Rachel Neumeier has a really interesting post on the subject, from a perspective I don’t think I’ve quite seen before. I also left her a heinously long comment over there. Here it is, copied, because I think it’s interesting and this is the best I’ve been able to articulate my thoughts. With a warning that at the same time, it’s a bunch of word-spew and I may regret the whole thing later. (So feel free to disagree, but be gentle, please.)
“Okay, warning, this kind of touched a nerve with me, so long comment ahead! Also, I’m not sure how directly it relates to your original post.
As a library worker, if a 10 year old boy comes up and asks me for a book, I’m not necessarily going to suggest something that’s pink. I might try suggesting a book that’s typically seen as a girl book, but if he says no, I won’t push it. It’s not my place to make reading decisions for kids, to tell them what they ought to read, whatever my personal views. And so a lot of times I do see boys reading boy books and girls reading girl books and I see it both as a natural thing (as you’re discussing above) and as something which is constantly reinforced. But I have had boys say, “I’m not going to read that; it’s a girl book.” I don’t remember ever having a girl say, “I’m not going to read that; it’s a boy book,” though pink books–Disney Fairies, Fancy Nancy, Disney Princesses, Dora–are extremely popular.
And to be honest, with young kids I don’t see that as so much of an issue. But then I do hear and see reactions from adults, usually males, who react to female books as if they are inferior because they are female. Read what you want; that’s not my issue. It’s when there’s a sense of gendered books (on either side, but I see it usually as male looking down on female) as wrong or inferior that I get het up. And I do see that kind of comment, in a variety of ways, not the least of which being the recent complaints about the number of women on the Nebula/Norton shortlist.
I want boys to read, absolutely, but I also to encourage their reading not at the expense of girls’ reading. And so I worry about people who say, ‘We need more male protagonists!’ (Again, something I have actually seen.) If women have historically struggled to make their voices heard, the fact that people start swooning as soon as there’s the appearance of a larger female voice in a body of literature, that’s troublesome to me.
And I remember growing up, my sister and I were allowed and encouraged to read EVERYTHING. Louisa May Alcott, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Arthur Ransome, Robert Louis Stevenson, Patrick O’Brian. My brother, on the other hand, was actively discouraged from reading anything written by a woman because those were ‘girl books’.
So I know that when I have a boy who comes into the library and will only consider ‘boy books’, there are probably both inherent and huge cultural reasons for that. I’m not going to change that, or force him to read something he doesn’t want to. That’s not my place. But I know if I have boys, I will encourage them to read whatever they want. If they want to read about dinosaurs and outer space, that’s just fine. But they’ll be free to read either.
As far as specific suggestions, The Thief springs to mind, especially for the boy who wants boy books but is also a bit introspective. Rosemary Sutcliff, if they’re willing to go a bit old-fashioned. *I* think anyone ought to love The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, though there is some romance there. I certainly mourn the rise of cookie cutter paranormal/dystopian/steampunks, but that’s less from a gendered viewpoint and more from wanting interesting and unique stories.
And so much of it is marketing–put better/less feminized covers on a lot of books and I bet male readership would shoot up. Put a girl in a prom dress on the front cover and what teenage boy is going to be willing to check it out.
I don’t know. I guess my summation is that this is such a complicated issue and at the intersection of a lot of things I think a lot of people care about but don’t necessarily have really good answers for.”