Vintage Sexism: I’m Glad I’m a Boy! I’m Glad I’m a Girl!

Binary gender systems are constructed. They rely on the repetition of dominant narratives via psychology, music, popular culture, film and of course children’s books. This gem comes from a children’s book called, “I’m Glad I’m a Boy! I’m Glad I’m a Girl! It is from the 1950′s and I almost appreciate how blatantly obvious it is, since there is no question what it is trying to do. Gender-based messaging is much more subtle and nuanced these days.

You can see the whole book here. I am very glad no one read this book to me as a child, I probably would have set it on fire.
Whenever I see vintage sexism now all I can think of is Mad Men.

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89 Comments

  1. Caitlin
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    There’s more information and a fairly interesting discussion about it here:
    http://contexts.org/socimages/2009/04/02/boys-fix-things-girls-need-things-fixed/
    It was published around 1969 and it’s unclear whether or not it was written as satire. The problem is that it was not RECEIVED as satire. From the comments section linked above:
    I’m not sure it was satire — it doesn’t seem to have been pitched that way.
    From School Libraries published by the American Association of School Libraries, 1969: “This warmly humorous book makes everybody glad they are what they are.”
    From The Horn Book Magazine, 1970: “He’s glad he’s a boy and she’s glad she’s a girl. In this warmly humorous book, they tell each other why and conclude that the best reason of all is — because they need each other!”
    From the “Books for Children” section in Childhood Education, 1970: “Simple drawings with line captions designed to help the young child discover his or her appropriate sex role.”

  2. bifemmefatale
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Boys and girls and people who are neither boys nor girls can do anything they like. Not funny, but true.

  3. Jennifer
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    I heard it was from the 60s and from the 70s as well. When is it really? (Does someone have access to the book to check the publication date?)

  4. Brian
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    I have not made any claims remotely like that. But please feel free to make assumptions about what I am likely to think based on my gender.
    As a matter of, it should be fairly clear that setting strong gender roles necessarily results in sexist treatment of all genders. If I am being overly pedantic, the sexism is probably a zero-sum game, so they each have to experience an equal “amount” of sexism, though one could be more negative or positive than the other (and here the girl’s role is almost certainly more negative in the comic overall, though how one values cooking vs. inventing might vary, I do not know about that one).

  5. Steph
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    I looked at the Amazon page, it says 1970.

  6. bandersnatch
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Oh good heavens, I’m not a troll. I love this blog and everything it stands for. I meant for my post to come off as snarky and tongue-in-cheek, and I’m sorry if it didn’t come through that way..
    Boys see proctologists.
    Girls see gynecologists.
    Boys poop poop.
    Girls poop rainbows and sunshine.
    Boys can go to work after having kids.
    Girls can’t. Sorry.

  7. bifemmefatale
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    I wear pants and my husband borrows my skirts.

  8. bandersnatch
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    I know. I was just playing on the fact that some guys refuse to acknowledge that girls fart.

  9. nilbog
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    Daniel Granholm Mulhern, the husband of Michigan Governer Jennifer Granholm, chose to be called the first gentleman. He explains his choice here: http://www.michigan.gov/firstgentleman/0,1607,7-178–93431–,00.html

  10. w
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad you (and probably 29+ other people) saw what I was doing there! *laughs*

  11. MASHBengal
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Going along with the sexism book, I half expected the “boys are fathers” to be the boy sitting at the TV with a cola in one hand and remote in the other as the “kid” dolls played monopoly, or something along the lines of the vintage battleship game box. I would be rather pissed if I saw that.

  12. w
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Well, I was doing exactly what Punchbuggy Green said – playing off society’s tendency to shame girls for having the audacity to actually eat.
    Of course I understood that the book was setting up a “girls and boys need each other” premise. I think that’s entirely problematic anyway, for reasons that shouldn’t need articulating. But because the sexism and heteronormativity of the book was so in-your-face obvious, I cracked a joke. It clearly went over your head, but I can assure you that the point of the book did not go over mine.
    Also, just so you know, your comment read as defending the book. This is possibly not the smartest thing to do on a feminist forum.

  13. Gopher
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    How is that a stereotype?
    “I half expected the “boys are fathers” to be the boy sitting at the TV with a cola in one hand and remote in the other as the “kid” dolls played monopoly, or something along the lines of the vintage battleship game box”
    Sounds like my dad. Just because its offensive doesnt mean that its discriminatory. This would be accurate depiction of most fathers. At least mine (and I’m sure plenty of posters on these forums as well).

  14. Toni
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    The only acceptable one is “Boys are heroes; Girls are heroines.” But the picture for the girl on that one didn’t seem too heroic when compared to the boy’s. At least it’s better that “Boys are heroes; Girls are damsels.

  15. ackey
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    I had a guidance counselor show me this book in high school (10 years ago). She advised our GSA (and was quite progressive for our small midwest town) and thought I’d “appreciate” it. I cried when reading it. It started me on the path to feminism, and the following year I did competitive oratory on the topic of gender roles (and why they are bad).
    I spent years trying to buy a copy of the book and never succeeded. A good friend of mine was head of circulation of a library and copied and bound it for me (which is likely illegal), so I finally have my own copy. It sits among my gender and sexuality textbooks from college!

  16. Toni
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    That reminds me of an episode of King of the Hill. Hank didn’t want Bobby cooking but then had him learn to BBQ. He asked why and Hank said “It’s not cooking, it’s BBQ.”
    Hank may be a good man but he still needs some work.

  17. borrow_tunnel
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    I remember having to do a similar exercise in 1st grade. To be honest I probably put things like “Because I can wear earrings” and things like that. Can you blame a child for not questioning these things? I don’t know. I don’t really know what the point of such an exercise is, though. Any education majors/teachers want to chime in? I’d guess it would be to reinforce the gender binary, not to question it.

  18. borrow_tunnel
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    I had a teacher who actually told us boys sweat, girls perspire.

  19. borrow_tunnel
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    This is kind of off-topic, but did anyone ever have Amelia Badelia books read to them as a kid? If you’ve never heard of them, they centered around this ditzy female maid who gets everything confused. Thinking back to it, it’s completely sexist and probably written around the same time as this Darrow book. A person might say that having a ditzy maid isn’t sexist because it doesn’t say all women are ditzy, but come on, can you picture a book with a ditzy male protagonist?

  20. ElleStar
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    I heard it as:
    Horses sweat.
    Men perspire.
    Women glow.
    *I just got back from a run and am definitely NOT “glowing”*

  21. Punchbuggy Green
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    I remember Amelia Badelia books! She need her bread to rise so she tied strings to the pan and connected them to the ceiling.

  22. Tara K.
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    WTF?
    I see nothing wrong with Brian’s comment. I wonder if his name had been “Sue” if some of you would have judged the comments the same. I tried to go back and see your points, and it’s totally benign.

  23. boysgirls16
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    This book actually HAS gone over most of your heads. Whitney Darrow was a satirical cartoonists for many magazines and newspapers (like the New Yorker) during the prime of his career. Unlike the author of the entry claims it was written not in the 1950s, but near the late 60s/early 70s as a satirical response to opposition of second wave feminism.
    The author of this entry was incorrect for two reasons:
    A) It was satire
    B) It was published 18-22 years after she claimed
    But instead of a researched and well prepared argument, this is what she published.

  24. bifemmefatale
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    False. Darrow did do satire, but he also illustrated many children’s books, and as Caitlin noted above, children’s books reviewers did not treat it as satire when it was published, so obviously it was not marketed as such but as a children’s book.

  25. boysgirls16
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    The fact that the public did not accept at as satire doesn’t change the root message behind it. Are you trying to say that out of all his work, this book in particular is different and stands out against the rest of his work? Coincidentally, at the same time second wave feminism was making headlines all around the country?
    It was Satire.

  26. AlmostAmanda
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    Gross. My daughter’s class did a similar project, but it was a much better “I like being me because…”

  27. Lise Marie
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    I rarely do this on blogs, but LOL.

  28. Lise Marie
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    At least the book is being honest. But still – ick.
    While the children’s books on the market today are, sometimes, MUCH fairer toward all kinds of children, a lot of them are still sexist or racist – subtly, though. Almost all the ones I see are hugely heteronormative, too.
    I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but seeing this book was refreshing in a way. A scary, gross way, and it made me extremely grateful to our foremothers.
    There’s nothing like a little bald-faced sexism to get ya through the day.

  29. plasticrose
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 1:03 am | Permalink

    I thought the ‘boys eat’, ‘girls cook’ image was pretty sucky, until I looked at the rest of the images on the other blog…
    “Boys are doctors. Girls are nurses.. Boys are police. Girls are metermaids… Boys are pilots. Girls are stewardesses” I mean…. jesus fucking christ. It really does make me proud that my mother’s generation has made it possible for women to be doctors, dentists, lawyers, pilots, police officers, athletes, engineers, mechanics, architects, soldiers… whatever they want to be. It kicks ass when you realise just how fucked up the world was only 50 years ago.
    The worst thing is that there are still waaay too many countries in the world where these types of gender roles are still the norm.

  30. Aner
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    “Boys are glad girls are no longer depicted like the stereotypes in this book.” At least this “boy” is very glad.

  31. MASHBengal
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 2:47 am | Permalink

    I should probably add with the girl working hard in the background and the guy is lazy. I was more going towards the usual “It’s the wife’s job to take care of the kids, take care of the house, and take care of the man, cause he spends 8 hours a day at work and deserves a break. All she is doing is housework for 16+ hours and that isn’t ‘work’” crap you get from people who support rigid gender stereotypes in relationships.

  32. Kathleen6674
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    That’s an excellent show to use as an example, and I say this as someone who’s only seen one episode of the show. It was just too painful to watch. I think every single scene had some kind of extreme sexism in it, and many had blatant anti-Semitism. I think about what my mother had to go through in those days, and it makes me want to cry.

  33. puckalish
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    It kicks ass when you realise just how fucked up the world was only 50 years ago.
    Word. it is really nice to take a step back, amidst all of the back-and-forth and realize that progress actually is possible.

  34. feministe.frisee
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    I think that it shows very clearly that all characters are unhappy and how they could all benefit from a revolution.
    Keep on watching, Kathleen, not only for the terrific story and wonferfully humane characters, but also because as painful as it is, it’s also verry reassuring. What a long way we’ve come! And how bad do we need to be aware of it, so we won’t ge back!

  35. GREGORYABUTLER
    Posted May 3, 2009 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    First Gentleman?

  36. GREGORYABUTLER
    Posted May 3, 2009 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    Sorry, but it didn’t look like satire to me.
    It looked like this was written by somebody who had REALLY NARROW views on gender – and, it was purchased by School Boards that had equally as narrow views, and used in classrooms to indoctrinate the next generation of 1st graders with said really narrow gender role views.
    Not a lot of satire there.
    A whole lot of patheticism.
    But no satire.

  37. GREGORYABUTLER
    Posted May 3, 2009 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    Um, Brian… it’s kinda clear that the guy who wrote this book (and the school districts that paid for it and put it in the curriculum) believe that men and women have different roles AND THAT FEMALE ROLES ARE SUBORDINATE TO THE MALE ONES.
    That whole “boys eat/girls cook” thing is a hint.
    And the “boys are pilots/girls are stewardesses” thing is an even bigger hint – remember, the pilot flies the plane, the flight attendant takes care of the passengers…you can fly a plane with pilots but no flight attendants, but with flight attendants but no pilots, it’s not gonna happen.
    Up and down the line, the author lets little kids know that boys are different than and superior to girls.
    You may not remember, but when I was a kid (mid 1970′s) there was this anti racist children’s song “you have to be carefully taught”.
    It was about how kids have to be systematically indoctrinated by racist adults to be racist – because children do not naturally come to racist conclusions on their own.
    The same applies to sexism.
    And this book is a great example of carefully teaching boys to be sexist – and girls to accept a lesser, subordinate role in society.

  38. GREGORYABUTLER
    Posted May 3, 2009 at 12:50 am | Permalink

    Gopher
    1. Fathers not doing their fair share of housework and childcare IS discriminatory.
    2. My father never sat in front of the TV after work doing nothing.
    He worked 10 hours a day in the photo retouching lab he worked at Monday through Friday (with a 2 hour commute each way, he came home right before the 10 o’clock news, just in time to eat, inject his insulin, go to bed and get up the next day).
    On Saturdays and Sundays he set up his portable mini retouching lab in his bedroom and did work that didn’t get done during the week in the lab.
    Except on Sunday mornings – when he used to bake fresh bread for me, my mom and my brother.
    He also used to build furniture for our home, fix our cars (or try to – and take them to the shop to get the pros to fix it right) and help my mom with our little back yard garden.
    He also was heavily involved with the schizophrenia support group in our neighborhood (my brother suffered from that disease)
    Maybe your dad sat around the house after work doing nothing, and played no role in day to day household management – but not everybody’s dad was like that!
    Mine sure as hell wasn’t!
    And that was back in the 1970′s – when men weren’t expected to do much at home!
    So please don’t get it twisted!

  39. marie-jean84
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    oMg! i think i’m going to vomit.

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