boys, boys, boys

Wednesday, 22 September 2010 05:18 pm
renay: Text: and while I'm complaining! (and while I'm complaining!)
[personal profile] renay
I legitimately cannot find a book blog that covers only books that are written by ladies, featuring ladies, or by men featuring ladies. I started my search looking for books by ladies featuring anyone. I reconsidered, because the books should feature ladies, really. I didn't feel that this was a strange request, but apparently it is! (Help?)

We have a reading challenge for everything, but not a dedicated blog for this apparently niche concept? I got this itch when I went to look at my reading for this year, and the "books about ladies" and the "books about everyone else" ratio was actually pretty good. Also, it kind of came at a time where the call for "more boy books" was starting to make me want to explode a little? But it's in bad taste to leave antagonistic macros on people's entries. This post enraged me weeks ago, then this weekend some brand new blogger decided that the book blogging community is being CONTROLLED BY THE LADIES!! and he was joining the ranks to make sure the men got their fair share of the attention. I was disturbed, although, I am not sure why, considering that the WHAT ABOUT THE MENZ?!?!?! meme is a staple of being a lady in the world who sees arrows in her entertainment. Not that I am anti-men. Being pro-lady is not anti-the dudes. The dudes are great, I have one here that is pretty awesome and spoils me and also I like writing about the dudes. But that's the problem, I really think I am spoiled, because all the men I know personally and the male book bloggers I follow are fantastic, and then I risk going out of my circle and it's like being hammered in the face with a mallet of "ew, girls".

I discussed this with KJ, how on the whole the argument for more books for boys seems to suggest the books for girls are inappropriate for boys because they're not interested. They're not interested because they've been socialized not to be interested in girls and femininity unless it deals with sex. Therefore being a person who encourages boys to read books that are about girls, about feelings, about empathy, about romance and love, or something that has a girl on the cover or that's (GET YOUR SMELLING SALTS) pink, is hard. Librarians: you have a tough job and to pretend otherwise is dumb. I've had boys in my life who I couldn't get to read unless the cover of the book looked like a terrible Wesley Snipes movie poster, an abstract painting of an explosion, or the art project of a 9th grade emo kid and it was, predictably, about boys.

I wish we would stop masking the problem with "there are not enough boy books!" and instead go, "Damn, our culture is sexist, maybe we should fix that." Boys are socialized from birth to disassociate themselves and their identities with girls. If you don't believe me, go to Target and browse the different clothing sections for kids; feel free to get queasy, because I sure did. If you don't believe me, read Sociological Images. If you don't believe me, read this article at The Guardian, or this this post by Maureen Johnson.

I have no clue how to undo this thing that permeates our culture in such insidious ways. It's not something active, a clear line in the sand that we can all step over, or something that we all recognize. How are librarians supposed to put books in boys hands they're going to discard if it's about a girl? How do librarians undo years and years of social conditioning, parents who don't even realize what they're fostering, a culture that encourages the concept of gender as something that's built into your DNA? Or say, male as the default and girls as a subheading. Maybe we could start by not having a panic attack every few months and freaking out over the fact that boys aren't necessarily reading YA in the same leaps and bounds that girls are and blaming YA writers for feminizing the dudes? How about we axe the demand for more male representation in a place that's wonderfully, unabashedly female, when men, as Maureen Johnson points out in her entry (do read it) have dominated easily everywhere else? Someone please correct me if I'm wrong here: is YA in danger? Is the fact that boys aren't reading it causing it to lose its relevance? Has YA stopped selling?

YA isn't failing boys, society is failing boys. The makeup of YA doesn't need to change for boys. The way we raise our boys needs to change, the way we approach gender needs to change, and the idea that men and women are so different and alien to each other needs to die in a fire. Until people get on that, I find calls for more "boy books" a little harmful, if not actively hostile, toward the idea of equality in reading.

These changes are ages away, though. In the mean time, we do what we can. But I hope, with all my heart, we can use our critical thinking skills to come up with a solution that's better than a distracting band-aid with sparkles that says "more boy books".

Date: Thursday, 23 September 2010 09:17 am (UTC)
zooey_glass: (Kids Dig Books)
From: [personal profile] zooey_glass

When I was a school librarian, I use to ask the kids coming up from primary school (aged 11 rising 12) to fill in a form saying who their favourite authors were. There were two overwhelming favourites: J.K. Rowling (predictable, especially then, when the series was still unfinished) and Jacqueline Wilson. I'm not sure if you have Jacqueline Wilson in the states, but she's a bit Judy Blume in style and writes books about friendship, bullying, divorce, relationships, etc. ALL the kids loved her, regardless of gender. Her most popular title for younger readers is The Story of Tracy Beaker, about a looked-after child (in the foster system).

In the first three years of secondary school, three things happened. They got old enough to read Wilson's books for young adults, such as Girls Out Late. Boys stopped borrowing books by Jacqueline Wilson. And boys stopped borrowing books AT ALL.

Interestingly, Wilson's books for younger readers feature boys and girls as main characters. Her books for older readers are ALL about girls. So, what we're telling boys is 'big boys don't want to read these soppy emotional books', even though they CLEARLY do and when those books are gendered out of their presumed interest field they just STOP READING.

I don't know how to deal with this, except for the fact that I had a cardinal rule of NEVER showing anything but enthusiasm for any book a student picked (by which I mean no 'are you sure you want to read that boy book / girl book / book that is so boring to me personally that it makes my brains dribble out of y ears'). It needs a massive concerted effort on the part of publishers, librarians, parents and teachers. IMO the publishers are best-placed to deal with it, though. Since I work with books from the 1960s and 1970s, I really notice that books in general were a LOT less gendered then in terms of their packaging (sometimes they were full of egregious sexual stereotyping on the inside, of course, although this period saw a BIG move away from that also). It's time that publishers put more thought into designing interesting, eye-catching covers that are NOT heavily gendered. Hell, this would be such a break from the norm that the first people to do it would also probably get to look really fresh and new!


Date: Thursday, 23 September 2010 09:23 am (UTC)
zooey_glass: (Ani di Franco: God's work)
From: [personal profile] zooey_glass
Also, I think there perception that YA literature is a girls' club is actually a function of sexism. I can think of a LOT of great male YA writers - Bali Rai, Melvin Burgess, Aidan Chambers, John Green, Steven Chblosky, Robert Muchamore, Barry Lyga... this list goes on. And lots of them are writing books about boys (although *gasp* many of them focus equally on girls and have dual narration!) Furthermore, girl writers like Sarah Rees Brenna write about boys as well as girls! So the 'YA lit is overrun with girls and girls' stories' is, I think, a function of a. marketing and b. the general social tendency to think that enough women to notice is too many women.

Date: Saturday, 25 September 2010 03:57 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Go to a YA shelf. Examine. Tally girl vs boy books. This is no one's imagination.


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