Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Entitlement For Boys

I'm simultaneously entertained and annoyed by toys that are unnecessarily gendered.

The other day, I was perusing some of the free e-books available at Project Gutenberg, and I found this book, from 1914:

Electricity For Boys

Sure, it's pushing 100 years old, but what on Earth could this title possibly mean?

Did boys back then use to be robots and, thus, run on a special type of electricity that was different from the type that generated the girls?

Was it thought that only boys would be interested in learning about electricity?

Like, was there a separate book called Electricity For Girls, that maybe was pink (oh wait, the girly color was blue back then) and explains it all a little differently so the girl brains can understand it? (Apparently, the boy book is part of a "How-To-Do-It" series, also containing the books Carpentry For Boys and Practical Mechanics For Boys. No "How-To-Do" books for girls were listed.)

Naturally, I had to take a peek inside the book (a preview of which is located on Amazon, if you're so inclined. And who wouldn't be, really?). It begins:

"Electricity, like every science, presents to phases to the student, one belonging to a theoretical knowledge, and the other which pertains to the practical appliation of that knowledge. The boy is directly interested in the practical use which he can make of this wonderful phenomenon in nature."

The book doesn't explicitly define girls out of the category "student," but the absence of references to girls does imply that boys in particular are more interested than girls in electricity and, specifically, in the practical application of this science-y thing.

It continues, a few pages later:

"Wherever it is deemed possible to do so, it is planned to have the boy make these discoveries for himself, so as to encourage him to become a thinker and reasoner instead of a mere machine."

What a great idea. But why limit it to boys? Did we not care about encouraging girls to become thinkers and reasoners, or was it just a given that it was fine to expect girls to operate like "mere machines"?

In this way, we see how a gendered book can create an entitlement in boys that they, compared to girls, are more deserving of information about science, of the practical manipulation of their surroundings, and of becoming serious thinkers. If that sort of entitlement is being fed to a boy growing up, how could he not grow up thinking he was more logical and rational than girls and women?

Yeah, we laugh at books like these now and yet this sort of unnecessary gender-based marketing persists.

See also:

Men Need MAN SODA!

Man Food, Again

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