Thursday, August 8, 2013

So, Some Books Are "Girl Books"? I don't get that.

I work with children during the summer, and it's always fascinating to see the natural patterns of how children behave.  Some things are very common amongst any group of children.  For example, teams.  Children can be obsessed with teams, in almost any activity where some level of competition comes into play.  They want to make it absolutely clear who is on their team, or whose team they are on, and what the teams are.  They will announce these points, multiple times.*  And young kids will divide themselves into Boys and Girls, without any sort of prompting.  Even despite prompting to the contrary. 

So if your goal is to convince a young boy that a certain book or story "is for girls" and he shouldn't try it, sadly, you won't have work very hard.

However, I have absolutely no clue why you would ever have this goal.

I mean, even as a kid, neither a female author nor a female protagonist would keep me from reading something.  Perhaps this came from the fact that one of my bigger literary influences in my childhood was my older sister.  She would read something and then pass it off to me.  So that would include things like Are You There God? It's Me Margaret or the Flowers In The Attic and its many sequels. 

I don't think it ever occurred to me that I "shouldn't" read any of those things, and that carried through with me to this day. I can't imagine limiting what I would read based on such a thing.  Are there really sci-fi fans who've skipped, say Xenogenesis or Parable of the Sower because Octavia Butler and her female protagonists might give them cooties? 

A few months ago Maureen Johnson put together a series of how covers of certain classics
might look if the gender of the author had been flipped.  Sadly... it looks pretty accurate.  And covers can easily influence if people will read a book or not.**

Same goes for movies or television.  Two of the best new shows I saw in 2013 were Orphan Black and Orange is the New Black***, both shows dominated by female characters.  I never once felt like these shows "weren't for me" or some nonsense like that.  They were amazing work and I cannot imagine ignoring it because a women were at the center.

So, I'm really, honestly curious: who out there is honestly not reading or watching something because of the gender of the author or the main character?  And if so, why? 

I really want to know.

*- Also: kids repeat themselves.  A lot.
**- I'm not immune.  Heck, I love Julie Kenner's Demon Hunting Soccer Mom books-- not to mention Julie Kenner personally, as she is one of my heroes-- but I don't think I can get myself to read her Shadow Keeper books with covers that are all faceless, shirtless men. 
***- I claim no credit for this, as I read it elsewhere, but if Orphan Is The New Black -- a show in which Tatiana Maslany plays every character in a women's prison -- was something that could exist, I would think it was the best show ever.


Word Geek said...

Got any examples of " girl books," especially YA sci-fi or fantasy? I'm trying to think of any my son would have read that might be considered gendered. The only thing that comes to mind is the "Warrior Cats" series, whose author I can't recall at the moment. I could see someone making that agrument about Rachel Hartman's "Seraphina," but it wouldn't be me, because a) I loved that book, and b) she'd punch me in the head if I suggested such a thing.

Anonymous said...

I can't speak to the SF/F part of the question, but when I was a kid, the Laura Ingalls Wilder books were tagged as "girl books," presumably because they're largely told from a female perspective and have relatively few male characters. Consequently there were not widely read by boys in my school, even though it's been widely observed that boys tend to prefer non-fiction.

Marshall Ryan Maresca said...

When I was a kid, I read a whole lot of Lois Duncan, which usually had young women as protagonists. I'm not too sure about more modern stuff.

Unknown said...

I've taught both children's and young adult literature at the college level, and I've had this discussion many times. People believe boys won't read books about girls. I think this attitude it taught.

The chair of a high English department asked me to evaluate their reading list and make suggestions. My biggest suggestion was adding books written by woman and with female protagonists. The response I got from the chair and several teachers: "Can't do that. boys won't read books about girls."

Their reading list didn't change; students are still reading Hemingway and ignoring good books with female protagonists.

In practice, I've found boys enjoy good books with female and male protagonists. I think the comments here support that observation.

That boys won't read books about girls seems to be a social bias; it's passed from one generation to another and sets expectations.

Boys are smarter than that; if they find a good book, they'll read it. My sons both loved "Anne of Green Gables," and I always told people it was their favorite book. A 13 year old boy once told me, "I love Lyra (Golden Compass). She's smart and funny and brave. I wish I had a friend like her."

Your point about covers is true. An older book by Avi "The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle" had a terrible cover; it looked like a romance novel instead of a book about a girl aboard a ship that was taken over by pirates, and she became part of the crew. I probably wouldn't have wanted read it, much less ask a boy to carry it around; they did eventually change the cover.

Unknown said...

I was surprised and heartened when "The Hunger Games" was in theaters and I saw groups of boys seeing the movie with nary a sister or a parental unit in tow. When I expressed this to a friend, she informed me that the books had broad appeal to both genders, despite the female protagonist AND the love triangle, both of which were usually dealbreakers for boys.

I think it's getting better than it was when I was young.

Abby Goldsmith said...

>> People believe boys won't read books about girls. I think this attitude it taught.

It's taught in TV (kid cartoons) and toys for sure. A lot of cartoon execs have this attitude. They consider 'Dora the Explorer' and 'Kim Possible' to be the sole exceptions, I guess.

I also read a lot of Lois Duncan when I was a kid. :-) And William Sleater.

Now I will admit to some bias. As a jaded adult who reads lots of fiction, I lean more and more towards male protagonists. I also prefer writing males, because in my twisted mind, males get to do more cool stuff. They get more opportunities in most conceivable worlds. I find it very hard to conceive of a world with true gender equality--although I'd love to live there.