Childrens publisher to revise wording in Growing Up for Boys after backlash on social media and Amazon
Usborne publishing has apologised and announced it will revise a puberty guide for boys that states that one of the functions of breasts is to make the girl look grown-up and attractive.
Published in 2013, Growing Up for Boys by Alex Frith is described by Usborne as a frank and friendly book offering boys advice on what to expect from puberty and how to stay happy and confident as they go through physical, psychological and emotional changes. According to the publisher, it covers a range of topics, including moods and feelings, what happens to girls, diet, exercise, body image, sex and relationships, self-confidence, alcohol and drugs.
It is the section on breasts that has drawn criticism, after writer and blogger Simon Ragoonanan, who blogs about fatherhood at Man vs Pink, posted a page from the book on Facebook. What are breasts for? writes Frith in the extract. Girls have breasts for two reasons. One is to make milk for babies. The other is to make the girl look grown-up and attractive. Virtually all breasts, no matter what size or shape they end up when a girl finishes puberty, can do both things.
This just seemed awful and completely unjustifiable, Ragnoonanan told the Guardian. Usborne are serial offenders in peddling gender stereotypes to kids.
After a campaign led by parent group Let Books Be Books three years ago, Usborne announced that it would discontinue publishing gendered titles, such as its pink Girls Activity Book and blue Boys Activity Book.
The criticism of Growing Up for Boys spread to Twitter, and then to Amazon, where the title has received a swath of one-star reviews in the hours since Man Vs Pink highlighted it. Reviewers described the book as sexist, with one asking: Surely we can do better than this, in terms of what we teach our sons?
Claire Nicholls, a teacher from Bristol who criticised the book on Twitter, said that she approved of the book as a resource for children, and praised its position on breastfeeding. Teaching young boys that breasts are for feeding babies and even acknowledging that not all women can, is fantastic, she said.
But Nicholls said that describing the other purpose of breasts to make the girl look grown-up and attractive was extremely problematic, because it reinforces the sexualisation of breasts which makes girls and women self-conscious.
The other huge issue is the false equivalence of developed breasts with attractiveness and being grown-up, she added. The grown-up statement is troubling. There are girls of 13 with developed breasts. To describe them as grown-up and attractive would be worrying, as would infantilising an adult woman with smaller breasts, she said.
Let Books Be Books, which continues to campaign against sexism in childrens books, was also critical. Its disturbing to see this kind of sexism in a book aimed at pubescent boys. It suggests that girls bodies are for boys to look at, which is not the kind of message wed expect publishers of childrens books to want to send out, said Trisha Lowther from the campaign group.
Fen Coles, co-director at Letterbox Library, a childrens bookseller specialising in inclusive and diverse books for schools and parents, also found the page problematic.
The language used, bearing in mind this is a book for boys, strongly suggests that girls breasts exist for boys, for their admiration, for their gaze, she said.
If we want to encourage our children to have healthy relationships with each other and if we want to build a culture of consent, suggesting body parts exist solely for their use by another person, seemingly outside of the control of the person the body part belongs to, is at the best, disempowering and at the worst, very dangerous. This is ill thought out, regressive and irresponsible language being used in what is intended as an educational book. Were very surprised this wasnt picked up by an editor.
A spokesperson from Usborne Publishing told the Guardian: Usborne apologises for any offence caused by this wording and will be revising the content for reprinting.