Boys, Reading and Misogynistic Crap

child-315049_1280Children’s book author Jonathan Emmett says that “boys are being deterred from reading because the ‘gatekeepers’ to children’s literature are mostly women.”  The gatekeepers are editors, publishers, librarians, judges and reviewers of children’s books. 

According to an article in The Times of London that is summarized on a more accessible page at Publishing Perspectives, he believes that there isn’t enough boy-friendly elements in children’s books.  I’m honestly not sure what books he’s been looking at because he then goes on to name some pretty big themes in children’s titles:  “battling pirate ships” and “technical details about spaceships.” 

He does have some support from a couple of female authors who incongruously to the very claim of the author write very boy-friendly titles.  And he has done his research.  Out of 400 reviews in five British newspapers, less than 20% of the picture book reviews were written by men and less than a third of the fiction reviews.  That compares to 47% of the picture books being written by men and 41% of the children’s books.

Now wait.  So the claim is that the powerful cadre of women who control publishing, like LIBRARIANS as an example, are using the reviews that they write to weed out the boy friendly titles?  Or is the claim that the female publishers are controlling the writing of the male authors and making sure that they are not filled with swords, battles, dragons, pirates, etc. 

As a children’s librarian, I worked hard to get titles children love into the right hands.  If a boy or girl, because this is even more of that gender-focus that doesn’t help anything in our culture, comes in and asks for pirate books, I merrily get them those books.  Books into hands.  That’s all I want to manage. 

But perhaps the most disgusting part of logical extension of the author’s claim is that we as women are out to emasculate male children by withholding books they would prefer to read.  Producing books that reflect a softened, feminized version of our world, no battling pirates, no technical information, no baddies smoking, few if any baddies at all.  What misogynistic crap!

Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles, #1) The Real Boy Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War

Women are writing some of the most captivating and violent books for children and teens. 

Women are the ones in the low-paying jobs of teacher and librarian who get books into the hands of children. 

Women are the ones who take the time to listen to the small voices of children and pick those marvelous Captain Underpants books off the shelves for them among many others.

Women are worried about the gender gap in reading and are having conversations about how best to collect books in our libraries that boys (and non-reading girls) will enjoy.

Women, professionally and as moms and grandmothers, are powerful, I agree with Mr. Emmett about that.  It is our power that will help solve this issue, not perpetuate it.

17 thoughts on “Boys, Reading and Misogynistic Crap

  1. Well….his conclusions are flawed but there might be something in his premise, if that’s the right way to put it. Personally, I recommend TONS of books to boys and they have no problem asking me for recommendations and loving what I suggest. However, I’ve encountered a lot of teachers and parents who have really narrow views of what constitutes “reading” – no comics, no nonfiction, only “classics” and “award-winners” which generally translates to historical fiction about girls. The Battle of the Books list for sixth grade at our local school a few years ago was almost all historical fiction and about 3/4 was historical fiction about girls, including….Anne of Green Gables. Cuz soooo many sixth grade boys are just dying to read that. I don’t think it’s so much that it’s women recommending or writing (or not recommending or writing) but that there are teachers, librarians, and parents out there that are making poor choices in how they encourage kids to read – and that includes girls too.

    1. I too have had conversations with people who don’t approve of children’s books being anything more than books on how one should behave as a child. Even the slightest naughtiness concerned them. But for me, the problem remains that this author is saying the concerned people are all women. That’s simply not true. I’ve had fathers react the most strongly to books like And Tango Makes Three and The Stupids.

  2. Huh. I’m surprised this article was ‘t in the Times of London; it sounds more fodder for click-baiting Daily Mail. “..boys do not like books as much as girls” and “Mums and grans buy the books,” combined as a theory just equals utter nonsense, and someone looking to blame others, perhaps for the sales numbers of his own books? His idea that some “gentle” editor is out there, naysaying all the “naughties” like smoking and violence and things done by “baddies,” so that the world will be all sort-focus and full of lambies and kitties like girls OBVIOUSLY WANT IT makes me want to stomp on him with my combat boots. (Also, should boys want smoking and badness to make them boys? He’s not just giving women short shrift on that one. Clearly, boys must WANT lung cancer and to be vivisected by knife wounds to be boys. Right manly, that violence thing.)

    It’s not just ignorance and misogyny. It’s immaturity, that’s what galls me. Girls are, in his lexicon, still sugar-and-spice-and-all-things-nice, and boys are snips and snails. What is he, eight years old in Victorian times!?

  3. I saw that article through my feed and thought ‘Gah… I can’t even.’ Thanks for writing this so I don’t have to!

    Perhaps his worried hand-wringing is partly borne of a part-realisation that even though women are doing the lower-paid child-caring tasks like primary school teaching, that these are actually the most powerful positions to be in. Maybe someone just done realised he got hood-winked.

    As for the ‘feminisation’ of boys being a problem, I take issue with the very assertion. Because what do people really mean when they say ‘feminisation’? Often they’re simply referring to increased empathy and general niceness. And I see no problem with that. If boys aren’t reading fiction about girls, this surely starts before the books.

  4. Well said, Tasha! My experience is that agents and editors are LOOKING for books with boy interest, and teachers and librarians are thrilled to unite boy readers with books. And some of us authors (who happen to be female) are working hard to write books that boys (and girls) want to read.

  5. I don’t agree with everything Jonathan has written by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve also been saddened by how vitriolic a lot of the responses have been. I’d encourage you to read the the original articles by Jonathan (so you can see that the newspaper article actually doesn’t represent his views entirely accurately). You can do so here:

    1. Mm. Nine-tenths of the kids I hear from about my books are boys. They never mention any objection to the fact that the books were written by a woman, edited by women, purchased by women, and placed into their hands by women.

      Since women have nearly always had “control” of nearly every aspect of child-raising, it’s hard to see why books should be an exception.

  6. I am new to the book world, but I do know from personal experience that women in publishing are extraordinarily open to books for boys. The woman agent who sold my Sean Rosen book series helped me decide between the two women editor/publishers who wanted it. Boys read books that are funny and smart and reflect their lives. Hold the pirates, bring on the transmedia storytelling.

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