17. How to Teach Your Cat to Sit
  18. How to Turn a No Into a Yes
  19. Top Tips for Speechmaking
  20. How to Survive Embarrassment
  21. How to Be a Mind Reader
  22. How to Survive a Crush
  23. Seaside Survival
  24. How to Soothe Sunburn
  25. How to Pick Perfect Sunglasses
  26. Surviving a Zombie Attack
  27. How to Spot a Frenemy
  28. Brilliant Boredom Busters
  29. How to Survive Truth or Dare
  30. How to Beat Bullies
  31. How to be an Amazing Babysitter

Update! The folks at Scholastic have responded...and I have thoughts on their response, which you'll be seeing on Monday.


1. Our deal was that he got to keep the cash and I got to keep the change. I could always tell when there was a sales tax increase. Return

2. Whenever I think of kids gearing up to survive anything, I think of Keri in “The Shattering,” which is a great book that you should read, by the way. Return

3. Which, woah, can we talk for a second about the implications there?! Return