Vriagoes and PersephonesThis one didn’t feature in my original Pile as I thought I was going to read “The Three Miss Kings” as part of 20BooksofSummer and All Virago (etc.) / All August. Then I realised August was Women in Translation month AND this was the only book in translation I had on my bookshelf, AND it’s published by The Women’s Press therefore suitable for inclusion in All Virago (etc.) AND I could then save “The Three Miss Kings” for Australian Lit month in November …

Marianne Grabrucker – “There’s a Good Girl: Gender Stereotyping in the First Three Years of Life, a Diary”

(22 October 2019 – presumably bought second-hand online when I realised I couldn’t find my original copy)

I was reminded of this book, which I owned, but presumably lent out at some point, when I read the excellent “The Gender Agenda“, a modern book which built on the idea of examining gender stereotyping and gender policing. I had read it a couple of times before so got hold of a replacement copy.

A child is born. A new woman has arrived. And her future is going to be different.

This is the opening of the book, and is very powerful, although it’s a moot point as to how different her future was. Translated by Wendy Philipson with useful footnotes on some aspects of German life and culture, this is the classic text on observing raising a girl from pregnancy to three years old, looking at conscious and unconscious gender bias which is introduced into the girl’s life.

The Introduction states what she intended to do and what happens and also interrogates contemporary thought on the presence or not of innate gender differences – as the introduction to the third edition, it also talks about the book’s reception in the 18 months since it was first published. It mentions the new translation and wonders what the British response will be. I have no idea when this book first came to my attention: probably not long after it was published in 1988 and I would have been lured by The Women’s Press on the spine.

Grabrucker picks up on her own stereotyping behaviour (most noticeably, I think, the fact that because she is not interested herself in engineering and technology, she doesn’t react to or encourage her daughter’s interest in machines and vehicles) as well as others’. Her partner and Anneli’s father is not mentioned much unless he directly interacts with the child and her friends, because it’s an intensely personal work, I suppose.

Unlike in “The Gender Agenda” which is about a brother and sister, there is just Anneli, so her childhood experiences are compared with those of friends’ boys and other girls, and there are also some interesting passages when Anneli has short hair and “passes” as a boy and the different reactions from people who encounter her. Also interesting is that Anneli defines  herself as being a boy when doing active and strong tasks, and talks about growing up to be a boy, although there’s no mention of any gender issues and she’s still defined as being her “daughter” in her teens on a website I found.

Grabrucker is really good at bringing out the unconscious bias inherent in the most liberal of parents who think they are raising their children in a non-gender-biased way. Later in the book there are some fascinating moments when people change tack, usually because they have read and discussed the diary in detail and have become more aware of the tiny moments and behaviours that children pick up on.

It’s rather sad to read in the Epilogue that Grabrucker did not have time to continue to make all these detailed and rather beautiful observations once she’d returned to her legal work. There is a call to start a new gender approach with boys to allow a change in the relationship between the sexes, something that’s echoed in “The Gender Agenda” with its critique of practices of toxic masculinity.

There’s a New Statesman article about the relationship between this book and “The Gender Agenda” here. I found Ms Grabrucker’s website but there’s no information on what happened next, somewhat frustratingly.

This was Book 17 in my 20 Books Of Summer project and the only book I have read for Women In Translation Month.