Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gender Neutral?

The other day, I was chilling in my local used book store when I overheard a woman trying to find some books for her son. Well, since I'm the person who secretly wishes she worked in a bookstore (no, seriously, I want to get a job in a certain bookstore to stage a coup and reorganize their shelving system), and because I had free time and no life, I went over and offered her to help her find one.

Yes, for the record, my mother did tell me not to talk to strangers, but I think I'm mature enough to protect myself from random abduction by women in a bookstore who've never met me. (Any young people who've found their way onto this site, listen to your parents and don't take candy from strangers.)

During my conversation with this woman about the sort of books she was looking for for her son, we ended up on the topic of the limited availability of books for teen guys. The woman to whom I was speaking expressed the view that this was because the publishing industry was out to emasculate all guys and "take the boy out of the boy."

Now, I'm among the first to cede that there aren't enough books printed these days for guy readers. On the other hand, I'm rather inclined to believe that this is an entirely capitalist decision on their part, in that guys make up a smaller portion of modern readerships and therefore there are fewer books needed to fill the smaller economic niche, rather than that this is part of a subversive social scheme to feminize the youth of America.

Captain Film Major will probably hunt me down and kill me for admitting this online, but when we were kids, he listened to the Princess Diaries books on tape the same time my sister and I did, and I would never describe Captain Film Major as emasculated. (Because he'd want it known, I will also say, in defense of his macho standing, that he has never read The Twilight Saga. Or, to my knowledge, anything by Ally Carter.)

I've listened to Lord of the Rings on CD, and I worship Ender's Game, and I would rather like to start handing Percy Jackson and the Olympians out to complete strangers on the streets. These are all books by guys, about guys, pretty much for guys. In the case of the first two examples, almost every die hard fan I've met has been a guy. And you know what, I don't feel femasculated (or whatever word people are using these days to feel express someone being rendered less feminine).

Would it be nice if there were more books written by guys and about guys and for guys these days? Yeah, probably. It'd be kind of cool, in my view, if when I met an aspiring author under the age of 25, they had a Y chromosome. Male MC YA, there could definitely be more of that.

Are these books full of female MCs and all the female oriented YA out there emasculating our youth and "taking the boy out of the boy"? I think not. If what we read literally made us who we were, I'd be wandering around in a corset or an earwig, or expecting some villain to attack me with his minions/buggers/swords of death. I know tons of guys who read, and contact with books -- even books by girls about girls for girls -- didn't turn any of them into women.

How do you feel the wash of female-drive youth reading material effects today's youth? Do we need more books for young guys?


  1. Oh how interesting. Maybe this woman only saw shelves of teenage vampire love and didn't realise there are lots of other books out there. Not that I think it makes a jot of difference - the only thing that should matter is whether it is a good story. And I too want to work in a book shop for the same reason!

  2. I think you're right that it's all about who the readers are. With a system like that, though, it's hard to change the majority view. How will more teen boys read if they have nothing to read? The tide won't turn. My guess is that books that appeal to both girls and boys will help to bring boys back into the reading population.

  3. In the class I taught last year (aged 10-11) six of the boys read at least Twilight - three or four finished all four books.
    The girls were subversively reading every book they could get their hands on with a similar front cover.
    I started the year worrying that they only read Jacqueline Wilson and ended it wishing they would.
    We had words.
    Signed: Writer of YA paranormal romance - I understand irony.

  4. Jayne -- I'm glad someone shares my feelings about the importance of good organizational systems, if only in bookstores.

    Domey -- I think books with crossover appeal definitely help encourage guys to keep reading. Harry Potter was certainly great in that respect. I've never met anyone who said they felt Harry Potter just wasn't for them.

    Elaine -- Those guys who read all the books are definitely going to be leaders of the back soon. It'll probably come in handy when relating to girls. I can't fault Twilight for getting people to read. Thanks for weighing in.