Feminist Friday: The Myth of “Girl Stories”

When I asked my friends for fantasy book recommendations for an 11 year old, they had many wonderful  suggestions.  I hadn’t mentioned the gender of the child in the original post and a few posters made assumptions which appeared to influence the recommendations they gave (much to their chagrin).  When I noticed this was happening I pointed it out, and that led into some great conversation.  One friend, Lynn, had recommended books that her son enjoyed, but noted that she “assumed the child in question was a girl, but only because she liked the Princess Bride — interesting huh?  I kind of hate to admit that.”

“It’s incredibly frustrating that parents, educators, and librarians continue to say that boys don’t have to read books that center on girls. There’s no reason that boys can’t empathize with girls, other than that we don’t teach them to. And as we continue to not teach them, this painfully harmful myth continues to dominate both parenting and publishing.'” –Rebecca Croteau

While I was having this conversation with friends, Shannon Hale (an author I really enjoy) was running head-first into the same issue.  When she goes to give author talk at schools if is often only the girls that are automatically excused from class to attend the talk.  One particular instance of this caused her to take to twitter about it (the tweets have been storified if you want to read them) and she also wrote about it on her blog.

“I heard it a hundred times with Hunger Games: ‘Boys, even though this is about a girl, you’ll like it!’ Even though. I never heard a single time, ‘Girls, even though Harry Potter is about a boy, you’ll like it!'” – Shannon Hale

There are many layers of issues at play here, at the moment though I am focusing in on this concept that, for some reason, there are books that are “girl books.”

We construct this societal expectation, that a boy won’t be interested in a story because…. Because the lead is a different gender than them?  Because a girls experience in a world is going to be different than a boys?  I have yet to hear a phrase to follow the “because” that is appropriately convincing.

Girls regularly read books with male protagonists and no one seems to bat an eye at it.  As though we are saying to girls: It’s okay to look up to, admire, and follow the adventure of a boy; there are things you can learn and relate to there.”  But then turning to the boys and saying: It’s NOT okay to look up to, admire, and follow the adventures of a girl; there’s nothing for you to relate to or learn from that.

When we say to boys that a book is a “girl book” and discourage them from reading it, we are telling the boys something about the importance (or lack thereof) of female stories in their life.

When we say to boys that a book is a “girl book” and discourage them from reading it, we are telling girls something about their own life experiences and stories.

This attitude and these assumptions need to change.

Just because a story has a female lead does not mean it is a “girl” story.  It doesn’t mean that boys won’t be able to understand and connect to the main character.  It doesn’t mean it won’t draw him in as strong to the story as it would her.  There are some simple ways we can start changing these assumptions and attitudes.  The easiest that comes to mind is this: when picking or suggesting books for an individual, remove the consideration of gender.

Do as my friend Michelle did in her recommendations on that Facebook thread.  She “almost didn’t recommend [a particular book] because it has a female protagonist but decided ‘Fuck-it. Boys can identify with a female lead as easy as I identified with a male lead…'”

What if we think instead about interests and personality when we suggest a book? What if, when you see gender assumptions taking place and holding influence, you say something?

Not girl books. Not boy books.  Just books.
Not girl books, or boy books. Just books.

67 thoughts on “Feminist Friday: The Myth of “Girl Stories”

  1. Wow, what a great post! This is an idea I’ve given little thought to, and considering I’m a reading tutor, I’m ashamed to admit that. As I read along, I was trying to think if popular books that feature female protags that I know boys enjoy: Junie B Jones, which is written for 1st or 2nd grade level readers. Another is the Ramona Quimby series. There are also books that feature a male and female protag in equal measure (like The Magic Tree House), also written for younger kids. My boys favor more “boy oriented” books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants. And now I’m wondering if they chose those because they wanted them or if I steered them that way! Thanks for getting me thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Junie B and Ramona are perfect examples (also I have an amazing image in my head, suddenly, of the two of them getting together and causing spectacularly entertaining havoc…).


    2. Ramona Quimby is probably the most recognized of Beverly Cleary’s characters, but she did have others I remember reading about, including some boys. Granted, I don’t recall any of them making it past the 1950’s.


        1. Thank you, thank you! Henry Higgins was indeed the boy I was thinking of. I rather thought it clever how Cleary wrote his books very strongly from his perspective– when I read them, I actually believed Ramona and her friends were annoying pests, and when I got back to the main series with Ramona, I was clearly seeing him as a little jerk.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I do want to add that as kids “age out” of simple chapter books and MG novels, the selection of book featuring primary male POV characters drops dramatically. Know why? Because there isn’t (or those in charge think there isn’t) a market for such books. The vast majority of YA features a female MC. I read this is because by the teenage years, boys have either quit reading for fun or read “adult” fantasy novels. While I totally agree that boys should be able to relate to a female protag, many teenage boys just aren’t going to care about a girl’s drama with her friends or sparkly vampires.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think when you step into the world of YA things do shift some as far as availability and focus (it’s not just boys that aren’t interested in girl’s drama or sparkly vampires… I pretty much went from MG and picture books to “adult,” other than a step into Historical/Historical Fiction YA’s, many of which would have been just as good reads for my brothers.)
      Fantasy has been especially in my focus on this (since it’s largely what I read and write) and the problem is really clear there — ESPECIALLY clear there, since a lot of the female-protagonist books are the ones seen as “girl books.” It was fantasy book recommendations that sparked this conversation among my friends.
      And isn’t it sad that many boys quit reading for fun by their teenage years? That’s a whole other issue!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I jumped from MG to Adult too, but I think that’s because YA wasn’t a thing when I became a teen. 🙂 I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but I can see that being a conversation starter for sure.


    2. I think that’s a bit of a mischaracterization both of the YA genre and of female protags within the genre. YA is really a lot of genres mixed together and marketed to young adults–there’s lots of variety besides sparkly vampires and friendship drama, even with those texts that feature female protags. There are lots of different types of girls, even in books.

      And there are always plenty of male characters—they dominate early childhood literature.

      The blame for some of boys’ loss of interest in reading can be in large part (though of course not completely) placed on the emphasis we put on sports and activities outside the home for boys coming to fruition. We don’t focus on boys sitting still and doing quiet activity nearly as much as we focus on that for girls.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. What Diana said. There’s a bias that boys just don’t read as much as girls, so if a boy likes to read after a certain age, he’s got more social pressures to contend with then a girl would, even though there are plenty of instances of girls being made fun of her pressured because reading is “nerdy.” Add GENDER bias to that, which says that “girl things” lack substance, and a pervasive culture of maturity, understandable why some kids — especially boys — would end up looking to “adult” fiction a lot of the time, because at least that seems more legitimate by society standards.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Yeah, I think the culture of maturity is a real problem, especially in art and literature where things become less respected because of the audience they were created for.

          Liked by 2 people

      2. Diana is right. There also are a lot of series with male protagonists in YA now. Castar Chronicles, Chronicles of Nick (YA by Sherilyn Kenyon), Eleanor and Park, Percy Jacson and Kane Chronicles to name a few.

        I so think we put too much emphasis on sports in general. It’s also not usually socially acceptable for teen boys to read. Plus, a lot of them are more interested in comics and graphic novels than books. I keep telling my teen boys those count as books when they don’t want to join the summer reading club because “I only read graphics”.

        And to counter Allison, YA had technically been around since The Outsiders came out. Forever by Judy Blume (from the ’70s) is a YA classic, not to mention a top banned book. It petered out in the mid ’90s, which was the day of R.L. Stine, Caroline B. Cooney, and Lois Duncan (and let’s not forget Sweet Valley High), but it has exploded in the last 15 years thanks in part to Harry Potter and Twilight’s popularity. The entire YA section at the library I work at used to take up one small book shelf when I was in high school in the early 2000s, I just moved it to a larger area because I needed more space to keep up with the amount of it being published now.

        A lot of boys do jump to adult fantasy, especially older teen boys. They either skip YA completely, or only read it a couple of years. One of mine was reading YA last summer, but this summer is fully in the adult genre.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The Outsiders? Aww yeah, I loved reading Susan “S.E.” Hinton’s books back in middle school. Quite a few had some good movie adaptations… yes, a lot of them were teen heart-throbs at the time, but I didn’t mind.


      3. And the emphasis on shunning “feminine” things like emotions, love, romance, emotional intelligence, and non-sports. Victorian gender binaries: still alive and well today. :/

        Liked by 3 people

    3. Not really convinced the problem is just “girl drama” or “sparkly vampires,” (This from someone who hates Twilight.) YA is a lot more complex than that.

      This is not a justification, but I think some of this happens because books with female protagonists for younger age groups often focus on the message that “girls can do whatever boys can”–which is true, but my nephews (ranging from 21-9) aren’t interested in being lectured about how girls can do…whatever. They just want fun stories, and they feel like that message is everywhere. So, by the time they’re in their teens, they’ve encountered hardly anything they can relate to that has a female protag, despite my efforts. I realize there are plenty of males who still think girls can’t do the same thing boys can, so maybe they “need” to hear it, but if the point of the story is a social message directed at girls, it’s understandable that young boys might assume the story is not “for them.”

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The idea that a lot of books with female protagonists are focusing on the “girls can do whatever boys can” message, and the burnout from that, makes a lot of sense to me. As a writer it makes me think a lot more about the messages in what I write — crafting those strong (realistic) female characters who are embedded in a good story serves both those purposes and helps keep from feeding into the “girl story” convention.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. One of the best things I did for my universe(s) was just to remove gender as a cultural criteria for deciding who can do what. So I still have stories about girls doing awesome things, but what I don’t have is a dialogue about patriarchy and girls having to prove themselves equal to boys. Not to say there’s anything wrong with engaging that conversation. It’s there anyway, because I’m writing for real-world audience, but not putting it as an overt theme makes the stories feel more organic and probably more accessible to males.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. That’s an insightful point. I think it holds true for queer books as well. Most of them are about coming out or “it’s okay to be gay,” and there comes a point where I just do not care anymore, and I don’t expect anyone else to be interested because it’s not for them either.

          I also think there’s a point where “Girls can do anything boys can do!” is a self-defeating message, because it still comes from a baseline assumption that girls CAN’T do (or AREN’T doing) everything boys can do, so it emphasizes the stereotype even while it’s trying/claiming to fight it. Those stories have a place, but it’s more attractive to readers AND more effective to just have stories where that’s the baseline.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. Yep. I have a very low tolerance for “issue” books like that. There’s a place for them, but they shouldn’t be the entire dialogue, and for me the “girls can do…” books had the opposite effect. They told me I was only a smart/cool/awesome girl if I DIDN’T enjoy things that are stereotypically feminine. There should be stories where people are portrayed more holistically. A “nerd” girl can also like trendy pop culture things. A girl who wants to be a firefighter can also like sparkly princess dresses. A boy who likes to read can also be good at sports. Whatever.

            Liked by 1 person

      2. I completely agree. Which begs the question – what messages should YA targeted to boys be sending? There’s an argument that the drive to be a protector is ingrained in males. Is that the direction to go? What about achievement? That’s why many boys veer towards sports and video games. I’d say the fantasy genre does this to some extent, with the warrior archetype. Loyalty to family (or tribe) is another possible direction.
        btw – I offered friend drama and sparkly vampires as an example only. I’m well aware the genre has much more to offer than that. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’d rather see books that aren’t targeted to only boys or only girls. Stories that give equal time to male and female characters, as you mention in another comment, stories that include characters whose gender isn’t binary. I don’t care so much about the overt social/political “messages” or “lessons,” but they should be applicable to all readers, IMHO.

          Liked by 1 person

      3. I remember reading a romance story, and I was pleasantly surprised I enjoyed it, but then, it was more from the guy’s point of view, and aimed at a teen audience. Wish I could remember the title.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. I’m familiar with Vlogbrothers John and Hank, but no, this was when I was a young man, and they both would have been in grade school at the time, minimum. I’m 40 now… this was maybe
            20 years ago or so.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Nerd in the Brain and commented:
    I love this post so much! The subtle messages we send girls can easily add up to a lifelong feeling of being separate and “less than” boys. And there’s absolutely no reason for it.

    WARNING: This post does contain a bit of grown up language that I don’t normally use on the blog. If that sort of language offends you, please avoid reading the post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really debated editing that particular little piece of language.. since it isn’t language I normally use in my posts either — but I really just couldn’t bring myself to cut it out.
      Thanks for reblogging!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome! It’s certainly a message worth spreading!

        And I think you made the right choice in not editing it. 🙂 It’s strong language to make a strong point. The only reason I even mentioned it is because I didn’t want anyone to be whammied with it since it’s not the general form on my blog. 🙂


        1. Totally! I almost put a disclaimer on my own post about it. Amazing how one little word can cause such thoughts (but then, when you’ve worked a lot with children and you work a lot with language you think about such things I suppose). That’s a whole other post for a whole other time 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  4. This is such an interesting post and so well put – I actually found myself doing this with my own work recently. My YA book has a female protagonist and, when I sold a copy to a teen boy at a recent author event, I remember thinking ‘oh, I wonder if he’ll like it.’ Yet, as you say, had I been selling a book with a male protagonist to a teen girl, I probably wouldn’t have had that thought. So thank you for pointing out something that, even though it’s completely obvious, can still trip us all up from time to time 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Also… this isn’t just a “protagonist’s gender” issue. I wasn’t there at the time, but a friend of mine did a Newbery book club at the library where I work. The kids would each talk about a book they’d read that week. One mom asked her son if he wanted to talk about the book he’d enjoyed so much, and he started crying because he didn’t want anybody to know he liked a “girl book.” But it was King of the Wind. Male protagonist. Pretty much an all-male cast. But it’s a horse book so apparently it’s for girls. And he LIKED it, he just didn’t want any other kids to KNOW he liked it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally… the gender of the protagonist is just the tip of the iceberg (the gender of the author, the subject matter, etc all contribute). I could totally go on and on about the different aspects — and probably will somewhere, at some point… 🙂

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  6. Here by way of nerdinthebrain- and her Tweets on this post.

    One of the things I blog about quite extensively is Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, or Hero’s Journey. The more I read on the topic, the more I came to conclude that there were and are male and female examples, period. (I have acknowledged feminist contributions to this in some posts. I do say it’s significant.) And I think if we were to teach kids about this, the gap will narrow.

    I looked into The Hero’s Construction Company (www.herocc.com) and I got a personal reply from Matt Langdon. I’ve linked you on Twitter one of the posts about that.


    1. I’ve seen craft posts for writers describing “How to use the Hero’s Journey with a female character,” and the whole “journey” gets distorted into “integrating masculine and feminine.” I have never, ever seen that applied to a male hero. The baseline assumption seems to be that gender and “being a girl” is going to be a story point in anything that has a female character. It’s annoying to me because the Hero’s Journey can be exactly the same regardless of the gender of the characters.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can actually give you an example, Rose. Not in a book, but a movie.

        Kurt Wimmer’s “Equilibrium”. It really WAS applied to Christian Bale’s character. I wrote a series of blog posts about it because well, at first, all of the steps listed by Campbell were fitting like a glove.

        But something was different. “Confronting the Powerless Father” was in there. This was one of a number of “The Heroine’s Journey” steps, if you will, according to some feminists that were taking the Monomyth and analyzing it against fairy tales with female protagonists. And now that you’ve mentioned it, I guess I’ll have to maybe re-write the series, because “Integration of Masculine and Feminine” (another one of said steps) is there. The whole notion of John Preston transforming from Tetragrammaton Cleric to Savior of the Resistance was that he met Mary O’Brien, and encountered the feminine. The whole idea of the dystopian society was built on patriarchy, and the return of the feminine was the triumph of the movie.

        I do agree that the notion should be universal, regardless of gender. But I hope you understand what I’m saying here: I did see when women started analyzing fairy tales (some of which had been listed by Campbell), they expanded the cycle to include more steps. Although they were first applied to female protagonists, like Vasilisa, Snow White, and so forth, I am starting to see these steps in stories with male characters. It isn’t necessary to emphasize this “integration” step; plenty of writers have noted that a good story *doesn’t* have to follow ALL steps listed, or even in the order anyone (including Campbell) lists them. And I’d disagree “integration” would be a distortion per se; we just need to have more writers like Kurt Wimmer, and characters like John Preston.


        1. Yeah…I’m familiar with the concept, I’m just saying that I’m a woman and “being a girl” is not why I have emotions. “Emotion” is not a female trait. We need to get away from this idea that masculinee=lack of emotion/feminine=emotionally centered.What I was referring to was a specific trend about writers/writing craft teachers SEPARATING the hero’s journey into male-female categories and making a different journey for women rather than men.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Understood, and I agree with you 100%. Apologies for not making myself more clear at the outset. My family is especially sensitive to these gender role stereotypes. I don’t want people to shame my son for his sensitivity, as I was. My daughter proudly identifies as a tomboy and gamer girl, and despises gender-role marketing– anything deliberately slathered in “pink” to say “girly”. My wife- well, I figured I’d hit the jackpot, when we first met, when I found out she liked old-school RPGs and comic books. She’s actually often said the following when we’ve watched Marvel Studio movies: “That’s not how it was in the comic books.” (We usually enjoy the movie regardless, after she explains to me what the difference is.)

            I am very certain they would all complain to these writers/writing craft teachers. They don’t want such separation, I’m sure, any more than you do.

            Liked by 2 people

  7. Reblogged this on the tao of jaklumen and commented:
    “Eclectic” Allison writes about the Myth of “Girl Stories”, or why it’s a great disservice to young readers to stereotype stories by gender. I hope, dear readers, that as I’ve written about the Hero’s Journey, that I’ve demonstrated that both men and women characters can follow the Monomyth cycle. Today, especially, there are more storytellers that men and women alike have much to show us about becoming heroes, and that we are telling such stories more than ever before.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think like male lions and female lions, boys and girls are not exactly the same. No amount of social engineering is going to change that. We don’t try to make male lions different and we don’t say girl lions are better in any way.
    I think we spend a lot of time upset that the world is not the way we want it to be instead of accepting that men and women compliment each other but will never be quite the same. It makes life interesting. 🙂


    1. No, males and females are not different and we do have different experiences in the world, different interests, etc.
      HOWEVER, it bothers me (a lot) when I see little boys being shamed into not liking things they like, or girls not being given the chance to enjoy books they might want to enjoy because of some socially constructed idea of what a boy “should” like and what a girl “should” like. If we base things like book recommendations on the personality of the child/person rather than their gender then we go a lot further to honor WHO they are.
      This becomes even more clear when you start to think about different gender identities. Just because an individual LOOKS like a boy does not mean they feel like a boy (whatever that means) or identify as male.
      Different, yes, but a lot of our understanding of those differences are social constructs and can be very restricting. Shannon Hale talks in her post about a little boy who wanted to come to hear her talk, but felt his classmates would tease him for liking “girl books.” That’s not okay.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. There is of course overlap in preferences when it comes to toys, books and ice cream for that matter. No one should be “shamed” or teased for liking different things but even if someone were to write a book that boys and girls could like without being shamed, kids (unless they live in and understand the rules of a dictatorship) would still find a way of shaming other kids. That’s the way life is.

        I think the social construct argument borders on conspiracy theory in that it suggests that there were these people at some point long ago who forced people to “act” like males and females (despite the evidence of hunter-gatherer societies and the differing roles of men and women based on their different physical needs and strengths). I doubt cavemen were saying “Okay, you “should” hunt and you “should” gather. A look at nature would then suggest that animals who often display compatible but slightly different roles (usually defined by gender) were somehow a part of this conspiracy.

        I feel like death and disease are not okay, but I have very little control over those things. I have to accept them and move on. As a parent I tried the whole gender neutral thing with my son and daughter. No one shamed them, but my son built towers with blocks and my daughter built nests–textbook gender stuff. As a teacher I read and assigned all sorts of books and while the boys were respectful of the books they gravitated towards the survival adventure stories and the girls toward the relational. I appreciated all of their insights and differences.

        I think like some of your commenters said, there develops a certain impatience in boys when they are constantly being preached at to accept the new religion of “girls can do everything.” No one can do everything. And to be honest western women today are a pretty privileged lot. In fact I think we have more choices that boys and men and can have tantrums and call it feminism (not saying your post was a tantrum at all). I am saying that there’s an underlying gripe that boys just aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do by not liking “girl books.” You can say it a million times but most (not all) boys will think of Anne of Green Gables as a girl book and most girls will think of certain video games as boy games. This doesn’t mean they can never cross over and read or play, but they’re drawn to certain things.

        I’m also frustrated by the constant “we need strong female characters” who only end up having what would be considered male strengths (again there is variation and overlap). The true strengths of girls and women are devalued in favor of the comic book “strong” girl.

        Okay, yeah, girls can kick box but most don’t. I don’t have a problem with that. I think we’ve become a society obsessed with gender at the expense of a basic love of humanity in all our differences.

        All of this is said in the interest of discussion, not anger. I enjoy trying to figure out life and your post was quite interesting–along with the thoughtful comments.



        1. Thanks so much for engaging in the discussion!
          I don’t necessarily agree with you on the idea that societal construct sounds like conspiracy theory (though I do agree it can sometimes come across that way). But there are things that have shifted in our culture and history that have shaped the understandings of, for example “woman’s work” and “men’s work.” It would take a bit more research on my part (to properly cite things because, well, I’m an academic at heart) in order to go into depth but you don’t have to go too far back in history to see the ways in which campaigns have been run and decisions have been made to reinforce certain expectations that serve groups and agendas. Think about some of the propaganda that rose around the suffrage moment which clearly was trying to shape a certain understanding of appropriate gender roles. Or the campaigns and advertisements post-WWII here in the United States which pushed women to return to their “proper” place in the home.
          There’s really more in here than I can talk to at the moment (though a lot that I want to think about and write more about later), but there are two things that I do want to touch on.
          1) Yes, there are certain books that many boys will not like, and I don’t mean to be griping about what boys like or don’t like. I more want us all to be aware of how we are recommending and presenting stories and book suggestions to people (that’s where this all started for me, after all). That friends hesitated in suggesting certain books because of the assumed gender of the child (books they would suggest based on the other books the child was interested if they thought the child was a different gender) is problematic and limiting.
          2) The “strong female characters” statement. This could (and certainly has been some places) be a complete post of its own. When I say “strong female characters” I don’t mean that they are necessarily physically strong, or holding traits that are more traditionally attributed to males — what I mean is that they are strong characters. Many female characters are given surface treatment — they are two dimensional and fall back on cliche’s and conventions. A strong female character may not be physically strong at all — but they are complete characters that stand on their own as people.
          Again, I do really appreciate your discussion here — the differences between us (all of us) are what makes it interesting to engage in the world and if the comments were a bunch of people agreeing with me I would feel like I had too narrow a group of people reading what I write. Civilized conversation around differences of opinion and understanding are the only way we will be able to discover the common grounds that we do stand on so that we can embrace the differences that make us interesting.


          1. I knew you meant strong female characters in the sense you did, but I think pop culture which probably has more influence than books presents the “strong woman” type as a superhero in spandex.

            In my writing my female characters are flawed, big time! But then so are the men. haha.

            The perception that “women’s work” the sort of work most women still do but with added careers is that somehow it’s horrible and second-rate. For most of history women raised children (now the state does). Women cooked (now Monsanto and McDonalds do).
            We live in a flawed system. Yes, women were sent home after WWII BUT many of them wanted to go home to raise a family. Of course there were others who stayed in the workforce because the wanted to or had to (but that was the case long before that–even unto Biblical times were certain women are mentioned as business people and judges.

            As you say this could be a discussion as long as history but I agree with you that it’s reasonable to suggest to boys and girls books out of their comfort zone. (I liked reading those books outloud as a class so there was no pressure. The kids (10-year-olds) were very cordial and open-minded once I put my stamp of approval on the books. People try to please people, but behind the scenes the girls and boys split ways (in general :)) .

            I took a foster care class and found this handout very interesting:


            These differences might explain preferences in reading.

            All the best!


        2. I don’t think we’re saying boys are frustrated with the message itself, it’s the fact that these are “message books” or “issue books.” I don’t like those books either because I don’t like being preached at even when I agree with the message being presented.

          I don’t think I can agree with most of your reasoning. I appreciate that the idea of socially-constructed gender sounds like a conspiracy, it can certainly sound that way! Still, that’s not really the argument. No one’s saying there was a council of some kind designing gender roles at the beginning. As a historian, I really don’t think we can apply hunter-gatherer societies to modern-day ethics, and even though many of those societies did have somewhat defined gender roles, the divisions weren’t nearly as pronounced or harshly-enforced as they were in, say, the Victorian times or the 1950s and 60s. Those periods are still affecting us today. If the society has to enforce gender expression to that extent, then by definition it is NOT natural for men and women to be that different! (Again, not saying it’s a conspiracy… It’s patterns of influence and privilege and rationale.)

          It’s also easy to argue that if more boys want to play with trucks and more girls want to play with dolls then it must be more natural, but we’re talking about a few examples set within a wider culture where they’re taught these things in a thousand ways, because like you said, we are a society obsessed with gender. Everything is gendered to a ridiculous extent. Some people will have personalities that match the base assumptions, which is totally fine, but others won’t. It’s frustrating and hurtful for everyone to either be “normal” or “exceptional” when most people are actually a combination, like Rose alluded to above. As long as we’re making a big deal about “It’s not normal for you to like ___, but it’s totally okay for you to like that thing,” then we’re just emphasizing that it’s somehow not normal and not okay.

          As Allison said, thank you for the reasonable discussion! It’s definitely a complicated issue and it’s hard to analyze our own culture from the inside.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Yes, I don’t think my nephews are frustrated with the “message.” I think they’re frustrated with being preached to, and probably also because males are often presented as “obstacles” to female characters pursuing their interests–which is valid to an extent, but seeing that so often makes them feel alienated, especially when there’s hardly any discussion of how difficult it is to be a young boy in a culture that holds rigid expectations for them but never DEFINES those expectations until they’re violated. IE: You can’t like that book, it’s for girls.

            The issue for me is making room for the people who -don’t- fit a specific category or might enjoy something if given an opportunity, which is totally different from saying that everyone is “the same.”

            As an author, I go to a lot of trouble to present women who sometimes like “stereotypically feminine things” and enjoy things that are “traditionally feminine” but also sometimes enjoy things that are perceived as masculine. I’m just as frustrated with the attitude that there’s something wrong with girls who like “feminine” things that seems to be cropping up now as I am with the other side of it.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. As a personal example, I was the girl who liked the “boy” shows and “boy” books–but I also loved Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, and Little House. Those are rare examples, and usually I did not like the things that were marketed toward girls. Except I hid those books for a long time because my male friends would laugh and the girls already didn’t like me. I wasn’t “girly” enough for them. This is the problem. I don’t advocate trying to force boys to read Anne of Green Gables. I just want everyone to have the opportunity to engage with what they like without having to be afraid

              Liked by 1 person

          2. I think we tend to look at Victorian times through the eyes of the elite. In those circles people (especially women) were obsessed roles and status. Women had to be convinced to support the vote. Yes, there were radicals and those radicals complained bitterly that most women had no interest in the feminist movement in America.

            It wasn’t until the modern era of advertizing (mind control) that women were finally convinced that they needed to be more like men.

            This argument is really one of nature vs nurture, isn’t it? Are boys born with different hormones and brain chemistry than girls? Science says yes. If this is true then to varying degrees boys and girls are going to see things differently.

            I think we should raise our children to be thicker-skinned and to realize they have the power to choose their books and destiny, but also to get over it when a well-meaning adult suggests a book they don’t particularly care for. Haven’t we seen what coddling and “everyone’s a star” has done for today’s kids?

            Anyway, we can agree to disagree about some things. I’ve dragged in everything but the kitchen sink, but I think my point is that the obsession comes from adults. Children may get their feelings hurt when someone suggests a book title, but I think they get over it pretty quickly.

            I agree historically this is way more complex than evolution or conspiracy. Humans are complex. I spent the first half of my life doing battle against the patriarchy until I realized it was a bogey-man in my life. Once I stopped blaming society and white male privilege etc I found that most men were good guys and most women wanted similar things to what they wanted hundreds of years ago (though veiled now because the modern feminist movement has shamed women with traditional desires).

            I will say again that some people don’t fit into “norms” but then really none of us does. We’re all unique and weird in one way or another. 🙂


      2. PS I appreciate your civility when replying to my comments. I love opinions but find too often that people make things personal so I was thrilled when you wrote back.

        Thanks for the forum. It gives me hope that the PC warriors haven’t stifled the exchange of ideas yet!

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Reblogged this on Just Gene'O and commented:
    I’ve got stuff going on, so I’m not able to to do a coffee post today (maybe tomorrow). Check out the latest Feminist Friday discussion post instead. I’m disabling comments on the reblog to encourage folks to comment on the original; and the Feminist Friday schedule for the rest of the summer will be pinned to the top of the page here in a bit.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Fantastic article, Eli. You really nailed this one down. I think you’re right. It comes down to even the book covers that are marketed towards girls or boys. I wonder if the hesitation comes from lingering cultural ideas of what girls read “back when,” like Little Women, which as a low-key romance, probably didn’t get suggested much to men, who had their masculine roles to fill.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’ve got something there… Going back to the origins of the modern novel in the 1700s, even though men wrote many of them and read plenty, it was considered a mostly-female pursuit because upper-class ladies had more leisure time to fill. (They were also considered more emotional, so there was a lot of handwringing about what reading fiction might do to them. 🙂 )

      Citing myself: https://hannahgivens.wordpress.com/2015/01/31/novels-human-rights-part-4-is-reading-good-or-bad-richardsons-intended-effects/ and https://hannahgivens.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/novels-human-rights-part-6-historical-context-the-book-trade/

      Liked by 2 people

  11. I wholeheartedly agree. It’s fine to advertise certain stories more for either boys or girls, but it’s perfectly fine to read about characters opposite of your gender. I’m a guy, yet I find myself reading more comics about female characters than male characters. Sometimes it’s the same with the novels I read. If they’re well written, you might just learn something about the opposite gender or see things from another perspective. That and if you’re a guy who can only enjoy stories about male power fantasies, you might not be all that secure with your manhood (not that I’m making any assumptions).

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Sorry, getting to the conversation late… I’ve run into this from the librarian angle. I got to see graphic novelist Kazu Kibuishi talk recently, and his bestselling series Amulet has a female protagonist, and an entry age of probably about 9-10. The room was full of children’s librarians, and me (there interested in the craft of graphic noveling… I took pages and pages of notes!). And the stories and questions! About how Amulet had worked so well for them to get reluctant readers to read, which was just so great.

    But then the gendered stuff.

    First, the “even boys like it!” statements, which was where I first even internalized the thought that the protagonist was a girl. It just hadn’t phased me, didn’t make me feel alienated or anything. She was just the strong protagonist.

    And second, the questions about how he had chosen and been able to write a story with a strong female protagonist, whether it was some agenda or targeted at the female audience only or to get girls reading comics something. And his answer was a) that it wasn’t really a conscious or deliberate decision, and b) that there were strong women in his life and so it was easy to write. The character just is, and she’s great.

    Side note: you should check out Amulet!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s no such thing as late to the conversation (at least, for online conversations… usually. Instantly shooting holes in my response, go me!)
      I will have to check out Amulet — I really love that author response! Characters are who they are and, female or male, they can be equally strong and awesome and equally enjoyed by readers of all genders.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Amulet is published by Scholastic and seems to be an element of them trying to find the next Harry Potter. Meaning I wouldn’t be surprised to see movies – and I really wonder what the marketing would look like then! As I’m not in their target audience, I hadn’t heard of the series until Kazu was coming – then I wanted to read some of his work before seeing him talk 🙂 So glad I did!

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Hmm, could be interesting — especially depending on how they go about it (like.. look at the flop-of-a-movie Percy Jackson was, when those were spectacular books). But, I suppose the book-to-movie and marketing-tie-ins is a COMPLETELY different topic 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  13. I only read through a handful of comments because this thread got real long and I’m short on time.

    I’m all for books that have “neutral” covers. I have a teen boy and I have a hard time convincing him to read books that have females on the cover. He assumes it’s going to be about “girl” stuff. (I know, I know, believe me, I’m raising a feminist son. Fighting against cultural stereotypes every step of the way).

    I was so grateful that the original Hunger Games cover just had the MockingJay symbol. If he’d come across it with Jennifer Lawrence on the cover he probably wouldn’t have read it. That being said, yes, we need to change our way of thinking and assumptions about these things. But more gender neutral covers could be a stepping stone. A good friend who just published a YA novel made a point to do that, knowing that a female protagonist would turn some guys off initially. On the flip side, my daughter has always read books that her female peers aren’t into. She’s embarrassed to talk about the Manga series’ that she loves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Have much more of a reply… but also short on time 🙂 Just want to say I LOVE your point about cover art – it’s so true! I remember a conversation with a young man (adult) back in the earlier days of e-readers who shared that one of the reasons he really enjoyed them was because he could read chic-lit (which he enjoyed for the characters and just fluffy-fun reads) without anyone judging him, where as a physical copy of the book he wouldn’t be comfortable reading in public.


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