Columbusing and Cissexism in Children’s Books
An example of why it’s so important to understand the power of language and how we use it, especially in books for children.
This course was originally a 3 part series on my blog in 2019. Prior to it, I hadn’t written a blog for a whole year. The last one was titled My Gender Work Was Stolen in the Children’s Book Industry. In it I primarily focused on the facts related to two books: one was a workbook that consciously lifted my gender work, and another was a children’s book that co-opted and distorted my Gender Wheel.
In 2019 Matthew and I saw that the name of the co-opted wheel had been changed to the Interactive Wheel as the publisher said it would be. But it is still the same shape. It also has the same language that we told both the author and her press was problematic, and why. We were ignored.
I’m glad this book and its language are no longer directly connected to The Gender Wheel, but it’s message continues to haunt me.
Especially, since this book is sometimes paired with our pronoun book and it’s been on lists in the children’s book industry, validating and uplifting its message.
I generally don’t speak to the problematic content in the workbook that columbused my work, but because I work in the children’s book industry, I have referenced issues in the children’s book in my gender presentations (usually without title).
But in February of 2019 I did something I hadn’t done before. I shared a brief post on a public media platform about what I consider to be one of the most damaging messages in Who Are You? The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity.
Sadly it’s on the co—opted Wheel in the back of the book. Far more than the plagiarism, this is what broke me and Matthew’s hearts and enraged us. It can still be emotional to talk about, but I was told the information was helpful so I’m providing it for easier reference.
Matthew and I did a full documentation of the cissexism embedded in the language of both books. This gave us a greater understanding of what was going on and the ability to speak about it. It’s been a lot to digest, but I want to take a moment to make something clear.
This is not about books having to be perfect. Everyone is learning all the time. I know I am. And it’s not about just this book, or the two of them. It’s much, much bigger than that. Certainly bigger than me and my feelings.
This is about patterns and dynamics of power embedded in everything, particularly how we speak, the actions we take and how this contributes to maintaining oppressive systems.