Society: A Dangerous Book for Girls

Two Philadelphians have written a new guide intended to empower our daughters. But with Hillary running for president, are pressed flowers and cootie catchers what girls really need?

Buchanan’s daughter, when she was three or four, was trying to jump from the coffee table onto the couch and kept missing. Finally she said, “I can’t do it! I’m just a girl!” Buchanan, horrified by this capitulation, rushed to assure her: “You can do it! Of course you can! Girls can do anything boys can do!” Her daughter looked at her and said, “Mommy, I’m not a cat.”

Sometimes we get so caught up in Mars and Venus that we assume our kids are fighting the same battles we do. And sometimes, like the stay-at-home and working moms, we fight battles where there are none. “Our book has the real Robert’s Rules of Order for running a meeting. Knowing Robert’s Rules makes you feel smarter than the other girls,” says Buchanan, only to be politely bitch-slapped by Peskowitz:

“Smarter with the other girls.”

They’ll work on that before they take their show on the road. “We’ll be doing a lot of TV,” says Buchanan. That would be grown-up TV, not kids’ TV. The secret to kids’ book publishing is that kids don’t buy books, even when the cover is sparkly. But parents and grandparents keep buying kids books, for the same reason we buy them tops and jump ropes and jacks. We’re not so much nostalgic for our childhoods as for the myth of our childhood, that idyllic time before adulthood clanked down when life should have been carefree, but wasn’t. We’re nostalgic for the childhood we wish we had, wish it so hard that sometimes we actually convince ourselves it was one long stretch of daisy chains and tag. The truth is, we remember the good times because that’s when we were happy, as opposed to the rest of it, when we were jealous of our siblings and ostracized by peers and desperately trying to figure out how to fit in.

If girls were buying this book for themselves, I’d be worried. I’d feel that 50 years of rabble-rousing and bouncing off glass ceilings has been in vain, and that we’ve failed the long line of women (Margaret Sanger, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Gloria Steinem) who truly were daring, in that they were different and bold and unafraid to say boo to the status quo. But this book is a big, sparkly vitamin pill. Well-meaning adults will hand it to girls with an inevitable air of “Take it. It’s good for you.” And those 600,000 marble-end-papered volumes will wind up as relics, sitting on dusty shelves as boys and girls fumble onward, one male flag-twirler at a time, toward the freedom to be whatever they please.

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