Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Antidote to Toxic Girlhood?

The Daring Book for Girls intrigues me. As an author, I’m interested in how this book’s authors have developed their platform (that schmancy publishing industry term for everything that’s going to help a book become a phenomenon). Daring has a trailer, and a theme song. It has two brilliant authors behind it, one of whom has a Ph.D. in ancient history and religion (for all you academics out there) and both authors are savvy web entrepreneurs as well. The book follows on the heels of an already-proven bestseller. It is marketable not only to girls, but to their parents—Gen Xers like me, who were raised on Free to Be You and Me and are fed up with Princess Power. And most of all, the book’s premise is one damn good idea.

I’d be green with envy if I didn’t personally know that the authors are women of stellar intention and integrity, not to mention generosity of spirit. Andrea Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz are the women who brought the parenting blogging circle MotherTalk into being and are responsible for bringing online visibility to a number of important books on women’s issues, and scores—perhaps hundreds now—of books by women. As the MotherTalk website says, “We love what we do, and really take our books and our authors under our wings.” And so, having taken their own book under their wings, it comes as no surprise that The Daring Book has soared. It hit the bestseller list on November 11, just a few weeks after it hit the stores.

What surprises me instead—and what I find intriguing—is the jaded critical reception the book seems to have inspired in some journalistic circles. Reporters and interviewers have loved to ask, with a lofty sniff of sarcasm, “What’s so daring about this book?” In a culture as overly saturated with images of toxic girlhood as ours, they ask, what effect can a wholesome activity book that mothers (or others) and daughters are encouraged to do together possibly have overall?

These critics have got a point—but only, I would counter, to a point. The popularity of the book among girls, I might venture, speaks for itself.

And what’s the lesson here for authors? Have a “high concept” idea that comes from a place of integrity, market the hell out of it online, and offer us all some semblance of hope. That last one—and you’ll forgive me for my lack of cynicism—is key.

These authors are no sell-outs or naive patsies. When NPR Weekend Edition’s John Ysdtie asked coauthor Andrea Buchanan on the air yesterday whether childhood itself is much different today, she had this to say: “In the 1970s, children had yet to be discovered as a powerful marketing demographic. Girls are schooled, at 8 years old, to think about their bodies, and the way they look, and the clothes they wear. Because girls back then were not marketed to as they are now, it wasn't on their mind to think about these things until they were older.” Girls today are pressured to be grown-ups far sooner than we used to be. Nine is the new seventeen. There's more focus today on doing activities not for activities sake, but to get into college. Girlhood used to be different. It used to last. “Part of what we wanted to do with this book," said Buchanan, "was extend girlhood a little bit."

Buchanan and Peskowitz are not nostalgic throwbacks. They are optimists who merely ask us to give daring a chance.

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Miko's Girl said...

My daughter picked up the Daring Book for Girls at a friend's house and was fascinated by it. So much so that I have bought it. I like the randomness of the material. I like that it introduces alternative activities to the screen, and to the undercurrent in our culture that encourages girls to grow up way too soon. I am encouraging my girls to embrace their girlhood and this book reinforces this concept.

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