Sunday, August 12, 2012

Measuring Manliness

Enjoy a random picture of my dogs.
Andrew Smith wrote about the NPR post that questioned the lack of men writing in YA.  Read his post. It's good.  All his posts are good. He's the bat-shit crazy teacher I always wished I'd had in high school.  He's also a damn good writer and one of my favorite authors.

I've got what, like 19 more days in the month, so I think in my next YouTube video, I'll rant about what I think makes a YA novel YA, but right now I'm more interested in the definitions of masculinity and femininity.

I've written before about my own experiences growing up as a reader. How I was intimidated into hiding my love of reading, and how I felt growing up that any of my scholastic or intellectual achievements were always held in lower regard than any that my brothers might have achieved in the realms of athletics.  Those experiences shaped me.  They made me believe that there was something inherently less masculine about being smart, about reading. About pursuits of the mind.  To fit in, I pretended not to care about school, hid my books, and generally tried to conform as best I could.

But what kills me is that there is no correlation between intelligence and masculinity.  Having a Y chromosome doesn't make a guy less fit to write books than a woman with double XXs.  Nor does it make him less fit to be a reader.  There are hordes of romantic poets littered through history who used language to get laid.  Some of the poets writing in the carpe diem genre were straight up pimps...long curly wigs and all.

The problem is that somewhere along the way we began to shun the idea that men could be smart and masculine unless they used their intelligence in the pursuit of power, wealth, or women.  The idea that anyone is born hard-wired to hate reading is ridiculous.  These are societal views forced upon youth by misguided adults who have royally screwed up notions of what masculinity really means.

It's as dumb as trying to assign gender to colors. Pink is a girl color and blue a boy color?  Really? That's so blatantly stupid. Colors don't have gender, and until we impress upon children OUR biases, children don't have a preference either.

Now, I know there are biological tendencies.  Boys will always be more aggressive. They will always think differently than girls.  I'm not trying to say that there are no differences between the genders.  But those differences aren't the reason people think there are more women writing YA than men. Those differences aren't the reason we believe there are more girls than boys reading YA.

The reason is us.  I'm pretty sure if we got the hell out of their way and let them form their own opinions, the kids would grow up just fine.

And that's what I believe...until they find that ever-elusive "hates reading" gene.


  1. I have never really cared about what others think when I am reading, although I should have thought about the teacher's opinion when I was reading in class.

    Also, about the gender of colors, I read something that was very interesting in regard to that. Apparently, pink used to be a "masculine" color because it is so similar to the color red. Blue, meanwhile, was a "feminine" color because it was connected to the Virgin Mary. I am not sure where I read this, but it is an interesting thing to consider. I guess that it is all a matter of perspective.

    1. I remember reading something like that. The pink/blue association with girls/boys didn't occur until sometime in the early 20th century.

      Here's thee article I read.
      Maybe it's the same one. But here's also a picture of a very prim Theodore Roosevelt in his nice white dress. TR, by many metrics, was considered a pretty masculine prez. Wearing a dress obviously never hurt him.

  2. I feel very fortunate that two out of my three boys love to read. I remember the first time my oldest went to varsity football camp and he packed three books in his bag. He didn't realize he would be too tired in the evenings to read, but the thought was there.

    1. This! This exactly. Athletics and reading are not mutually exclusive.

  3. I'm so sick of talking about this. Not because you shouldn't be posting about it, Shaun, because this is a great post, but I think I'm just frustrated because this myth of no market for boy books seems to have become a direct barrier to my getting published. Or maybe I'm just a hack. Who knows?

    1. Having read your work, you're definitely not a hack. But I completely understand where you're coming from. Between you and me and the internet, I think the problem has very little to do with publishing, and that if we dropped all these artificial definitions of what books are and quit trying to tell kids what they should and shouldn't be doing, that the problem would resolve itself.

      I used to believe boys weren't reading, but I've come to believe that boys are reading. So maybe they problem is that adults don't want them to.

    2. Oh I definitely agree. I think I'm just hard on myself. I recently won a critique from a famous MG author, on my first 10 pages. He came back with - your writing is great, but there is no market for this book. Make the MC a girl, or lower his age to MG, or you're going to have a hard time selling this.

      And as much of a smack in the face as that was, he was only being honest. So what am I doing? Writing more boy YA that may never sell. I can't help it, I gotta be me.

    3. Being honest doesn't mean he's correct. And that was also from someone who writes MG, so their perspective is skewed. Is selling boy YA more difficult? Yes. Is it still selling? Yes. There are a ton of examples of great writers writing books aimed at boys. Hannah Moskowitz, Andrew Smith, Daniel Kraus, Kendare Blake, AS King (sometimes). To say that there's no market is so much hyperbole.

      I think it's BS to say there's no market. I think it's more honest to say that he doesn't believe there's a market. But I was told there was no market for dark, violent YA, and I'm pretty sure Andrew proves that wrong with every book. And if you haven't read Rotters, it's as dark as I've ever read.

      Write the books that speak to you and I believe that they'll find an audience.

    4. Loved Rotters. Easily as disturbing as Marbury, but disturbing can be so delicious. And yeah, he wasn't as blunt as my paraphrasing made it sound, but the point is that it will be an uphill battle. One I have to be prepared for.


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