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Boys are Doctors. Girls are Nurses. Glad you're a Girl?
I was six when I read I’m Glad I’m a Boy! I’m Glad I’m a Girl! I was devastated to find out that, because I was a girl, I couldn’t be a doctor, I couldn’t fly a plane, and I couldn’t be a “policeman”. It also made me wonder how often my dad wished that I was a boy.
I checked the book out from the school library and showed it to my mother that same evening. My mother explained to me that the book was from the Dark Ages, and the author was even older than the book. Because I was under the impression that books didn’t lie, my mother had a lot of convincing to do.
She kept me out of school until the school agreed to remove the book from the library. She actually had some difficulty in achieving this; the school believed it would be book-banning. My mother attended a PTA meeting in an attempt to recruit others to join her protest. Though it took several weeks, she was successful.
The book was published in 1970 (not the Dark Ages). I checked it out from the elementary school library in the early ‘80s (not the Dark Ages), and the book remained on library shelves throughout the country as late as 1999 (definitely not the Dark Ages). It contained colorful illustrations of a young boy and a young girl, and the captions below it read what boys do and what girls do: boys fix things, girls need things fixed; boys invent things, girls use what boys invent.
Throughout my life, I’ve often thought of this book and have discussed this book with my husband, most recently after Hillary Clinton’s concession speech—explaining to him that the book was the reason why I was sobbing hysterically.
I also remember sitting on the living room floor the evening of the presidential election in 1984. My homework assignment was to assign the appropriate colors, red or blue, to each state that had voted Democrat or Republican. I sat in front of that television set holding the blue crayon, hoping I would be able to color in at least one state that voted for "the girl" (Geraldine Ferraro) before it was my bedtime. I thought of that book as I watched each state turn red, and tears filled my eyes.
In book reviews it is referred to as “warmly humorous”. A review from Books for Children indicates that it helps children discover their appropriate sex role. Though the book is no longer available at Amazon, one person stresses that it is “humorous satire”.
Whether it’s satire or not, I wanted to find out whom in their right mind would participate in promoting a book with such a political opinion under the guise of a children’s book. I also became curious about the author.
Whitney Darrow, the author, was born in 1909 (could be considered the Dark Ages). He was a satire cartoonist for the New Yorker until 1982. His obituary includes mention of a 1950s cartoon depicting a man attending a New Year’s Eve Party embracing a curvaceous, young woman; the man’s wife enters the party, and upon seeing her he yells out, “Good Heavens, Emma! I thought this was you.”
Many of his cartoons and drawings depict naked women with large breasts and well-rounded rear ends, usually being gawked at by men and young boys. You can view some of his drawings by going to Google Images and entering in the search box “Whitney Darrow”.
The obituary also mentions that Darrow wrote children’s books, but doesn’t mention which ones. I would have to believe that I’m Glad I’m a Boy! I’m Glad I’m a Girl! is one of those children’s books, because the publisher, Windmill Books, is a company that is still in existence today; its intended audience is children.
The book was published shortly after the women’s liberation movement. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was introduced in which an amendment was included that prohibited sex discrimination in employment; however, it had been decided that classifying employment opportunities by separating women applicants and men applicants was acceptable. This is one of the reasons the National Organization for Women was established in 1966.
Because of the timing of the book’s release, one could easily wonder if the book was a misguided attempt by the author to preserve the acceptance of his humor and/or an attempt at turning back the hands of time to “keep women in their place”.
Furthermore, it would also make me question the publishing company’s decision to print it and distribute it, and each librarian’s decision to purchase it for the library shelf. Perhaps they held the same views as the author and found that it was an easy, unnoticeable way to instill, what they believed to be, the correct view into a new generation’s mindset.
All in all, I find it quite amazing that a political view and, more importantly, one that could be construed as an attempt in preventing women from gaining social and political equality, managed to meander its way into the hands of children by disguising it as a children’s book. It forces people to realize that even if a book is classified as a children’s book, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is appropriate for a child to read. And even though it might seem like a big, time-consuming job, this circumstance should prove the necessity of monitoring the books that your children read, and not just the reviews.
Whitney Darrow's obituary.