Sunday, August 21, 2011

This Article - Boy is not a four letter word

Here's another BOYS DON'T READ article.  I'm sure you saw it all over the internet.  Lots of people had a ton of things to say about it.

Sadly, most of it was crap.

Here's what I'm sick of:  people getting up in arms every time someone suggests that we need to do more to get boys to read as if somehow that diminishes girls.

Here's a fun fact:  boys and girls are different.  They have different likes and dislikes.  They're turned on by different things.  They view the world in different ways.  They approach situations differently.  You can't deny that.

No boy will ever know the fear and joy of getting pregnant.  No girl will ever know the supreme embarrassment of popping a boner in front of her English class during a presentation.

There are some books that will appeal mostly to girls, some that will appeal mostly to boys, and a whole freaking slew of books that will and should appeal to everyone.  Who does it harm to try to sell and market books to both genders equally?  Why do so many people feel that a call for more books with boy appeal is automatically a call for fewer girls?

READING IS NOT A ZERO-SUM GAME.  It's not boys versus girls out there.  Acting like boys are these vicious monsters because they're embarrassed to be seen with a mermaid girl on the cover of their book is ridiculous.  I hope that the next generation isn't as scarred by the bullying that they endured in middle school as I was and is more open to things that challenge their masculinity.  But this "take it or leave it" mentality when it comes to books is, quite simply, fucking ridiculous.

I'm not even going to address why boys aren't reading and what we should do about it problem.  If you want boys to read, give them a book.  If they don't like it, give them another.  If they don't like that one, give them a gift card and a Kindle and tell them to buy their own.

I simply find it sad and ridiculous that for a community that prides itself on openness and acceptance, there is this instant backlash against the idea that we bring more boys to reading by trying to meet them where they are.  It's petty and childish and selfish.

I thought the YA community was better than that.

For the record, here's a great post:


  1. Well said! As a girl, I have to say I don't know how comfortable I would have been carrying around a book with a froofroo mermaid on the cover either (though I would do it now, no question), and I read adult books in high school, skipping YA until I got into my 20s. While I read books about either gender, I LOVE writing about boys. And I'd love to see more books about them on the shelves.

  2. Thanks, Chelsea. The more I think about it, the more incensed I get about this "us or them" mentality that seems to permeate YA. I wish people would realize that having more books that support a boy's POV on the shelf would only enrich the YA shelves and not diminish girls' place on them.

    I mean, each gender's unique perspective makes them worth while. For example, I read both SHINE by Lauren Myrcle and FALL FOR ANYTHING by Courtney Summers. Both "girl" books. Book that had female protagonists dealing with hard situations. They were both amazing freaking books that I would recommend to any boy any day of the week. I think there's huge value in them as literature AND in seeing how someone with a different perspective deals with a situation.

    The great thing about boys and girls is that they ARE unique. How would having a book about how a boy dealt with the suicide of his father diminish the greatness of Courtney Summers' book? In fact, it wouldn't. It would only give people who'd read both a much broader perspective. Because they'd have the opportunity to see how different people dealt with the same situation.

    But the boys versus girls things goes so much deeper. YA is supposed to be inclusive. It's supposed to be the place where we teach that tolerance isn't just possible, it's expected. We make calls for more literature featuring people of other races. Black, white, Hispanic, Asian. We make calls for books featuring people of other sexualities and other socioeconomic backgrounds. No one would ever say, "Ugh, I'm so sick of people trying to bring more gay characters and writers to literature. They dominate theatre, do they need this too?" Because it'd be freaking silly.

    No one's keeping score. No one is silently ticking off hash marks every time a great girl book comes out or a great boy book comes out. The only winners in this game are kids and the only way they win is if they have the broadest possible base from which to read.

    If boys aren't reading because they don't like what's out there, then yes, our approach should be first to give them stuff they like, and second to then lead them into unfamiliar territory. Show them how great the stuff that's out there actually is.

    If you're a librarian and a boy comes to you and says that he doesn't know what to read because everything seems too girly, trying to shame him and tell him that he should just suck it up and appreciate the great literature that already exists isn't going to make him a lifelong reader. It's going to make him never, ever want to pick up a book again. Is that a shame? Yes. Is that wrong? Yes. Is that reality? Yes. And is it our fault? Hell yes.

  3. Here, Here! I too am sick of this bogus 'fight'. I think it has permeated all of publishing. This whole woe-is-me-women-are-2nd-class-citizens! and woe-is-me-there-are-no-books-for-boys! It's all total bullsh**. And I say this as a parent of a teen (the only female in the house) who recently had a headted debate with the fellas about the term "chick flick". And I say this as a woman writer, I completely *get* the bias. It happens. It's real. And you know what? BFD. I have no problem writing under initials if it will help persuade more boys to read my stuff. All TEENS have a hard enough time as it is - we don't need to be throwing our judgement on them as well. That's like saying to a kid getting persecuted by a bully - "just laugh it off - he'll stop if you don't react." Completely disregards the abuse, minimizes his/her suffering, somehow puts the responsibility on *them*. Well, gender inequality is a real thing and it's a knife that cuts both ways. And it's not on the boys, or the girls, to be saddled with our disgust over that. I have no doubt that I've missed excellent books because it had a submarine on the cover (or some such thing that didn't interest me at the time) - and SO WHAT? I didn't feel 'sexist' because I disregarded that book. I thought "not for me." And so what if I missed the BEST BOOK EVER? And who gives a flying F*** that it was written by a guy or a girl? What we SHOULD be doing is rejoicing that there are excellent books out there for ALL, rejoicing that stories of boys being bullied for just READING are (seemingly) on the decline, and that there is such a wide variety of choices for all. And - yeah - I've been to the local booksellers. yep. Romance is half the store (YA and Adult). But there's this whole other half, see. It's all good. People are individuals. Let's just encourage *reading*. The librarian in me falls back to the time-honored saying: "A book for every reader and for every reader: a book."

  4. First, a thank you-- I hadn't really thought a lot about reading and boys, because growing up as a voraciously reading girl I was distracted by the issues surrounding reading and girls. Won't go into it here (you're welcome!). You've got me thinking more broadly now about YA lit and its role and importance. You have a lot of thoughtful and incisive content on this here blog that is spot on. Keep it up!

    Ok, boys and reading. So many forces surround this problem, and to go into it fully you have to dig into Issues & Problems like gender roles and identity and business's place in the arts and all sorts of flavors of feminism/gender equality. Luckily I know the solution, and you said it:

    If you want boys to read, give them a book. If they don't like it, give them another.

    (I also posit that we can create world peace if we all really try to get along. I.e., I know it's more complicated on a societal level but come on, it's not rocket science.)

    People, all people, should read because of what it does for them-- and not in that smarmy patronizing "fix the boys" manner that the NYT article means:

    "If we’re to counter this tendency and encourage reading among boys who may collectively resist it, boys need to be approached individually with books about their fears, choices, possibilities and relationships — the kind of reading that will prick their dormant empathy, involve them with fictional characters and lead them into deeper engagement with their own lives. This is what turns boys into readers."


    "Say, little Jason, would you like to read this nice book that will get you in tune with your dormant empathy and provide you with a positive male role model to identify with and thereby engage with your own life?" "F**k off."

    How about this:

    Approach individually with books they'll like. Boys, girls, new readers, old readers should read because they enjoy it. A book doesn't need a moral message to be good. A reader doesn't need to be improved by a book. A teen definitely doesn't want to feel that their entertainment is full of secret adult plots, and doesn't want to be talked or written down to.

    I won't even go into how many of those marketable "girl" books teach valuable lessons. Should we be trying to enable them to get in touch with their dormant apathy?

    Everyone should get to be who they are and by extension, read what they want. If what they want isn't there, GET THOSE STORIES TOLD and into circulation. Don't pre-censor by only publishing what's already there.

    To paraphrase Joss Whedon's Equality Now speech:
    Why aren't boys reading? Because you're still asking me that question.

  5. I don't see how saying "let's make math more accessible to girls" or "let's increase girls' confidence in math and science" is oK but focusing on boys reading more isn't. For YEARS, there have been articles about how girls are discriminated against in the math and science fields, how testing or the way these subjects are taught are aimed at the male population, how girls are shut out of these fields or have to fight extra hard to be in them. And this was OK. Classes focused on getting the girl involved in these subjects. But saying we need to find ways for boys to read or how books are geared toward girls is somehow sexist?? Come on!! I had a librarian tell me that boys would hide book club books because of the covers. This is not a problem? Thanks for this post, Shaun.


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