I think a lot about gender in general, but a few things have made me want to talk about gender with regards to children’s books recently. First, Ursula LeGuin’s (one of my superheroes) thoughts on “Being a Man.” And a few weeks ago when some folks got upset that there were no books about female athletes on a YALSA list of 10 best sports books of the year.
So I’m asking for a bit of (polite and productive) argument here. Where are we on the gender question right now? I mean, I realize that we now generally consider that girls can play with the boys and do-everything-that-they-do-but-better. But really, what do we currently believe about gender? And, more importantly for the purposes of this blog, what messages are we and are we not sending about gender to our chickens? Where do we need to get to from here?
We don’t talk about this enough. We get outraged when girls are under-represented in a list of sports books because sports are traditionally considered a masculine domain, but we don’t seem to get upset that most of the YA is written by women with female protagonists. So let’s talk about it. What does justice in the field of gender look like? Do we need to see exactly even representations of male and female protagonists in fiction in general and in each domain (like sports) for it to exist? What stereotypes about women are we still propagating? And then, let’s look at the other side: what are we giving boys?
I can’t seem to manage to ever hold a popular opinion. What I see is that we are teaching girls to still be pretty and desirable while telling them that they need to be boys in terms of success and pursuits. And at the same time, we’re telling boys that it is not OK for them to be what they have always been told to be. But we aren’t giving them any ideas about what they should be, either. We have devalued traditional masculinity to such an extent that no one feels comfortable expressing it. We pretend that we have equally devalued traditional femininity while still expecting it. So girls are supposed to be girls and boys, and boys are supposed to be nothing.
That’s how it seems to me, in any case. And I think this is generally the state of our books for kids, too. Someone reasonably explain this or change my mind, please?
We’ll have the fabulous Rebecca Maizel on here later this month to talk about these things. She both writes fabulous heroines who don’t need saving and thinks critically about Manic Pixie Dream Girl tropes and other things gender. The person who comments most this month will win one of her Vampire Queen novels.
So stop by. Have an opinion. Express it blithely. Cheers!