I was at a dinner gathering once when a man said, “If it were left up to women you’d all still be beating clothes on rocks to get them clean.” I asked him what in the world he meant by that comment and his response was that women never invented anything and that if it weren’t for men we’d all still be living in caves. I was pretty sure he was wrong and I managed to point out that Marie Curie discovered radioactivity and that the structure of DNA was actually discovered by a woman named Rosalind Franklin who had her work essentially stolen by Watson and Crick but that was the best I could do. I told him I’d get back to him, went home and did a google search of ‘women inventors’ and discovered that women invented Kevlar and the dishwasher among other things.
When I was little my mother used to tell me that there were no female mathematicians or composers because women’s brains just didn’t work like that. I believed her. She also told me that women couldn’t be pilots because their vision changed during “that time of the month” and I bought that, too. My mother spent her whole life believing that silliness. As an adult I read a book called “Fermat’s Enigma” that laid the mathematician issue to rest (women were not allowed to be mathematicians but some managed to follow their passion anyhow) and a visit with the Oakland Women’s Symphony put the composer issue to rest – there have been many female composers through history. Seeing women in pilot’s uniforms heading to the cockpit of the plane I was on dispelled myth #3.
Too bad we didn’t have The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz when I was a kid because the man and my mother would have known better. The Daring Book for Girls was written initially in response to The Dangerous Book for Boys, a publication that generated quite a stir about sexism and boy vs. girl interests. I’m happy to say that The Daring Book for Girls is not just a step for step copy of the Dangerous Book for Boys although it is written in somewhat the same style – they both have chapters, for example. I am so happy with how this book was put together because it really honors girls across the board acknowledging a broad spectrum of interests from building a scooter to making daisy chains.
In addition to chapter on the rules of soccer, how to be spy, how to play hopscotch, how to paddle a canoe and what camping is all about are chapters on famous women. There is a full chapter on Joan of Arc, five chapters on Queens of the Ancient World, A Short History of Women Inventors and Scientists (if only I had had THAT info in my hip pocket at my dinner party), Modern Women Leaders and A Short History of Women Olympic Firsts and Famous Women Pirates – YES! . There is a chapter about the letters Abagail Adams wrote to John Adams that explains how important she was to him and how much influence she had on how he ran the country. It is an excellent model of a marriage that focuses on having a peer relationship, something you don’t see a lot of on TV or at the movies.
The chapter on the The Daring Girls Guide to Danger talks about dangerous activities a girl might like such as white water rafting and wearing high heels. Guys if you’ve never tried walking in a pair of hills you have no idea. It also includes ‘Stand up for yourself – or someone else’ which can be a very dangerous thing to do but also very empowering.
I love it that this book isn’t just about building go-carts and climbing trees and making volcanoes out of baking powder and vinegar. It unapologetically covers such ‘girly’ topics as playing jacks, putting your hair up with a pencil and making a cootie catcher. And there are the more practical chapters on changing a tire, negotiating a salary and first aid. It teaches history, the Bill of Rights, the history of handwriting and more.
Just as the Dangerous Book for Boys has a chapter on “Girls” (which leans on tradition and casts girls as silly unpredictable creatures you can’t live with and can’t live without), The Daring Book for Girls has a chapter on “Boys”. It talks about the kind of stereotypes we assign to boys and the kind of stereotypes assigned to girls. It talks about how what is really important is that we honor people and their diversity and that we respect everyone’s individuality. My favorite passage from this chapter reads “[if you like boys there are 2 things to keep in mind….] “One, if a boy doesn’t like you the way you are, the problem is him, not you. And two, don’t try to make a boy change for you – it’s important to appreciate people for who they are.”
This book is unabashedly pro-girl without being anti-boy. You would be hard pressed to cast the contents of this book in terms of any of the many gender wars plaguing the media and therefore our culture today. It isn’t about girls being anything other than who they are and about feeling good about that. It’s about being the most and best girl you can be. It is about how girls can and have made significant contributions in the world because girls don’t really just want to have fun – they want to count and they want it to be okay to be strong and smart and creative and to have some power.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough to parents of daughters or aunts of nieces or friends of girls or, in my case, prospective grandmothers of granddaughters. It will be a while before I can put this book to use first hand (other than to read it with my grown girls) but when the time comes I will do just that. In the meantime, I think I’ll give a copy to my friend from the dinner party.
Clicking the Amazon link will help Kelso, too!