Boys and girls are different, and that's just fine.

 "I'm sorry, but I'm very weary of this "boys won't read" issue. The reason boys these days don't read is because of gender stereotyping by their parents and society at large, not because of anything biological or due to a lack of "boys books." (The Founding Fathers had no problems with reading. Male Scientists who've created amazing things didn't have to be dragged to books.) As a former children's librarian and a bookstore clerk I saw adults telling boys they couldn't read "A Wrinkle in Time" because it was a girl book, and to read something that was Manly instead. I'm tired of people bending over backward to get stubborn Johnny to read when Joanie wants that attention. If boys don't want to read because it's not cool, it's not Male, it's girly, it's sissy, then fine. I for one am very happy with girls being the literate, well-read, better educated ones, who go to university, who enter the workforce and come to dominate the boardrooms, who eventually take over corporations and government, and who rule the United States."

One of the most common arguments that I read in the comments section of blogs that discuss boys and reading is that boys ought to be reading the same stuff as girls.  That there is no need for there to be a distinction between good "Boy" books and good "Girl" books.  That there is no reason to design a cover to appeal to one gender or the other because those opinions are merely "social pressure" creating and forcing gender roles on the poor kids.

The arguments I've seen all seem to follow that path, that the books aren't the problem, it's the boys (or the society that raises them), what with being all sexist, not wanting to read about feelings or books with girls in them, or being actively discouraged by meddling adults from reading things that aren't the appropriate gender.  Do they mean me? Who do they mean? I've never done that, and in my library I've never seen anyone do it.  But I still know that boys have different interests than girls, just as adults have different interests than 6-year-olds.

Yes, men generally have an advantage in just about everything they do in the world at large.  Does this mean that, in the one thing guys are not at the advantage, we should just let them suffer?  Is it some form of revenge for all these centuries of oppression to "even things out"? The best way to even things out is to say "Let men suffer, it's women's turn", which seems to be the spirit of the post I quoted above, and many others I've seen in the online world? Sexism seems to be defined differently now: it's now sexist to even acknowledge the differences between boys and girls.

Let me frame it a different way:  All you girls out there, what's it like to get whacked in the family jewels?  Don't know?  Well, I can't tell you, because you are completely unable to conceptualize it, any more than I will ever know what it's like to give birth.  Boys and girls are different, and have different experiences.  We can do well to help try and bridge that gap, but there are certain experiences that can never be fully understood.

So why should we force kids to read books that they will never quite grasp the same way?  I know the answer: reading these books helps to foster a certain understanding that no other medium can.  That doesn't mean that we have to use the same book for boys and girls to help build that understanding.  Books aren't, and shouldn't be, cookie cutter, one size fits all for every kid.  And one of the factors we must consider when recommending a book is the gender of the kid in question.  Not the only one, of course, but certainly not one to be ignored.
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  1. I agree with a lot of this, especially the point that books aren't one size fits all, and that many different approaches are needed to help different kinds of readers reach the same conclusions. I still think things like the man cave can be problematic because little kids aren't involved in discussions about gender and reading. They just see a man cave and no equivalent for girls. I like a more subtle approach, like grouping the types of books boys typically like together, without openly labeling them. Even put cave deco around them, but don't call it a man cave.

    The person you quoted is foolish to think that letting men develop literacy problems will be good for the future of womankind, but I do agree that a lot of these problems are society-based, and I'm hesitant to hop on the man cave train for fear of perpetuating the gender stereotypes that made the man cave necessary in the first place.

  1. Virginia said...:

    No one will say anything if they see a women-only gym, but a men-only gym? Oh suddenly it's a big issue and people go berserk. I think there is a certain level of hypocrisy in all this, and when there is a legitimate reason to have something established for one group to best address something, people only selectively raise their voices.

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