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Review: Childhood Unlimited – Parenting Beyond the Gender Bias by Virginia Mendez

Firstly, I think it’s important to say that when I picked up Virginia Mendez’s book ‘Childhood Unlimited: Parenting Beyond the Gender Bias’ I didn’t think I would find it that engaging. Not to say I didn’t believe it would be well written. Virginia is an incredible writer and speaker and I had no doubt it would be a well thought out novel. However, I didn’t believe that I was the target audience for this book. As a woman in my early twenties, who at this time in my life has no intention of ever getting married or having kids, I assumed that nothing in the pages of this book was written with me in mind. I can quite categorically say that I was proven wrong from the very first page. Or more specifically, page two, where Virginia writes, ‘The biggest thing I have learnt is that once you know, you can’t unknow, you can’t choose to unsee and you can’t choose not to care,’ and at that point I knew Virginia was writing for me too. 

Each chapter of Childhood Unlimited tackles a different component to gender bias in childhood, from books and toys to clothes and language. On top of Virginia’s own engaging assessment she also includes, in each chapter, two interviews with prominent academics and experts on the topic. Packed full of data, psychology and real experiences, no one can accuse this book of being anything other than incredibly well-researched. Mendez has most certainly created a book that can and should be used as a guide for parents seeking to educate themselves on the nuances and impact of gender on their child. But, even more than that, Mendez provides a fascinating insight into how we have all been shaped by gender bias and how we continue to perpetuate these harmful stereotypes without even realising it. For me to say that I read, cover to cover, a book on parenting, while enjoying every second, is one of the highest compliments I can give.

Interview with Virginia Mendez - The Feminist Shop
Virginia Mendez

In chapter one she suggests to readers that this book is not to be consumed in one go, but to be read a chapter at a time, giving yourself an opportunity to absorb and reflect upon the issues she’s raised before proceeding to the next chapter. She also leaves the reader with a ‘if you only take away a few key points from this chapter’ summary and a set of questions to ask yourself and think through before moving on. As a notorious speed reader, I was somewhat alarmed by this request. No book had ever, quite sternly, told me to pause, reflect and take my time. But, I listened to Virginia’s advice and read her book one chapter at a time and to my surprise I found my thinking and self-analysis of the complexities of gender bias became much richer when I had time to think it through over my day. Additionally, when I reached the end of the book I found I could remember much more of what I had read than after my usual speed reading sessions.

As I mentioned earlier, this book very much fulfils its role as a practical guide for parents. No wish-washy pieces of advices or unrealistic standards to be found. Mendez provides lists of books, tv shows and toys that she recommends for parents trying raise children outside the confines of gender stereotypes, as well as suggestions for further reading should you wish to learn more. The result of this is, is that despite discussing in some detail the enormity and pervasive nature of gender bias and how it impacts society, you don’t leave feeling lost or hopeless. Instead, she manages to invigorate and empower readers to continue working on themselves and believe that we can all make a difference. 

The last chapter of her book is entitled ‘What now?’ – a question I often find myself asking at the end of a socially critical book but rarely am given answers to. But Virginia does not disappoint. As she had done throughout the book, she gives concrete examples and suggestions while reassuring the reader that it ‘is not about doing things right but doing things better’. As someone who often seems to read feminist books that leave me feeling angry or overwhelmed (not to say that these don’t also have their place) a feminist book has never felt more like a warm hug than Virginia’s thought-provoking words. 

So, I encourage everyone, parent or not, to read this small gem of feminist literature. I personally guarantee you’ll learn something about yourself, your kids, your parents and the world we all grew up in. 

To hear from Virginia herself, tune in to our next TNF Bookshelf instagram live (@tnfmagazine) at 8pm on Friday 27th May.  

BEFORE YOU GO...Have you read: Women’s charity founder: “Return of Taliban will leave women vulnerable to traffickers"
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