Last weekend Katy Guest, literary editor of the UK’s Independent on Sunday, touted an online campaign called Let Books Be Books, which petitions publishers to put an end to children’s books marketed specifically to either boys or girls. She then announced proudly that henceforth her publication will refuse even to review such books:
So I promise now that the newspaper and this website will not be reviewing any book which is explicitly aimed at just girls, or just boys. Nor will The Independent’s books section. And nor will the children’s books blog at Independent.co.uk. Any Girls’ Book of Boring Princesses that crosses my desk will go straight into the recycling pile along with every Great Big Book of Snot for Boys.
Another blow struck for censorship in the name of politically correct social engineering.
Of course, this isn’t technically censorship or book-banning, although I’m confident people like Guest would absolutely favor that if they had the power. She has the right to set any review policy she wishes (even if it leaves her readers less informed), and publishers can continue to publish what they wish. Nonetheless it sends a clear message – or more precisely, a clear threat: progressive reviewers will ensure that ideas that don’t conform to the “correct” gender politics are ignored.
This sort of politics is nothing new in the world of book reviewing. The New York Times Book Review, arguably the most influential in the world, routinely ignores books by many conservative authors, for example, even ones that make the NYT’s own bestseller list. That paper just doesn’t make a bold admission about it like Katy Guest did.
She singled out for condemnation Michael O’Mara, owner of Buster Books, for continuing to publish gender-specific books. He responded by saying that such books sell very well:
It’s a fact of life how a very large percentage of people shop when buying for kids, do it by sex. We know for a fact that when they are shopping on Amazon, they quite often type in “books for boys” and “books for girls.” All boys don’t like one thing and all girls the other, but the fact is lots of boys like the same things and lots of girls like the same things. We can’t ignore the fact that they are definitely different.
Guest isn’t ignoring that difference – she’s steamrolling right over it. A firm believer that gender differences are socialized, Guest says that in her own ‘70s childhood brothers and sisters shared the same books and toys, and “there was no obvious disintegration of society as a result.”
But there clearly has been an obvious disintegration of society. The feminist campaign for equal rights was one thing, but anyone who thinks that this decades-long progressive obsession with erasing the very concept of gender has led to anything but confusion, anger, and bitterness on both sides of the gender line is living a willful delusion.
Guest anticipated my argument: “There are those,” she wrote, “who will say that insisting on gender-neutral books and toys for children is a bizarre experiment in social engineering by radical lefties and paranoid ‘feminazis’ who won’t allow boys to be boys, and girls to be girls.” Her sarcastic exaggeration doesn’t change the fact that it absolutely is social engineering. There’s nothing wrong with gender-neutral books per se; the social engineering lies in promoting them while burying the ideas and speech that stand in the way of her utopian vision.
And yet even as she takes umbrage at “the limiting effects” of gender-specific books, she hypocritically asserts that “books, above all things, should be available to any child who is interested in them.” Yes, they should be – including the ones she is determined to help stamp out, because some children and parents want those. The marketplace should reflect that choice, not just what Guest and her ilk in publishing and the media deem socially acceptable. Let books be books, indeed.
(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 3/21/14)