On Gendered Books — Why We Need To Give Up This BS

February 28, 2015

Author Shannon Hale just posted a great piece on her tumblr. She writes about how at a recent school visit to promote her new book Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters, the school administration had only given permission for the female students to leave class for her talk.

Let’s be clear: I do not talk about “girl” stuff. I do not talk about body parts. I do not do  a “Your Menstrual Cycle and You!” presentation. I talk about books and writing, reading, rejections and moving through them, how to come up with story ideas. But because I’m a woman, because some of my books have pictures of girls on the cover, because some of my books have “princess” in the title, I’m stamped as “for girls only.” However, the male writers who have boys on their covers speak to the entire school.

Hale says that this is not the first time that this has ever happened. And I’m willing to bet that other female authors have had similarly bizarre experiences.

She also comments on how this tendency to gender books can be damaging, but I want to weigh in.

This situation is ridiculous. Anyone presented with it can see it is ridiculous. And yet so often people try to classify something as a “girl book” or “boy book.”

Studies have shown that it’s harder to get boys to read after a certain age, which may account for some of the targeted marketing, but does not account for all of the discrepancies. People don’t give boys enough credit — they think that if the protagonist of a book is a girl (or the author is female — ask Joanne why she published as JK), then boys won’t be able to relate and won’t want to read the book. Those factors didn’t seem to stop girls from enjoying Harry Potter (or any number of “classic” works of fiction with male protagonists) or boys from enjoying The Hunger Games or His Dark Materials.

By labeling books as “boy” and “girl” books, we’re signaling to kids that certain books aren’t for them. There will be the outliers who will read them anyway, but so many will hold back out of fear or embarrassment, while others simply won’t have those books on their radar.

Reading is important because we see ourselves, but we also see others. We relate to characters and learn how other people see and experience the world. This is why we need diverse books and why we need to read diversely. It’s why boys should be allowed to read “girl” books (and attend assemblies about them).

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