This week I read a blog post by the fabulous author Shannon Hale (here’s the link: http://oinks.squeetus.com/2015/02/no-boys-allowed-school-visits-as-a-woman-writer.html ). Ms. Hale did a school visit and to her amazement and disappointment, found that boys over a certain age were not allowed to attend her presentation. It was assumed that only girls would be interested.
The question was posed as to why we assume that boys won’t like books with girls as main characters.
Is it certain assumptions about the kinds of things that girls like in their stories? You know, roooomance….loooooove……ooeygooey-ness? It made me think of that line in the movie The Princess Bride:
Growing up, I read Little House on the Prairie, Nancy Drew, and Encyclopedia Brown, Hardy Boys, Choose Your Own Adventure… okay, to be fair, I read the backs of shampoo bottles, soup labels, instructions to everything…. If it had words on it, I was all-in. Now, it’s Dean Koontz, my scriptures, stuff I read from ANWA sisters, and after being nagged about it for a couple of years, TWILIGHT. The latter was the most “lovey-dovey” of books I’d read for a long time. I’m not much interested in kissing books.
My brothers…. They certainly didn’t read the same books I did, but they weren’t very interested in reading back then—at least not like my sister and I, who practically read our way through our local library every summer.
My kids…. Well, they all read Harry Potter, but only my daughter reads Nancy Drew (she’s crazier about ol’ Nancy than even I was!). Even my son who loves to read, is not into books that aren’t about animals, or soldiers, or sports, or monsters, or Wimpy Kids™.
But he’s a boy. Just like I wouldn’t drag him out to go see a ballet, or a Hannah Montana movie (back in the day), I wouldn’t expect him to like girly books.
But should I? Is it just that girl-centered books tend to talk about girly stuff and boy-centered books talk about boy-y stuff, and each plays to the interests of their focus group?
Or is it something deeper? The blog talks about rape culture and how these assumptions being made play into that. She says:
The belief that boys won't like books with female protagonists, that they will refuse to read them, the shaming that happens (from peers, parents, teachers, often right in front of me) when they do, the idea that girls should read about and understand boys but that boys don't have to read about girls, that boys aren't expected to understand and empathize with the female population of the world....this belief directly leads to rape culture. To a culture that tells boys and men, it doesn't matter how the girl feels, what she wants. You don't have to wonder. She is here to please you. She is here to do what you want. No one expects you to have to empathize with girls and women. As far as you need be concerned, they have no interior life.
Wow. That makes it sound much more sinister than the old nursery rhyme about boys being all snakes and snails and puppy-dog tails, and that they just aren’t interested in girly stuff.
Have we been perpetuating this culture all along, since…. I don’t know, the days of Moby Dick vs. Pride and Prejudice?
Do I need to get my boys reading more books with girls in the female role? Am I harming them by just letting them read whatever they want and being happy that they are reading at all? Part of me thinks that this is a large part of why people don’t think that boys will read girl books…because they think that you have to use stuff they like to bribe them to read.
What do you think?