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.
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.
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.
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?