Poster of two children, a boy knitting and a girl playing with a truck, with the caption "boys or girls, what does it matter all children should have the chance to find out what really interests them and what they really enjoy doing"

“Sugar and spice and all things nice…”

Dr Sebastian Gurciullo, Assistant Archivist

What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Slugs and snails
And puppy-dogs’ tails
That’s what little boys are made of

What are little girls made of?
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And all things nice
That’s what little girls are made of

So goes one variant of the popular nursery rhyme, dating back to the nineteenth century. The rhyme succinctly expresses a view about essential gender differences. There continues to be scientific and scholarly debate about the evidence for such essential differences and whether they can be traced back to specific biological or genetic determinants. Alongside that debate are another set of social and political questions about whether such differences could or should be used as a basis for determining choices about everything from the selection of a child’s toys to shaping their expectations for undertaking particular social roles in their adult lives.

Poster of two children, a boy knitting and a girl playing with a truck, with the caption "boys or girls, what does it matter all children should have the chance to find out what really interests them and what they really enjoy doing"
Sugar and Snails Press poster, 1974, University of Melbourne Archives, Women’s Movement Children’s Literature Co-operative Ltd 2015.0072

These concerns informed the work of the Women’s Movement Children’s Literature Co-operative Ltd, which consisted mainly of mothers who wanted to provide their children with non-sexist literature that did not reinforce gender stereotypes about girls and boys. They began publishing their own books for primary school age children and obtained funding support from the School’s Commission. Better known as Sugar and Snails Press (1974-1991), the group successfully produced, published and distributed more than fifty titles of non-sexist children’s books and posters. The poster above, taken from a page of their first publication under their own imprint in 1974 The witch of Grange Grove (story by Judy Bathie, illustrated by Isabel Wicca), captures the spirit of their undertaking.

This poster has recently been accessioned into the University of Melbourne Archives collection (2015.0072 Posters) and joins a sizeable collection of records associated with the activities of the Sugar and Snails Press.

 

Sources:

Chapter 4 ‘Women’s Liberation Groups. She Concert’, in Zelda D’Aprano, Zelda, Spinifex Press, North Melbourne, 1995.

Lyn Yates, ‘Counter-sexist strategies in Australian schools’, in Sandra Acker et. al. (eds) World Yearbook of Education 1984: Women and Education, Routledge, 2013

Small Press Publishing in Australia: The Late 1970s to the Mid to Late 1980s, p. 95, quoted in AustLitWomen’s Movement Children’s Literature Cooperative, available at http://www.austlit.edu.au.ezp.lib.unimelb.edu.au/austlit/page/A104914, accessed 9 September 2015.

Sugar and Snails Press, entry on AustLit, available at http://www.austlit.edu.au.ezp.lib.unimelb.edu.au/austlit/page/A87940, accessed 9 September 2015.


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