What would you say breasts were “for” if you were faced with the task of explaining their practical function to pre-pubescent boys? The answers may vary, but I’d like to think that most of us who understand the impact that heavily gendered language can have on a child’s worldview would avoid language that suggests that child-rearing and sex appeal were the only possible answers.
Children’s publisher, Usborne, however, took the old-school approach. In a book called Growing Up For Boys by Alex Frith, a section titled: “What are breasts for?” makes the claim that breasts exist for two reasons and two reasons only: to “make milk for babies” and to “make the girl look grown up and attractive.”
The excerpt in question, which was originally published in 2013, was shared on Facebook on Sunday by Man vs Pink blogger, Simon Ragoonanan.
Writing in response to another user on the platform, he said: “the problem is that the book is saying that looking attractive and grown up is a key purpose of the breast. It’s like saying the same about a woman’s legs.”
The post began to make the rounds on social media and Amazon soon after being shared on the Man vs Pink page, with teachers, parents and those working in the publishing industry coming out to condemn the suggestion that some young girls’ bodies serve only to attract the opposite sex.
Speaking to the Guardian, Fen Coles, co-director of gender and diversity inclusive bookseller, Letterbox Library said that the wording of the page and book title in question “strongly suggests that girls’ breasts exist for boys, for their admiration, for their gaze.”
This isn’t the first time the publisher has found itself in the middle of a debate around gendered language. In 2014 Usborne vowed to discontinue gendered titles
Claire Nicholls, a teacher from Bristol who, according to The Guardian, also criticised the book on Twitter, highlighted the page’s “false equivalence of developed breasts with attractiveness and being ‘grown-up’”.
She added: “to describe them as ‘grown-up and attractive’ would be worrying, as would infantilising an adult woman with smaller breasts.”
Some came out to defend the book, claiming that the issue was with the wording rather than its reference to anthropological ideas. But while the statement may have merit on an anthropological basis, using an educational tool to feed into, rather than dispel harmful gender stereotypes is pretty likely to do more harm than good.
And this isn’t the first time the publisher has found itself in the middle of a debate around gendered language. In 2014 Usborne vowed to discontinue gendered titles like its Girls’ Activity Book and Boys’ Activity Book (with the exception of books like Growing Up For Boys) in 2014 after urging from anti-gendered marketing campaign, Let Books Be Books.
At the time of the campaign, Usborne founder, Peter Usborne said: “We may lose some sales over this; we will do this because this is the right thing to do.”
In response to the recent outcry, a spokesperson from the Usborne Publishing said: “Usborne apologises for any offence caused by this wording and will be revising the content for reprinting.”