Summer Reading can be an intense experience. The library is full of parents and kids signing up for the club, looking for books, and discovering new things about the library. But there’s something stinky in the library these days, and I think it’s us.
No, our air conditioner hasn’t gone out, and we’ve all been showering regularly—or, at least I have. What’s stinky is the way that some parents and even some librarians recommend books for boys.
The other day, a mother was in looking for books for her son. He’d loved Wonder, and we happened to have a list of read-alikes for Wonder, so I used this resource. The mother asked about a particular book on the list, I found it for her, and my immediate thought when I looked at the cover was, “Oh, no. This is about a girl.” I tried to sell it to her anyway, but she screwed up her face and said, “Uh, this is, you know, about a girl.” She handed it back to me, said thank-you-very-much-but-we’ll-find-our-own-book and walked off. I was frustrated, but I let it go, since not all books suit all kids (or their parents.)
On other days, I’ve had boys try to check out a female-character book only to have an older brother or a parent pick it up, say “This is for girls,” and make them take it back, or hand it to me themselves. This makes me insane, but I don’t want to start an argument with patrons. If asked or an opening presents itself, I’ll put in my two cents, but my focus has always been on letting kids chose the books they want, regardless of gender. BUT, when asked for a recommendation I do find myself thinking, “Oh! This would be a good book for him but, eh, it’s got a girl so he probably won’t want to read it.” (*Smacks self up-side head*) I recognize the prejudice in others, but not in myself.
Then, someone left a newspaper article reprinted from the Chicago Tribune on the desk about how there is no need to shelter boys from books that feature girls. It quoted Shannon Hale’s blog about a school that only allowed girls to attend one of her author visits, because “her presentation would only be for girls.” Ms. Hale has a lot to say about this type of discrimination, but what she has to say about female-centered books and boys who might want to read them is powerful.
This is a rather long-ish quote from Shannon Hale’s blog, but I think what she’s saying is critically important, and she says it very well:
I think most people reading this will agree that leaving the boys behind is wrong. And yet–when giving books to boys, how often do we offer ones that have girls as protagonists? (Princesses even!) And if we do, do we qualify it: “Even though it’s about a girl, I think you’ll like it.” Even though. We’re telling them subtly, if not explicitly, that books about girls aren’t for them. Even if a boy would never, ever like any book about any girl (highly unlikely) if we don’t at least offer some, we’re reinforcing the ideology.
I heard it a hundred times with Hunger Games: “Boys, even though this is about a girl, you’ll like it!” Even though. I never heard a single time, “Girls, even though Harry Potter is about a boy, you’ll like it!”
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.
Did she hit the nail on the head, or what?
So, as a librarian, I need to combat this prejudice. I’ve brainstormed some ideas to help me in the fight. I can say:
“Reading books with female characters can only help him understand girls—and that’s a good thing, right?”
“Give this book a try. Mr. Chris (our male children’s librarian) loved this one!” (This is a bit sneaky, I know, but if a grown man liked the book that might make it more interesting and acceptable.)
“You know, all kinds of important classic books like To Kill a Mockingbird have female protagonists, and guys love them.”
“Do you like funny books? This one was hilarious!” (Let’s face it—just sell the genre, not the character.)
How about you? What do you say to sell fantastic books with female characters to boys and their parents? Let’s combat this prejudice with good recommendations about good books—regardless of gender. No more self-censoring!!!