It’s a Reading thing, not a Girl or Boy thing.

During my normal rounds this AM of the interweb I discovered this post, by author  D.S. Cahr, about publishers marketing YA books largely to girls. This is not new news, but I thought I’d add my (brief) two-cents. Make sure to check out the link above, and learn more about the author’s book The Secret Root. (I am an admitted book whore, but this one sounds pretty dad-gum awesome.)

So, my thoughts, in a possibly random order. Books do not have gender. They are not Boy or Girl. (I believe Libba Bray said that, and she is a brilliant example of not writing for gender.) Some will inherently appeal more to one gender, but that shouldn’t stop the other from reading it.

As the author states, Divergent and The Hunger Games, both featuring female protagonists, have been universally loved by boy readers. Why? Katniss and Tris are both pretty kick ass. They are more plot driven (which is YA in general, not just YA for boys), and they do not shy away from violence and/or action. The romance is solid, but not the focus of the story.

Other books, with similar components, are being marketed as Girl books, even if boys would probably dig them. (I think any book written by Maggie Stiefvater will appeal to boys. Her boys rock.)

I am writing a YA book that is told in first person POV by a seventeen year old girl.  It is plot-driven. It has violence and action. The romance is important to the plot, but not the only thing in the plot. The Boy has an arc with super-high stakes and tons of drama, making him a very strong, conflicted masculine counterpart.

My book will likely be marketed to girls.

This irritates me. Girls are already more likely to read a book featuring a male protagonist than boys will for a female. The pressure to be masculine is greater than the pressure to be feminine. Girls who dress in baseball caps and cut-offs, or like sports and the outdoors, are considered cool and cute. Boys who pay attention to their clothes, like art or aren’t into sports, are considered pansies.

This may not be true everywhere. I remember in New York, one of my mom-friends said she got her son a make-up kit and let him play dress up in princess gear. Sam has never been inclined to wear make-up (although, he has quite literally painted his face), and dress up is reserved for superhero costumes, but if he were, I’d let him. Self-expression is important in developing identity. New York City is not the norm, and in many parts of the country, this double-standard is still an issue.

To say a romantic book cannot be for boys, or a violent book cannot target girls, is bullshit. Boys can like romance. They can be hopeless romantics as much as girls. I have a brother who fits into the category wholeheartedly. However, he is not a reader. Why? Because early on he wasn’t connecting with the books he was being told he should connect with.

I guess, what I’m trying to say (not so elegantly) is publishers shouldn’t decide a book is Boy or Girl, but should market it as a book. Teens are smart. They can decide if they like something without you telling them to like it. To pander to the lowest common denominator is just selling your audience short. Teens do not like to be talked down to.

Publishers are about making the most money. This is fact because books are also a business. Wouldn’t they make more money if girls and boys could feel comfortable reading whatever book they want?

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7 thoughts on “It’s a Reading thing, not a Girl or Boy thing.

  1. This is a big issue. Fact is by 5th grade, we’ve already lost many boys to reading fiction. A few more years, and by high school, we’ve lost more as many boys walk away totally from reading. Publishers won’t market to an audience that doesn’t show up to be marketed to. You might want to check out http://www.guysread.com and http://www.boysread.org to see what educators and writers are trying to do to keep boys reading. Parents also need to model reading and with the average American reading a book a year or less, we are not providing good role models.

    • Thank you for the thoughtful comment. I adamantly agree that parents have so much power in creating life-long readers. Thank you for the links, I will immediately check them out. Good point about publishers not marketing to an audience that won’t show up. I have heard that before, and think it needs to be said over and over.

  2. As the mother of a thirteen-year-old son, I feel very strongly about this issue as well. I’ve purposely raised my son to appreciate books based on the quality of the story and not whether the protagonist is male or female. I think at the root of this topic is a question of respect: Are boys being taught to respect females as equals? If so, I think that will spill over into their reading choices and there’s a better chance they’ll be comfortable reading about a female protagonist and realize they can learn from that character’s experiences. My son is a hardcore sports fanatic, and Katniss is right up there with hockey in his opinion. Appreciating female characters doesn’t make him any less masculine, it makes him a well-rounded person (Though let’s face it, the term “masculine” is open to interpretation anyway.). Of course, this has been modeled to him, by my husband which goes a long way. Thanks for this insightful post!

    • I haven’t looked at it from the respect angle, but I do think that is a valid one. Encouraging kids, and this goes for both sexes, to look for what they can learn from a protagonist of the opposite sex is a great place to start. I love what you say about your son and Katniss. Ultimately, both you and your husband, are doing the best thing by being solid models for your son. 🙂

  3. Thank you so much for your comments on my blog post (and your encouragement for folks to check out my book!) As someone who loves books, and loves YA, it troubles me to watch the friends of my son fall out of love with reading fiction because it is deemed “a girl thing.” To be sure, parents and teachers need to do what they can to show that (a) there are no girl or boy books, and (b) reading about a girl MAY ACTUALLY PROVIDE USEFUL INFORMATION FOR A TEENAGED BOY WHO WANTS TO UNDERSTAND GIRLS. But beyond that, publishers need to stop turning every good story that just so happens to involve a female protagonist into an opportunity to communicate that this is exclusively a “girl story.” Boys would be interested in the stories of a girl assassin (e.g. Graceling) or a girl stuck on a violent dystopian island (e.g. Forsaken) but boys are excluded from that world, and it is profoundly unfortunate.

    • When I read your post it really stirred this in me, so, well done! I also look forward to reading your book myself. You mention what one of my other followers mention, and I think it’s a really valid point. Boys CAN learn so much from a female protagonist. And, about Graceling, a big chunk of it involves Po, and their journey. Graceling is great for boys.

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