Anyway, I'm in danger of ranting here when what I really want to do is share some of the excellent titles that we've enjoyed with our girls. I'm focusing on the early years here, looking at picture books in particular.
Picture books that play with sterotypical and fairy tale representations are also very welcome when encouraging children to think about and beyond gender. Here are four of our favourites:
Prince Cinders by Babette Cole reverses the genders for Cinderella beautifully. Both my girls found it hilarious that this Cinders wished to be big and hairy like his brothers, rather than beautifully dressed like the more traditional version. It retains the marriage plot, so has Princess Lovelypenny as the Prince Charming character seeking a husband, although there are still some more typical representations (Princess Lovelypenny thinks Prince Cinders saved her and therefore wants to marry him). It's a suitable story for both genders, with its anarchic humour.
Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole is a far freer reversal than Prince Cinders, being based on various fairytale tropes rather than one specific tale. Princess Smartypants does not want to get married and creates impossible tasks for her suitors so that she can retain her freedom. Children recognise this as being different from standard tales and enjoy the anarchy of this, without having any sense that it is tied up with gender as a concept.
Julia Donaldson's The Princess and the Wizard (illustrated by Lydia Monks) stays considerably closer to traditional tales, but shows a sparkly princess outwitting the evil wizard by herself and not relying on outside (male) help to save her. This one will appeal to girly girls with its gorgeous glittery pages, whilst offering a capable and competent girl as main character.
Beware of Girls by Tony Blundell is a hilarious subversion of the Red Riding Hood story, featuring a very stupid wolf (whose mixed up and muddled lines never fail to make my youngest giggle) and a very bright little girl. This is a joyful triumph over an easily-confused wolf that will be enjoyed by both genders and clearly represents this little girl as more than capable of looking out for herself.
Clearly, there are others that I could have mentioned, and many picture books in particular get around steretypical gendered assumptions by using animal characters. Which picture books do you think offer particularly positive gender messages?