On Goodreads recently, someone began a post asking if boys or girls read more, which turned into quite a heated debate on how boys and girls read and what they read. Some people said it was equal, others, such as myself, said it depends on the individual and gender has nothing to do with it, whilst others took, in my view, a hard sexist line that girls read more. some saying because they were smarter (insulting to many of my intelligent male friends) or that boys were just embarrassed to say they read (again I found this an insult to my good male friends who do read).
I acknowledge that many YA books and perhaps a good majority of books are marketed towards women – and that males, some might say, are given limited choice in biographies, some fantasy and sci fi beyond the tween years. Maybe this is true. But maybe, just maybe, society is to blame. We praise boys for excelling at sports and praise girls for excelling, at least in many cases, in acadaemia. Girls are perhaps taught not to be rough and tumble and the expectation is that they won’t be.
In literature, you see both sides of the coin with male and female characters. Take some of the most popular characters. Judy, from Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner or Jo March of Little Women in comparison to their sisters: they are tomboys, flouting the image of the ideal girl. In both these books, we get the spectrum of female behaviour, and undoubtedly, these books are most often given to girls, boys may only read them if they have to for a course, and perhaps rarely if they choose to – I cannot speak for every boy however, and maybe there are some who enjoy these books.
Along the same lines of what I see as diverse female characters, I can name Hermione Granger, George and Anne of The Famous Five, Arya and Sansa Stark who completely contradict each other and Matilda. These last examples are from books I have read and observed that boys and girls will equally read, perhaps because they are filled with humour, and other male characters that boys will enjoy.
The other issue is covers. Books may have covers that try to lean towards one gender or another and this could be another skewed analysis. Pink and a topless man is supposed to appeal to girls (I have to say, all my books are various colours and not one has a topless man on it), and supposed “masculine” colours and images – whatever one might define these as – are meant to appeal to boys or men. Okay, fair enough if they appeal to you but one shouldn’t assume they will appeal to every member of that gender group. Why?
I have two very good male friends, one from school, and one from university. They read a myriad of things and we are always recommending or suggesting books to each other. Do they care about covers? No, because to us, a book is a book and we choose our reads based on what we enjoy reading and what we think we might like. I don’t want to read Twilight just because I am a girl and therefore I am supposed to like it. That is ridiculous reasoning.
Another genre I think is sometimes skewed a little more towards men is history. I like history and so do many of my friends. There is nothing in my view that says books have to have a “female look” or a “male look” to appeal to either genre: people should be able to choose what they want to read.
I most certainly hope when I am published, my books do not feature my female detective in a naked sillouhette to appeal to men, because that isn’t her character. I want her character to be represented faithfully. Cover art, I understand is different to the story, but if authors are to reach a wide audience, a compromise must either be made to have a gender neutral image on the cover or people need to get over their prejudices and assumptions of gendered books and just have the book on their shelf. Who cares as long as you enjoy the story?
And as for children’s books? Let your child gravitate towards a book that interests them. Why should we lock them into “gendered reading”? And for that matter, just because a child is a certain age doesn’t mean they read at that age level. We all mature differently and read differently and I think we need to start showing this in our shops, shelves and libraries, because assuming how the genders and age groups read is, in my view, limiting for everyone.