Gendered Books

July 31, 2015 books, discussion 20

Talk To Me

is a no-nonsense discussion feature on this blog. No-nonsense means I’m too lazy to make it look pretty. It’s exactly what the title suggests: I’m going to pose a question or tell you my own opinion about something, and I want to know what you think about it! Obviously feel free to write up your own post on the topic and link it in the comments.


Topic

I went to the bookstore yesterday. Now usually this would be a celebratory experience. And it still was (yay, new books!), but while I was there I found something that irked me. Irked me quite a lot that is. So naturally I had to share it with you.

Standing before the English section (because obviously I can’t be bothered to read books in my first language, that would be ridiculous), I saw a book that sparked my interest. It was called “End of Time” and – thinking it might somehow be related to Doctor Who – I pulled it out to take a closer look. It turned out not to be Doctor Who related at all, but a German/English mixed-language book for English learners. Which is an awesome concept. EXCEPT. Right there on the cover it said “Boy Zone”. Apparently it was mainly targeted at teenage boys. I remember similar marketing concepts from my childhood, books mainly targeted at girls that were mostly about first love and growing up.

My Opinion

Now I know a lot of products are randomly and unnecessarily gendered. But given the role books have played in my life, gendering books just seems like a bit of a personal insult to me. I understand that marketing theory can’t stress the role of defining target groups enough, but for fuck’s sake people. I don’t believe in binary genders, and I’m of the opinion that gender is mainly socially constructed (of which this is a prime example really), but let’s just for a moment neglect that debate. Why the fuck is scifi only for boys? Why is there a “chick lit” genre? Why the hell can’t we all just accept that stories are stories and can be enjoyed by all genders alike? Yes, I’m aware that you can just buy the book anyway, but I’m operating under the assumption that a lot of people wouldn’t, especially teenagers who tend to be more insecure of their identity and self-worth and would often be sujected to bullying.

In the case of this book, there is a clear label on the cover defining it as a book for boys, but often the label is in our minds. If you show someone The Princess Diaries and Maze Runner, there’s no doubt which one would be considered more of a girl’s and which one would be considered more of a boy’s book. It’s just absurd to me that we’d limit good stories this way. It’s like saying Harry Potter can only be enjoyed by children or YA literature holds no worth for people who are older than the target group. A great story is a great story and a shitty story is a shitty story. C.S. Lewis said “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” Similarly, a story that can only be enjoyed by one gender is not a good story. It also doesn’t exist, because the problem doesn’t lie with the story, it lies with society’s understanding of for whom it is acceptable to read it.

I know that this is a well-known and frequently discussed problem, but evidently it’s still a problem. It extends far beyond books – I’m often perplexed when I watch a movie and someone comments it’s a movie for men rather than women, because there’s action in it or it doesn’t primarily focus on romance. A lot of the time the thought never even occured to me. I feel inadequate when I’m more interested in a game night than watching Sex and the City. And I’m not saying I don’t enjoy things targeted at women. I absolutely do. I just don’t exclusively enjoy them, and I think that is true for everyone. “Educating” people that it’s more acceptable for one gender than another to like certain kinds of stories or do certain kinds of things makes me incredibly sad, because a lot of people will miss out on great books and experiences or feel ashamed that they’re enjoying them. It also simply just pissed me off, and writing is my tool to deal with my emotions, so there ya go.

Your Turn!

What’s your take on this? Do you think it’s okay to gender products in the interest of marketing and sales, or do you think it’s unnecessary? Have you come across gendered books before?

20 Responses to “Gendered Books”

  1. verena

    oh goodness, yes! all the pinkish glitter stuff for girls, they love that stuff! but all in all till a certain age children often choose what they really want to read, they read all and everything they like no matter how it looks or who it is “made” for. growing older they develop an attitude towards girls and boys stuff and that is the problem. do they change their opinion because of the market or parents or peer group or society? I think parents shouldn’t only buy that pink/blue-green separated stuff. and have you been at a children toys shop lately?! it is a mess: girls: fairies, pink fluffy animals and fantasy creatures. boys: dinosaurs and pirates! what the heck? and of course they identify with the persons on the toys, if there would be girls and boys on it, I would not complain about the colours. but it’s all about the identification….
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    • Vlora

      Vlora

      Yeah, you’re right about children’s stores. I don’t really have any reason to be in them a lot, but whenever I see toys for children, it always amazes me how gendered they STILL are. It’s like, shouldn’t we be beyond that? And designating certain colors to certain genders is SO random. Why is pink for girls and blue for boys? WHERE’S THE SENSE. So frustrating!
      Vlora recently posted…Crazy Person On Air!?My Profile

  2. Rachel @ A Perfection Called Books

    I hate gendered books!! How dare you tell me who this book is “meant” for. If I can play with toy cars instead of barbie dolls, I should be allowed to read boy zone books too. I think it’s ridiculous to force us into little circles and say “you should read this. because you’re a girl.” NO. No. no.

  3. Alyssa

    *nodnod* This is SO TRUE. I didn’t notice it much, since I studied in an all-girls school and everyone was reading the same books, but after I grew up I realised I’d completely missed out on a section of MG. It got better when I started reading YA and Adult, because then my parents were no longer picking out my books out of recommended lists and stuff.

    It’s funny, though, because a lot of the time girls read “boys’ books” without an issue, but boys reading Rainbow Magic or Princess Academy or something? People would flip desks and scream. Says a lot about what society thinks about girls. Not to mention nonbinary people who this marketing completely forgets about.

    Instead of saying “girls will love this book!” or something, let’s just say, “this book is kickass and has cake. Everyone should get it NOW.”
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    • Vlora

      Vlora

      Oh, I’d be interested in how experiences differ when you go to an all girls school. Ugh, I have a bone to pick with recommended lists. I mean whatever gets people to read, but I resent the idea that there are different ones for different genders.

      Yes, I think it’s generally more socially acceptable for girls to read “boy books” than the other way around. Haha I’d definitely buy a book marketed as kickass and cake. Marketing people are clearly missing out on something there. :D
      Vlora recently posted…Crazy Person On Air!?My Profile

  4. Cait @ Paper Fury

    OMG BLESS THIS POST. YES YESSSS I AGREE. I absolutely loathe gendered books, because I utterly believe it’s rubbish. And I also agree that society has created “gender definitions”…and it’s SOSO WRONG. You’d think, in this day and age, they’d be trying to fix it, right? But nooooo. The girls toy aisle is still blindingly pink and boys play with lego and balls. -_- And I hate how they do it for books too, because I LOVE “boy books”. They’re my favourite. I can’t stand chick-lit. Is this because of my gender? ERM. NO. It’s because of who I am. But that saying, when we say books are marketed towards genders because of a pink/glittery cover…we’re kinda underling that “pink is not for boys” (which shouldn’t be true either). SO YEAH. There are so many problems. But I totally love and agree with this post and I’M JUST GONNA SHARE IT ALL OVER THE PLACE. Yes.
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    • Vlora

      Vlora

      Yes, I agree, it feels like we SHOULD be beyond it, but apparently it’s still very much an issue. And you’re the second person to bring up children’s stores. I have to admit, I don’t often have a reason to be in them, but whenever I see toys for kids it’s still very much boys like this and girls like that so let’s market it that way. It’s ridiculous. Oh yeah, pink not being for boys is definitely completely random as well. People should just be allowed to like what they like without being judged. I mean I’m sure I slip up on the judging front from time to time, but at least I’m trying. It doesn’t seem like marketing is. Thanks for sharing, glad you liked the post! :)
      Vlora recently posted…Crazy Person On Air!?My Profile

  5. Heather

    It doesn’t bother me that there are books geared MORE towards boys or girls, but I feel like that there’s a lot of stigma around boys who read “girly books.” This is something my best friend and I talked about the other day, in that her brother has been bullied at school for reading “A Little Princess” and “Anne of Green Gables.” We volunteered to beat that kid up (but we won’t, because that is not the statement we’re trying to make). Still, even if a certain demographic will be more interested in a book, I think that there shouldn’t be any stigmas against any readers, whatever they choose to read. So, for that reason, I would say that they should tone down the gendered books. Because boys shouldn’t feel like they aren’t boys for reading a book with a female MC, and that matters a lot more to me than books getting to the “right” demographic.
    Heather recently posted…3^3 Reasons to Love SherlockMy Profile

    • Vlora

      Vlora

      I definitely agree that it seems to be more of an issue for boys to be reading books marketed towards girls than the other way around. I also never get the MC argument – what’s it matter what gender the main character has? Aaaanyways, I’m sorry your best friend’s brother has been bullied for having good taste. That’s a really good example of why this needs to stop!
      Vlora recently posted…Crazy Person On Air!?My Profile

  6. Cynthia @ Bingeing On Books

    Great post. I completely agree with you. I really, really hate when books are labeled as more for boys or more for girls. I mean, if a boy wants to read The Princess Diairies, should he really feel bad about it? Maybe some boys want to read about princesses and maybe some girls want to read about topics that may be geared towards boys. It’s ridiculous.
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    • Vlora

      Vlora

      Of course he shouldn’t, it’s an awesome series about growing up and finding yourself and BEING A PRINCESS DAMMIT. :D Now I want to find out how it ended, I think I stopped reading after like book 6. Anyways, glad you liked this post, thanks for sharing your opinion!
      Vlora recently posted…Crazy Person On Air!?My Profile

  7. Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight

    First, what the hell!? How is this even a thing!? I am mad just reading this! I mean, I don’t doubt that it happens- I am just MAD that it does.

    Here’s a good example: My daughter LOVES Paw Patrol and Blaze and the Monster Machines. Two TV shows that are apparently “boy” shows. She is also in the midst of being the hardest person to potty train ever (this has a relevant point, I promise!) and wanted underwear with Blaze or Paw Patrol. Well guess what they don’t make? Underpants for girls with those characters- only boys. Same for clothes and such, but that is less of a problem- she can wear a boy-labeled t-shirt, but um… underpants are a problem because of the lack of a penis situation- they wouldn’t fit, AND they have a flap. So basically, I spend a LOT of time cursing at these asshats who stereotype EVERYTHING.

    And I am most upset because the point you had about teens being embarrassed is SO spot-on! I can recall being a younger teen and if I went into a bookstore and it was labeled for BOYS?! I would have been WAY too intimidated to ever pick it up. So what, I am stuck with some sappy romance because some fucktard at a bookstore decided that “boys read sci-fi, girls read romance”?! I am so full of rage right now, I cannot even form coherent thoughts.

    OH! OH! And I think that the REVERSE is almost worse- labelling things “for girls”. Because boys get taunted SO MUCH for that kind of stuff, which is so damn unfair I can’t even express it. I want my son to be able to play with and enjoy whatever the hell he wants- I would never in a million years discourage him, but what the fuck am I supposed to do about society at large? Can we give them a collective punch in the face?

    This post is SO FABULOUS because we need to put an end to this shit. Can we sign a petition or something? THANK YOU for this!
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    • Vlora

      Vlora

      Ugh, that sucks! It’s like what I read recently about there being action figures for all Avengers EXCEPT THE FEMALE ONE. Like… what? Why!?? I’m sorry you can’t find the stuff you want for your children. You should start selling them yourself, maybe you’d get rich from all the parents who have similar problems. :D

      Yeah, boys are probably teased more for buying “girl stuff” than the other way around. It’s completely ridiculous. It must be really hard as a parent (I imagine with my vast knowledge of parental experience :D), because on the one hand you don’t want to discourage them from liking what they like, but on the other hand you don’t want them to be bullied. WHICH SHOULDN’T EVEN BE AN ISSUE DAMMIT.

      I’d definitely sign that petition. Glad you liked this post!
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  8. Heather

    I hate this. My step daughter has always had very strict rules for herself about what she will and won’t see or do based on if it is for girls or boys. It drives me crazy.
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  9. Romi

    Fantastic topic for conversation, Vlora, and I’m glad you’re bringing it to the forefront of your blog. I don’t really know what to add because you summed it up so sodding well, but basically… I think it needs to be addressed not only on the level of “gender” but on the level of content. Books that feature LGBT+ people are still fantasy or sci-fi or whatever. They don’t need to be distinguished because of the sexual identity or preferece of one of the characters, although at the same time I wish they were easier to find.
    Fantastic discussion, though. Go you! x
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    • Vlora

      Vlora

      Thanks, Romi! Oh god yes, such a good point, I’ve struggle with those definitions as well before. Why create an LGBT+ genre when there’s ALREADY A GENRE. Why say it’s an LGBT+ book instead of saying it’s contemporary or fantasy or…? But then obviously if you’d like to read more diverse books, you need to find them SOMEHOW, so I guess that’s part of why that came into existence? IDEK. It’s not just with books, with LGBT+ rappers and artists (…) people always mention that LGTB+ before their name as well. I mean I know some time people don’t mind, but I’m sure it also keeps people from being their authentic self just because they don’t want that one part of them to be the defining thing people know them by.
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