A wind is sweeping through British publishing world, a wind of change. The “Let Books Be Books” campaign to stop differentiating children’s books by gender is well on its way, with the likes of The Independent and Waterstones standing firmly on the side of progress.
The arguments don’t need to be repeated here: it should be plainly obvious that the gender separation is an absurd notion, to anyone concerned with reading and writing books. I’m sure every one of us can name a book or a movie they enjoyed in childhood that they weren’t “supposed to”. For what it’s worth, I used to devour “Anne of Green Gables” just as eagerly as I had the Cowboy & Indian-type adventure books at the same time.
So this post would have been a very short one, if it wasn’t for a remark from Michael O’Mara, of Buster Books (one of the chief offenders – they produced the colouring books in the picture), quoted by the Independent in the piece linked above:
And it made me wonder. How did we get to this point, as mankind? How did things get so bad that even bow and arrow is not a girls’ thing anymore?
Merida and Katniss are just the latest in the long run of women archers in popular fiction. Thirty years ago, I watched, fascinated, as the feisty Judi Trott drew her bow along with the rest of the Merry Men in the iconic Robin of Sherwood series. At roughly the same time, I was reading C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles for the first time, where Susan Pevensie is the archetypal bad-ass with a bow, outshooting the master dwarf bowman Trumpkin.
Ten years ago, Keira Knightley stormed onto our screens as another bow-wielding lass, first in the little known straight-to-video “Princess of Thieves“, as no less than Robin Hood’s daughter, and then as Guinevere in “King Arthur“. That opened the flood-gates: Mulan, Abigail Whistler, Nefriti… even Padme with her blaster, all the way back to Merida and Katniss.
The association of women with bows and arrows is very much an archetypal thing. It’s at least as old as the image of Artemis the Huntress. It’s got its own TV Tropes page. In fact, it could be argued that the association itself is a sexist cultural stereotype: it was supposed to be the boys’ role to fight with swords in the melee – girls were at the back, with bows and guns.
If for men like Mr O’Mara even that much involvement with power and violence is too much for girls, it is really a time to despair. The goalposts have been moved – back. That is a dreadful and woeful state of affairs, my friends. In 2014, we really shouldn’t have to tell girls that they, too, can play with bows and arrows. Just as we don’t have to tell boys that they, too, can play with My Little Ponies.