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. Shae
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Since when has vintage sexism advocated that women use the barbeque? It must also have been the most boring book to have read to you as a child. I mean, who wants their parents to read them a list at bedtime?

  2. Destra
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    The book is from a belief that the sexes were each meant to have their own set of roles in society that complimented one another. Too bad the roles were limiting, patronizing, and only worked if you were in a heterosexual couple. Sucked to be the single people out there, or the non-hets, or the widow/ers.

  3. nilbog
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Spare yourself from the comments sections of the original blog. I didn’t and now I can’t scrub many of them from my brain. They are about 50/50 reasonable people to whackjobs, but it’s enough.

  4. w
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    I love the juxtaposition of “Boys can eat” with “Girls can cook”. God forbid girls actually EAT.

  5. cutekotori
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Books like these remind me just how hard my mom’s generation had to work just to let me major in engineering now!
    thanks mom

  6. Pantheon
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    This was presented in one of my high school classes, I think a psych class. The teacher claimed people actually read it to their kids into the 70s.
    I looked at the link with all the pages– I’m surprised by the one that says boys are heroes, girls are heroines. I thought it was going to say girls get rescued or something like that.

  7. Creighton Hogg
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Wow, nice find! This is amazing. The only couplet that’s even remotely positive would be the “boys are heroes, girls are heroines” but there’s still this stark contrast of the Boy slaying a dragon & the Girl saving her family from Vaguely Native American dudes. I guess it says “ladies, you can do cool things too, but only if they involve the fruit of your loins & apocryphal stereotypes!”

  8. Becca
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Bah! So obnoxious. I volunteered at a local elementary school, and by the kindergarten classroom they were displaying kid’s art about “I like being a girl because…” or “I like being a boy because…”
    Though most of them were very traditionally gendered (“I like being a boy because I can play with trucks”), some were not. I’m pretty sure I saw a “I like being a girl because I can do anything.” Rock on!!!

  9. ikkin
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    If girls are cum dumpsters, then what are boys?

  10. BROWN TRASH PUNK!
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I remember that poster as a child! God, that pissed me off so much.

  11. bifemmefatale
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Trolls.

  12. feministe.frisee
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I use Mad Men a lot when talking about feminism. When I fail to convice people of its use, I say: “just rent Mad Men”. I swear, it works! People have come back to me saying “was it really THAT bad”?
    I thinks it is a great, entertaining way to prove your point. Plus, it shows gorgeous, normal-size women!

  13. NoJoy
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    That’s awful. At least girls are heroines, not damsels in distress. That’s about the only positive thing I can say.

  14. Brian
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    They are pretty clearly trying to set up a “Boy and Girls are both part of a whole, and rely on each other” pairing, where both boys and girls have roles, but both are useful/valuable. I do not think they are trying to suggest that girls should not eat, anymore than they are suggesting that boys should not use inventions. The “women can cook” is just setting up “men depend on women” as a premise.

  15. katemoore
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I know! I kind of loved those two panels, despite myself. Like, I’d buy a book of just that.

  16. Misspelled
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    I love that the least sexist one is racist instead.
    The comments are also alternately cracking me up and making my blood boil (“Sorry, ladies, but this is the way it used to be in the good old days before your PC Gloria Steinem bullshit got off the ground!”) My favorite so far: “This is kind of sexist.” Gold star!

  17. GypsyLin
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Did anyone else think of the primaries when they saw men are presidents and women are first ladies?
    … I don’t think we’ll get a woman president until we can figure out what to call her husband ( let’s be real, she’d have to be legally married, which leaves out the queers)

  18. Misspelled
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    You really think the root of our problem with this book is that it’s gone over our heads, Brian?

  19. Brian
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    My comment should show as a response to another comment, and not to the book in general, so I am unsure why you would suppose that I think this. Certainly re-reading my comment, I am unable to guess why.

  20. Snampire
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    jizz dispensers

  21. Steph
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    First Partner.

  22. Steph
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    or…
    Partner to the President.

  23. Misspelled
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Then let me give you a hint: Because instead of acknowledging both wavesandmoon’s fully functional mind and the patently oversimplified absurdity of “Boys can eat”/”Girls can cook,” you decided to play Captain Obvious about the structure of the book and the message the author intended, as if it were really possible that you were telling wavesandmoon something she didn’t already know. We’ve seen the “patiently literal” act around here before. Subtly intimating to people that their own instincts are not to be trusted, whereas you must know your stuff because you’re oh so reserved in your judgements and never ever use contractions, isn’t as impressive as you might think.
    In other words, please watch your tone.

  24. raspberrying
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Psh, girls use what boys invent? Yes. What a useful and valuable skill!!
    The “women can cook” is just setting up “men depend on women” as a premise. Wow, SERIOUSLY? And you don’t take issue with this?
    Yes boys and girls are both “part of a whole” like you say. Boys are doctors, girls are nurses. Boys are pilots, girls are stewardesses. Boys are presidents, girls are first ladies. The only point is to teach that they depend on each other. Yeah, RIGHT.

  25. kt
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Didn’t this author know — girls can’t barbecue? BBQ is MANLY FOOD! FIRE! MEAT! Girls make salads and casseroles or something. :)

  26. Punchbuggy Green
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Your comment did seem intentionally patronizing.

  27. Ashtree
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    The lamp that boy invented looks faulty.

  28. Brian
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    I am not asserting that I must know my stuff, but presenting my interpretation, which does contradict what wavesandmoon seems to be saying. If you disagree with someone, and it is not obvious where, it makes sense to me to start at the beginning. To do otherwise usually means everyone just talks past each other. There is not much value in that.
    And yes, I have reactionary internet grammar. I cannot imagine how the effect is that I come off as anything other than stiff and awkward, though you can take it how you like. And yes, I do not have much interest in making moral judgements. I am (more or less) just interested in understanding the ideas discussed. If you think there is some flaw in my understanding (or incompleteness, which one might not call a flaw, I suppose), I would be interested to hear what it is. But I am not really sure what to do with just being told off for saying/doing things I can not read into what I have said.

  29. Brian
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I gather that, though I am not really sure why. I am aware that I am pretty terrible at anticipating reactions to my style, especially in intellectual exchanges with disagreements. It seems to me if two peoples’ analysis diverge at some point, it makes sense to start at the beginning and walk forward until your paths fork, but others might disagree.
    Truth be told, I am vaguely aware of how people often misinterpret my style of argument objection, but I do not really get why (nor can I distinguish it from how other people speak/write). It would be nice if someone could explain it to me, but if I can not figure it out, it is probably unrealistic to think anyone else would.
    But I still do not see it carrying the message that girls do not/should not eat. Especially given the context(s).

  30. cakeoftheisles
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    the book is actually pretty interesting for the tone and position it takes. The title page says it was published in 1970 – a transitional time. the book is trying really hard to straddle a primitive egalitarianism and narrowly defined pink-collar stereotypes. it tries to legitimate “Boys are doctors, Girls are nurses” by padding it with factual, semi-egalitarian statements – “Boys are fathers, Girls are mothers.” The heroine page even gestures at some idea of female empowerment (through Manifest Destiny, apparently – not so great).
    Anyone who argues that this stuff is innocuous is ignoring countless studies demonstrating the effects of reading material and gender role lessons on kids. If I’d grown up with this message coming at me from all sides, even my picture books, what are the chances I’d be a girl doctor?

  31. salymander
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    This book was on Jezebel, it’s a parody written by a woman.

  32. bandersnatch
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Actually, I think you could have a lot of fun with this formula.
    “Boys are on top.
    Girls are on bottom.
    Boys fart.
    Girls queef.
    Boys use steroids.
    Girls use laxatives.”
    … and so on and so forth.

  33. cakeoftheisles
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    No, it’s not. Whitney Darrow was a man, a cartoonist for the New Yorker, who often did satirical work. This was a children’s book he wrote, which doesn’t seem the least bit satirical, but meant sincerely.

  34. Kim C.
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Does “First Man” sound too much like “Best Man”?
    Though if a president’s wife is the “First Lady”, and it’s “Ladies and Gentlemen”, wouldn’t a president’s husband be “First Gentleman”?

  35. bifemmefatale
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    That is not what the Jezebel entry said, it’s what a few commenters claimed. Darrow was male, and although he did political cartoons he also illustrated several children’s books.

  36. Misspelled
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    So you really thought that wavesandmoon really thought that the book’s author really thought that girls are unable to eat, or shouldn’t.
    No offense, but I’d think that who takes such a benign interest in communication and “understanding” as you claim to wouldn’t have made that inference.
    Of course, if the cognitive dissonance was genuinely yours — and not deliberate and meant to look all scrupulously fair-minded in the face of wavesandmoon (and, by extention, the rest of us silly girls) getting all carried away — you could always acknowledge that.

  37. bifemmefatale
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Except everything you wrote is BS and not funny.

  38. Gopher
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    “I am very glad no one read this book to me as a child, I probably would have set it on fire. ”
    Second that!

  39. Misspelled
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Plus, whether it was meant satirically or not, it was certainly taken perfectly seriously by plenty of parents/educators/trendy early-seventies child psychologists.
    http://contexts.org/socimages/2009/04/02/boys-fix-things-girls-need-things-fixed/

  40. Punchbuggy Green
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    “But I still do not see it carrying the message that girls do not/should not eat. Especially given the context(s).”
    The original comment wasn’t meant to be taken completely literally. It was a joke.

  41. bandersnatch
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Well then , you come up with some.

  42. Gopher
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    ” The “women can cook” is just setting up “men depend on women” as a premise.”
    ((eye roll)) Are you seriously claiming that thhis book is just as sexist to the boy as it is to the girl?

  43. Gopher
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    ” The “women can cook” is just setting up “men depend on women” as a premise.”
    ((eye roll)) Are you seriously claiming that thhis book is just as sexist to the boy as it is to the girl? Or even (gasp) that its only sexist to the boy? Sooo, surprising a guy would make this observation.

  44. Punchbuggy Green
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I mean, yes, the original comment was playing off of the unfortunate tendency in our society to shame girls for eating, but yeah, it was a joke. I laughed at least. :)

  45. Brian
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Huh. Maybe I just do not get it.

  46. Gopher
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    An extension of the Freudian concept that was oh so popular in the 50′s that entailed ‘anatomy is destiny (at least or females).’

  47. Gopher
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    First Gentleman. Gentleman being the same as Lady.

  48. Gopher
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    I thought it was funny as long as youre not being a troll.
    ….boys sweat
    girls glisten
    boys wear pants
    girls wear dreses
    boy conquer the world
    girls subsist under his tyranny, ect

  49. Lilith Luffles
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Girls do not queef as alternative to farting. Girls fart AND queef, boys just fart.

  50. llevinso
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    No no no. Boys set fires. Girls use those fires to cook food. Get it right people!
    /snark

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