PICK ME UP, was the scream of a huge-font book title I came across in the children’s room at the library, on the “new non-fiction” shelf. Subtitled “Stuff you need to know,” the book purports to give children all the information they need to know about, well, practically everything in the world.
The concept really appealed to me – I loved the idea of a children’s book about interesting historical events and people, animals, human biology and behavior, outer space, many countries, weather, media, and on and on. Curious, I took it home and read it.
Here’s what I found:
p. 22 applauds Beethoven
p. 24 praises Isaac Newton
p. 34-35 show “essential techniques to get you started in the world of movies,” and the only illustrations are of a man protecting a woman from a dinosaur (he stands slightly in front, with his arm shielding her), 6 more men (one with a gun aimed menacingly), and no other women.
p. 36 gives the Top Ten most memorable movie lines, and 9 are quotes by men.
p. 39 is about brains. There are photos of Albert Einstein and Arnold Schwarrzeneger in the Terminator, an illustration of a male head, and no females.
p. 45 talks about Jean-Jacques Rousseau
p. 48-49’s headline is, “How on Earth did man get to the moon?” and says, “…remember that a man blasted off into space little more than 50 years after the first airplane flew, and that humans have visited an alien world. How man (sorry, no women have visisted, yet) went to the moon is a tale of global rivalry, tremendous bravery, and computers as powerful as a pocket calculator.”
p. 52 asks, “Who’s the greatest? (sports star ever)” and answers with a full-page photo of and article about Muhammad Ali. Others top athletes profiled are Tiger Woods, Steven Redgrave, Pele, Deng Yaping, Katarina Witt. Note, 4 males, 2 females.
p. 58 has a photo and blurb about Bill Gates, bits about Alfred Bernhard Nobel and John Davison Rockefeller. No women.
p. 60-61 is about physics, and includes Democritus, Werner Heisenberg, Dmitri Mendeleyev, Charles Darwin, Richard Feynman, Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci, Murray Gell-Mann, and hmmm, no women.
p. 62-63 says, “Imagine a world without printed words” and has a 2-page photo of a city scene with all the words erased. The intent is to show how different the world is when the magazine covers, billboards, street signs, store signs, and busses are all devoid of print. But you know what I noticed instead? There are 8 men visible/prominent, and only one woman tiny in the background.
p. 64 is a weblog of a viking GIRL, yay!
p. 66-67 is a comic of “Mister Holmes,” dog of Sherlock Holmes. The comic does feature 2 girls and a boy, but Mister Holmes is the big hero.
p. 80-81 is written for boys, so they can imagine what it would be like to be a girl for a day. Text includes the following: “Girls are born physically and mentally equipped to have children and then raise them into adults. They are biologically programmed to be more adept than boys at identifying with others. This is reinforced by society: girls are often given baby dolls to look after, for instance. This encourages them to be carers.” (This book never utters the word “sexism” or “patriarchy.”)
p. 86-87 is intended to make children think about where their food comes from. “It’s not just bakers who make bread,” the headline announces, and then there are photos of a male wheat farmer, a male government official, a male agricultural engineer, a male pilot, a female supermarket manager, and a male scientist. Yup, that’s 5 men and one woman.
p. 93’s topic is “Five speeches that changed the world.” Speeches by whom? That would be Gorbachev, Emmeline Pankhurst, Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, JR – 4 men and 1 woman.
p. 96-97 has “three snapshots of the story of colonization,” with photos of 2 men, and 1 girl.
p. 114-115 lauds the “novelist big-shots from around the world” – Melville, Isabel Allende, Jorge Luis Borges, Miguel de Cervantes, Franz Kafka, Chinua Achebe, Munshi Premchand, Leo Tolstoy, Murasaki Shikibu, and Virginia Woolf. Seven men, three women.
p. 130 asks, “Which animal is man’s* best friend?” Then in small font in the margin, there’s the meaning of the asterisk – “*and woman’s.”
p. 132, all of it, is about Einstein.
p. 138-139 asks, “Which revolution was the most revolting?” and features Vaclav Havel, George Washington, Robespierre, Vladimir Lenin, Fidel Castro, Mao Tse-Tung, and no women.
p. 148-151 features “The story of how Europeans got their brains working, from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, and discovered new things in philosophy, art, and science.” The timeline features an anonymous Benedictine monk, Peter Abelard, Giotto di Bondone, Giovanni di Bicii de’ Medici, Francesco Petrarca, Desiderius Erasmus, Christopher Columbus, Niccolo Machiavelli, Johannes Gutenberg, Michel de Montaigne, Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Voltaire, Isaac Newton, Denis Dierot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant, Mozart, and not a single woman. Again, that’s TWENTY MEN, and no women.
p. 159 is about “How trains built modern London,” and talks of William Jessop, George Stephenson, and no women.
p. 184 asks, “Did James Watt make the most exciting machine ever?” (that would be the steam engine) and talks of Richard Arkwright, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, and…. no women.
p. 207 is all about “How Mr. Darwin changed the world.”
p. 216-217 professes, “Europe is all about people. Europe is a continent, but it is also an idea. It’s an idea shaped by individuals and based on a common history that has grown over thousands of years – right up to today’s European Union.” The people featured are: Martin Luther, Charlemagne, Julius Caesar, ABBA, Catherine the Great, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Napoleon, Karl Marx, Winston Churchill. That is, 9 men, and 3 women.
p. 225 is written for girls, so they can imagine what it would be like to be a boy for a day. The writers quote Freud, explaining that “boys’ and girls’ contrasting interests are set from birth,” because “’anatomy is destiny,’” and add, “…[S]ome research has suggested that boys use more of the part of the brain (the right side) that controls spatial awareness. This could be one of the reasons they are often more interested in sports – they may be better at judging distances and figuring out team tactics.”
p. 239 asks, “Was Freud a bit bonkers?” and answers, “… Actually, no.” There’s no mention of his sexism.
p. 254 talks some more about Leonardo Da Vinci.
p. 255 talks about Charles Babbage, Nostradamus, Arthur C. Clarke, and has quotes by Thomas Watson, Sir William Preece, and Harry Warner. Then there’s stuff about Nicholaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, HG Wells, Aldous Huxley, William Gibson, The Matrix, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alexander Bain, yadda yadda. Not a single woman on the whole 2-pg. spread.
p. 260-263 is about superheros. A superhero is “a man or a woman possessed with the ability to fly, or phenomenal strength, which he or she will generally use to fight crime or rescue people in danger.” Then why are the vast majority of the superheros featured male? Superman, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, and the X-Men.
p. 268, on slavery, mentions William Wilberforce, and yay, A WOMAN – Harriet Jacobs! The “slavery today” blurb is a 1.5”x4” box on human trafficking, and says, “Around 800,000 people, mainly women and children, are trafficked each year between countries.” Did I mention this topic has a whopping 1.5”x4” devoted to it?
p. 272 asks, “Who on Earth was Christopher Columbus?” and features a fake interview with his ghost. Sample question: “Some say you were a hero. Others think you were a villian. Which is true?” Columbus replies, “I’ll let you decide on that one. In the US, they celebrate Columbus Day – it’s a national holiday. Loads of Americans, especially those of Mediterranean descent (like me), think I’m a heroic symbol of the American ‘can-do’ attitude. But others see me as an evil rogue who treated Native Americans badly and who kicked off the Atlantic slave trade. I am so disliked in Venezuela that they renamed Columbus Day ‘the Day of Indigenous Resistance’ in honor of the nation’s Native groups. But these opinions are more to do with today’s politics than how things were in my lifetime. Honest.” Then there’s a blurb about “3 more great explorers,” which would be Roald Amundsen, James Cook, and Zheng He. No women.
p. 274 features James Dean.
p. 284 instructs children on “How to do a perfect wheelie,” and the illustrations are of a white male.
p. 292 gives kudos to Thomas Paine.
p. 294-295 are all about wars and the men who fought them.
p. 301 has illustrated warnings about not having magnets near MRI machines, and in the illustrations there are 4 males, no females.
p. 304 has a small photo and blurb about Ellen Church, first flight attendant.
p. 305-307 are all about the Beatles. There are also photos of Pete Best, Brian Epstein, Bob Dylan, Ozzy, Bill Haley, Frank Sinatra, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Bono, Run DMC, Brian Wilson, REM, Elvis, and THE SUPREMES ARE THE ONLY FEMALES ON THE PAGE.
p. 314-315 are about buildings, and Alexander the Great, Marc Antony, Napoleon, Isaac Newton, and no women.
p. 322-323 are about art – by 2 anonymous artists, Michelangelo, Edouard Manet, Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, Bansky, and guess what, no women.
p. 324-325 are on globalization. This time, there are photos of 3 men and 3 women. Then there’s this blurb: “What was the battle of Seattle? The WTO is a body that decides the rules for world trade. At its meeting in Seattle in December 1999, protestors turned up to demonstrate against the impact of gloablization. They wanted fair trade for poorer countries and a better deal for the environment. Riot police clashed with thousands of demonstrators (all captured by TV cameras, of course) and 600 people were arrested. The ‘Battle of Seattle’ put the issue of globalization on the front pages around the world.” (Riot police clashed “WITH” the demonstrators? More like assaulted them!)
So. There’s all that. And then there’s page 31, which states, “Feminism: the view that women are equal to men and deserve the same rights. Feminism is no longer relevant. Women and men now live together in equality. Discuss.”
Okay, let’s discuss! I’ve already highlighted the inexcusable male-centric focus of the book’s contents… let’s take a look at what could have caused this:
Pick Me Up: Stuff you need to know, published in 2006, was devised and produced for DK by John Brown Citrus Publishing. The Chief Operating Officer of John Brown Publishing is a man, Andrew Jarvis; the managing director is a man, Dean Fitzpatrick; the CEO is a man, Andrew Hirsch. DK’s CEO is a man, Gary June. DK is part of the Penguin Group, and the CEO is a man, David Shanks, as is the Chairman and Chief Executive, John Makinson.
This book, specifically, was created and edited by two men, David Roberts and Jeremy Leslie. The Art Director is a man, Ian Pierce; the Deputy Editor is a man, Martin Skegg; and the Staff Writer is a man, Oliver Horton. There are two women: Managing Editor Rosie Mellor, and Assistant Ed. Becky Lucas.
Female designers for this book actually outnumber the male designers by four to two, and the two Picture Researchers are women…but sixteen of the twenty-two writers are men, and five of the seven consultants are men.
p. 126 explains how the book was made: it starts with the editorial team getting together to talk – that would be the editor, the deputy editor, the art director, the assistant editor, and the staff writer. These five men and one woman decide on the book’s content, and then delegate the research and writing to the staff. “Sometimes the staff writer [male] or one of the eds. [male] is given this job, and sometimes a writer who knows a lot about this sort of subject [one of the 16 males, or 6 females] is asked to do the work instead. When the words are finished, they are edited by one of the editors [male] and passed to the art director [male]. It’s his job to have a chat with the editor [male] and then work out how the page will look…. The page has to be sent to an expect on the subject, called a ‘consultant,’ [one of the five males or two females] for them to check that there aren’t any mistakes to be corrected or better information to use.”
So there ya have it. A bunch of MEN sit around talking about what it’s important for children to know about, then write a book all about males and men and boys and masculinity and patriarchy, cross-referencing each other for validation when they’re unsure about what they’re saying, then announce that feminism’s dead because “women and men now live together in equality.” Because they say so.