So, the following is backed up by hearsay and uncaffinated theorising, and no statistics of any kind. You have been warned.marthawells
linked to a post by YA author Maureen Johnson (if you haven't read Johnson's books and/or blog, you should as they are fantastic and very funny). The post is called "Sell the Girls
" and is about girls who read books about boys, and boys who apparently won't read books about girls, or something.
The assumption, as I understand it, is that females are flexible and accepting creatures who can read absolutely anything. We’re like acrobats. We can tie our legs over our heads. Bring it on. There is nothing we cannot handle. Boys, on the other hand, are much more delicately balanced. To ask them to read “girl” stories (whatever those might be) will cause the whole venture to fall apart. They are finely tuned, like Formula One cars, which require preheated fluids and warmed tires in order to operate—as opposed to girls, who are like pickup trucks or big, family-style SUVs. We can go anywhere, through anything, on any old literary fuel you put in us.
Largely because we have little choice in the matter.
ANYWAY, this was brought on by commentary that boys aren't reading much, so more writing ought to be tailored to their needs.
Since that's a topic of Tamora Pierce's, I thought I'd check out her blog. Nothing recent there, but here's a good post on the issue from back in July: Why I write girl heroes for the most part
Why do I write so many strong female characters? When I was a kid, 7-8 books out of all books written for kids through teens had boy heroes. Those that had girl heroes showed them at "feminine" pursuits, or if they were a little feisty, a male hero had to bail them out by book's end. Only the historical novels had strong girls; most of them "settled down" by the end.
These days, whether anyone believes it or not, 6-7 of the books published for kids through teens still have male heroes. Not much of a change, is it? A study done on picture books recently pointed out that the majority of human characters in those books were men, shown doing active work, while women were shown in domestic settings, doing nurturing tasks. Not operating steam shovels. Not jumping into skies full of clouds to find where they are made. Not trying to drive buses.
The things I take away from that are:
1. We're back to the thing where if you have a mixed group that's a third female, it's seen that women are the overwhelming majority.
2. Despite an abundance of material, boys apparently still aren't reading that much.
Having read the comments, I've determined that boys actually are reading, just not prose. What are they reading, you may ask.
Boys read comicbooks.
I know, I know. We grown women who read comics want to shift away from the image that our favourite hobby is something targeted at teenage boys, and honestly so is the comics industry to a certain extent (they want adult boys to read comics too!). And lots of people who aren't teenage boys do read comics.
BUT: it would seem that a lot of young men read comicbooks to the exclusion of prose. And good, I'm glad they're reading, but this is a terrifying concept to me.
Here's why: I was having a night in with my sweet friend and her asshole boyfriend, and it was his turn to choose the movie. He wanted to watch I Love You, Man
, so we did. This went about as well as expected. I was appalled. She was appalled. He said loudly that he thought it was the best thing ever. I told her loudly and repeatedly that this was an alarming thing for an asshole like him to admire, given the movie's attitudes towards and treatment of women (I may have put it a little more tactfully than that). She eventually reached the end of her very long patience and told me that it was unfair for me to be critical of his tastes as being problematic, but still continue to claim comicbooks were the best thing ever.
That shut me up. Granted mostly because I didn't want to say it was problematic for him to admire characters who treated women like that, when he himself treated women a lot like that, (so could we just dump his ass, please?) Whereas I was a pacifist and a feminist like her, so while I may have enjoyed superhero comics, I at least realised how problematic they were. But I could also see her point.
She also dismissed Iron Man
as a male mid-life crisis movie, a genre I vocally hate
, and couldn't understand what I saw in it. Had to admit she wasn't entirely wrong there either.
Because as much as I love and obsess over comics, as much as I write about them, and write fic for the, and lament that I only get them once a month out here, I know there's a problem. And I can read them knowing there's a problem. That's fine, takes a bit of denial and cognitive dissonance, but it works.
Teenage boys, on the other hand, may well be taking this straight up. It's an age that is, or was for me at least, a time when taking in and formulating mythology is very important. I was hardcore into The Lord of the Rings
, Babylon 5
and other things that were epic and dramatic. I brought on board all sorts of ideas that I didn't shake for years
because my brain had imprinted on them like a baby chicken.
I'm not trying to sell teenage boys short, I'm sure that they are able to discern lots of things (and what they don't reject now may come up for questioning later when they grow up a bit, though having male privilege, they'd have less reason to do so than I did). And I'm not trying to dismiss comicbooks as a medium, even superhero comics. Because I love them like chocolate.
But when I'm looking at something that I want to be the primary source of mythology for growing young minds (young minds who are statistically more likely to grow up and be presidents and CEOs), I'm not sure I'm looking for this
. Nor this.
This is one of the many reasons why anti-oppression/social justice work in comics is important.