Berkeley's 8-Year-Old Book Banner

Posted: 10/7/2013 7:25:00 AM
Author: Bruce Bawer
Source: This article originally appeared in Frontpage Magazine (online) on Oct. 7, 2013.

Berkeley’s 8-Year-Old Book-Banner
by Bruce Bawer

You may or may not already have read about this. This summer, according to a news story that appeared last week on the website of the Today Show, a woman named Constance Cooper, who identifies herself as a science-fiction writer took her daughter, whose name was given only as KC, to a bookstore, Half Price Books, which is located in Berkeley, California, where Cooper and her daughter live. It was supposed to be a fun expedition, but, as reporter Morgan Brasfield put it, “KC became upset.”

Note to reader: this is a key word here. Upset. Plenty of eight-year-olds, needless to say, get upset all the time. They get upset because they’ve been served baked potatoes instead of French fries. They get upset because they’ve been told to clean up their room, or to turn off the TV or computer, or to go to bed. But no, KC didn’t get upset because of those ordinary kid-type reasons. Because, you see, she’s no ordinary kid. No sirree! She’s a super-kid, of the sort that super parents in super places like Berkeley, California, are raising these days by the truckload. Not to put too fine a point on it, KC got upset because, even at her tender age, she is, doubtless thanks to her mother’s magnificent parenting, possessed of a highly developed sense of justice. Hers, in short, was not an outburst of obnoxious brattiness that should have nipped in the bud with a sharp, disciplinary word, but a worthy display of righteous outrage of the sort modeled by heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks.

“We were browsing around in the bookstore, and suddenly I heard my daughter calling out, ‘Mama! You have to look at this!’” a proud Cooper testified. “So, of course, I thought she’d found something she wanted to buy, but it was completely the opposite. She was looking at two books that had made her so enraged she was actually in tears.” The books were both entitled How To Survive (Almost) Anything. But one was meant for boys and the other for girls. The boys’ book focused on surviving cool stuff like whitewater rapids, frostbite, a shark attack, a polar bear attack, a croc attack, a snake bite, an avalanche, a tornado, and quicksand; the girls’ book was full of entries entitled “How to Survive a Fashion Disaster,” “How to Survive Shyness,” “How to Survive Embarrassment,” “How to Survive a Crush,” and so on. Some of the chapters weren’t even about survival: “How to Pick Perfect Sunglasses.” I will not for a moment challenge the proposition that these books, considered side by side, constitute a pretty open-and-shut case of crude gender stereotyping – although I would hasten to add that if the books did not share a title and pretend to be a matching set, both would sell briskly enough to readers in their target demographics.

KC, if you haven’t guess already, was “upset at the sexist nature of the books.” Why should she, as a girl, be treated as somebody who’s more preoccupied with fashion, shyness, crushes on boys, and other such silliness than with all those big, scary things that might happen to you when you’re out in the wild, living dangerously, the way that both males and females should be allowed to do? So upset was KC about this terrible injustice, in fact, “that a bookstore employee took notice and asked her what was wrong.” KC – who is apparently in no need of instructions about how to survive shyness – readily explained. “After looking through the books,” recounted Cooper, “the employee agreed they were offensive and pulled them from the shelves! She said if she had seen them first they wouldn’t have been there to begin with.” Cooper, in addition to expressing pride in her daughter “for recognizing sexism and for speaking her mind,” gushed with praise for the clerk, who not only for “took action” but “validated my daughter’s feelings.” Cooper also congratulated herself for having raised her daughter “to think critically.”

It doesn’t appear to have occurred to Cooper that KC’s very reaction to the books, and Cooper’s own reaction to her daughter’s reaction, validated – to coin a phrase – the very prejudices they were condemning. Think about it: the book for boys was addressed to hardy tykes who thrill to the idea of venturing far from civilization and facing life-threatening perils; the book for girls was aimed at tender hearts that are crushed by the thought of committing a fashion faux pas. In other words, one book sought to trigger rushes of adrenalin, the other to try to cope with inevitable outbursts of helpless tears over trivial everyday disappointments – thus reinforcing the age-old notion that girls are by nature more emotional than boys, and the corollary proposition that boys should be encouraged to subdue whatever feelings they might have, while girls should be encouraged to embrace, be preoccupied with, and perhaps even cultivate theirs.

And the fact is that despite Cooper’s rhetoric about the evils of sexism, she’s plainly done precisely that. By all indications, she’s trained her daughter, as a chapter in the girls’ book might have put it, “How to Use Your Feelings to Get Your Way.” KC, we’re told, was “upset by the books”; she was “in tears”; the bookstore worker “validated” her “feelings.” KC’s own review of the books, which she posted on Amazon after the traumatic episode, also highlighted her emotional response to this deeply traumatic encounter with views differing from her own: “Do not buy these books for your daughter,” she wrote, “or it may make her cry like I did.” Forget the fearlessness and determination of, say, Harriet Tubman or Amelia Earhart or Aung San Suu Kyi or AYAAN HIRSI ALI [a strong supporter of Israel]; this is twenty-first-century establishment feminism in a nutshell: “You hurt my feelings!” “You offended me!” “You made me cry!”

The story at Today‘s website seemed to imply throughout that both Cooper and her daughter deserve a pat on the back for creating this incident and drawing outside attention to it. “Cooper,” wrote Brasfield with apparent admiration, “describes her 8-year-old as articulate, passionate and a great reader, qualities parents hope their children exhibit as they grow.” (Similarly, a Huffington Post writer, citing Cooper’s pride in KC’s ability to spot sexism and speak her mind, commented: “Perhaps next time, the How To Survive books should have added chapters on those skills, instead.”) Here’s one curious detail, however: the web page on which Brasfield’s piece appeared was in fact part of a subsidiary Today Show site called “Moms.” Not “Moms and Dads.” Not “Parents.” Just “Moms.” Isn’t that sexist? What, don’t fathers care about their kids? Brasfield’s piece actually ran under the heading “Mom Topics.” What could be more offensive, more demeaning, more profoundly distressing to a proud feminist? Is KC going to kick up a ruckus over this, too?

It should be noted, by the way, that the Today website, in an update to its story, informed readers that the Berkeley bookstore’s manager had issued a clarification: contrary to Cooper’s triumphant original report, the two offending books had not been removed entirely from display, but only transferred to a “less prominent area of the children’s section.” The manager explained: “While we certainly understand why the books upset her and commend the girl for speaking out against stereotypical portrayals of gender roles in books, I would like to stress that we are strong advocates of First Amendment rights and do not advocate censorship or removal of ‘objectionable’ books from circulation.”

Interesting. While there’s nothing in the First Amendment, of course, to prohibit a bookstore from banning any book from its shelves, the bookstore manager’s sentiment is commendable. Too bad Cooper couldn’t find time to instruct her daughter in that whole Voltaire thing about tolerating – and even defending – the freedom of expression of people with whom one disagrees, including those with whom one disagrees violently. No, Cooper, like all too many parents nowadays who consider themselves eminently enlightened (and not just parents in Berkeley, either), was too busy raising her kid to be a pint-sized commissar – an officer in the PC Thought Police. Well, such is the Brave New World we’re living in – and, even more so, the one we’re transitioning into. The future of America – and of freedom – could not be in scarier hands.

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