Monday, 8 October 2012


Hello, my lovelies! I know it's not Tuesday yet, but the Tuesday post has rolled around early because I want to share with you an article I read today, which made me feel like choirs of heavenly voices were singing and casting golden light on me: Gender Balance in YA Awards

The glory of this article, Dear Readers! It has confirmed what I always suspected based on knowledge of my field: while there may be slightly more female YA authors (and why is that supposed to be a problem? More on that below!) men still dominate in terms of critical attention and also (although this is not covered explicitly in the post) tend to dominate in terms of sales, with the average NYT Bestseller list (as pointed out by Shannon Hale and Maureen Johnson) showing an 8:2 ratio in favour of male writers.

And yet! It is still widely accepted as fact that YA is 'dominated' by female authors and female stories, and that somehow the ladies are to *blame* for a drop in boy's interest in reading during teenage years. So widely accepted that while that post was making the rounds on Twitter this afternoon I actually saw a male author arguing that there is a 'boy crisis' in YA, and that the stats in the Gender Balance post don't work because male authors win a disproportionate amount of awards.

Um. What? If male authors win a disproportionate amount of awards in the YA field, doesn't that merely illustrate the same point?

I'd really like to know what the people who continually harp on about this - about the lack of 'boy books' and the 'feminisation' of YA - would like to see as a solution. Female authors realising the error of their ways and discarding their silly novels about silly girls, and henceforth writing only books about young men being traditionally manly? Female authors taking on androgynous pseudonyms in order to avoid scaring young men off with their lady cooties? Female authors retiring from the field of YA writing altogether and running cakeshops instead so that the men can take their rightful place as leading lights of YA?

Having, in the past, witnessed some commentors stating that there needs to be a drive to create an influx of male editors, publishers, cover designers and writers into the YA sector (to drive away the girl cooties?) I fear that ludicrous as it seems, the above paragraph might actually be more accurate than the people obsessed with 'boy books' would admit.

Of course, if a large number of women were to stop writing YA books and the number of female protagonists and books specifically aimed at young women were to drop, that wouldn't hurt anything, would it? Everyone knows girls are happy to read about the universal experience of being a boy, whereas boys are naturally horrified at reading about that weird niche experience of being a girl. It's not like women and girls actually make up just over half the human race - and therefore half of the human experience - or anything.

And even if literacy rates among girls did drop - maybe to levels lower than the current levels for boys - well, that wouldn't matter either, would it? That's the way it always used to be, boys coming first in everything, and it never did anyone any harm, did it?

Has anyone stopped to question why it is that there *are* slightly more female authors and slightly more female editors in the field of children's and YA publishing? I should say it's fairly obvious. It's for the same reason that there are more female pediatricians, female nursery-school/kindergarden assistants, female elementary/primary school teachers, female nannies etc. etc. Because our society teaches us, every day and in every way, that being interested in and looking after children is women's business. That's it's OK and natural for us to get into any job that is concerned with kids.

Men don't go into those fields very often because, in general, it's not considered normal or natural for them to be interested in or want to care for children. You only have to watch the episode of Friends where seemingly sensitive, New Male character Ross is repelled by the very idea of a male nanny, to see the attitudes that are likely to put young men off from any career where their primary business is dealing with kids. Not to mention that any field in which the majority of roles are filled by women is likely to be far lower paid than a field which is dominated by men. We're still nowhere near pay equality anywhere in the world.

Why the sudden outcry, then, at the idea that there may be slightly more females working in YA or children's publishing and writing, even if guys do in general win the majority of the awards and get the majority of the sales in that field?

Because, all of a sudden, YA and children's publishing have become high profile and lucrative. And this has caused all the people that previously dismissed writing for children or working in children's publishing as petty and unimportant - and therefore, naturally, 'women's work' - to discover a deep interest in it. But to their shock and disgust, the three biggest names in children's and YA writing are women (Rowling, Meyer and Collins) and many of the most successful agents and editors are also women. Women are doing BETTER than the men! Not in terms of general sales or award attention or anything, but STILL! What is the world coming to when such a high profile and lucrative field is full of GIRLS? The WOMEN are taking up room and attention that the MEN need!

No wonder boys don't read!

Bunkum. It is that attitude, that very one, which causes boys not to read. Nothing to do with icky female authors and their icky books that dare to treat female characters and their stories as important. Everything to do with a society that teaches young men that in order to be normal they must embrace the traditional ideals of masculinity by rejecting any activity might might be considered feminine, even tangentially (like reading) and throwing themselves into sports and outdoor pursuits and an obsession with sex and violence. Everything to do with a society that teaches young men that being a great reader is nerdy and girly or even - worst of all! - GAY, and that if they do read, they must be careful to never, ever, ever betray any interest in anything 'girly', like a book with a woman's name on it or a girl protagonist.

Everything to do with a society that accepts male dominance as so natural, so unquestionably normal and right, that the NPR list of Best YA Novels, which was split quite equally between male and female authors - 59 women, 44 men - is heralded as evidence of some unnatural, sick 'feminisation' of the publishing category. The people who reacted with shock to this list feel instinctively that YA ought to be dominated by men, just like TV, films, advertising, academics, medicine and every other profitable field in our world.

So what if male YA authors do appear to get more awards and more sales? That isn't enough. The idea of a significant amount of women being prominent beside men in any important field is so alien that a slight majority of female YA authors (even if they're not receiving as much critical attention or getting as many readers) is considered, in itself, a problem. Things will only be right when things flip the other way and male authors not only dominate in awards and sales but also sheer numbers. Only then will the natural order be restored, and boys miraculously become great readers - even though, of course, they will still scorn and turn away from any books written by, giving starring roles to, or marketed at, girls.

What is the betting, Dear Readers, if that through some twist of fate being a nanny suddenly became a high profile and lucrative field, people would be leaping out of the woodwork straight away to condemn the female domination of this profession? That suddenly fingers would be pointing at the women who've been quietly doing this job for decades and blaming them for the 'feminisation' of the young people under their care? That there'd be talk of trying to encourage men into the field so that boys - those poor, misunderstood boys! - didn't miss out unfairly?

Listen up.

Fewer boys read because our society teaches that it is not 'normal' for them - ie., manly for them - to be interested in sitting quietly in their room reading books. Since they're also taught that the most horrible, awful thing to be accused of in the world is being unmanly or, in other words, 'girly' (or, le gasp, GAY, quelle horreur!) of course many of them jump ship from reading to killing things on computer screens as soon as they hit puberty.

Fewer men enter the field of children's and YA publishing because our society teaches that a career focused on children and young adults is not 'normal' for them - ie., manly - and because they are aware that 'women's jobs' are not as well paid (even though it turns out that many men will be rewarded for entering this field with better sales and critical attention).


Stop blaming us for the effects of a society that oppresses us. We're not the ones that built it (even though many of us are so indoctrinated by it that we will fight to defend it). That's why it's a patriarchy. If you don't like it, try dismantling it. Good luck. I'll be over here writing the stories I want to write in the way that seems best to me, without any regard to you, or any other group that apparently sees my contribution to my chosen field as so utterly pointless and insignificant. I don't need to justify the fact that I'm female or that I'm interested in the stories of female characters, and nor do the other lady children's and YA writers out there.


If you feel that mere fact threatens you and the young men in your life? The problem is yours. Not ours.

If you need anymore background on the different ways that boys and girls are socialised to act? Read this: Boys Will Be Boys Is No Excuse.

Oh, and if you think that I'm wrong, and We're All Equal Now, So We Should Shut Up And Go Home? That post has some pretty telling points to make on the skewed idea of 'equality' that the media presents too (but this has adult language and a trigger warning, so stay away if it's not for you). 


sourwolf said...

It's bizarre to me how I haven't had the opportunity to read any of your books yet but stumbled across your blog and am now a faithful reader. The things you post are intelligent and thought out so well and above all, very very relevant.

The idea of "equality" is so laughable and when people say men and women are equal (particularly when men say it), I just have to shake my head and walk away. I wish I could say all of this as eloquently as you do yet the only thing I want to do is grab them by the shoulders and shake them and say "Really? REALLY?!"

Thank you for posting such important things.

Zoë Marriott said...

Sourwolf: Well, you're still a valued Dear Reader to me :) And I'm very glad that there are people who read my passionate screeds and *get* them, rather than just thinking I'm a bit odd...

Ana S. said...

I really like your point about how the increase in concerns about "female dominance" also goes hand in hand with an increase in the visibility and profitability of YA. I'm willing to bet it would be possible to dig up historical examples of that happening in other fields that started out as "feminine" and unprestigious.

Thank you for this, for the kind words about the post, and for helping us draw attention to these results.

Zoë Marriott said...

Ana: I've heard that in Russia there's very little prestige or money in being a doctor. And guess what? Most Russian doctors are women. It's as if in the west we're entirely happy for women to attempt to enter any career - including traditionally male dominated ones - as long as we don't turn out to be too GOOD at them. One successful female football coach? Great! But the moment there start to be significant numbers, even if those numbers don't approach anything like real equality, that's it - women are stealing away men's rights and wrecking the joint. Anyway, thanks so much for your brilliant article! Clearly huge amounts of work went into it, and I'm sure that the vast majority of YA writers really appreciate that!

Jane said...

I'm sorry, I have no interest in your article, as it was written by a woman. If you could please get a man to translate it into man-speak on his far worthier blog, then perhaps I may pay attention and even fall to my knees in hopeless adoration of his superior critical faculties.

Kat Kennedy said...

My God I've never wanted to clap more for a blog post.

I was actually arguing with a male author about the fact that men have an advantage in YA over their female author counterparts.

He was not very receptive to my arguments. It is frustrating.

Zoë Marriott said...

Victoria: It's so hard to understand what I'm trying to say because I'm so shrill and hysterical, right? Damn ovaries!

Kat: Thank you! I had that same argument with a male author (who shall not be named) not long ago. He resented the success of what he called 'stupid fluffy books' - paranormal romances. He said it was 'typical' that this was where all publisher's money went, since clearly 'men are not welcome when it comes to writing romance' and 'Girls don't trust men to write about it!' His triumphant proof of this was that there were no male authors writing paranormal romances (which I'm not sure is right, actually, although books by men are probably marketed slightly differently). In the end I snapped that it was hardly the YA market's fault (or girl's fault or any publisher's fault) if men don't have the guts to brave the traditional stigma of a field of literature which is traditionally sneered at, put down and frowned upon - mainly by blokes! - and that if he wanted the sales numbers and PR of a paranormal romance so badly he ought to bloody well write one. I'm happy to say that he sheepishly retired from the argument at that point. VICTORY!

Amy Spalding said...

This post is amazing. I literally wanted to stand up and do a fist pump. But I am at my dayjob in my cube and, uh, it would be weird. But imagine I'm doing one for you. THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS.

Zoë Marriott said...

Amy: Imaginary fistpumping counts! It totally counts! And thank you :)

Lucy Coats said...

You, Zoe, are 1000 shades of awesome. That is all. Thank you for making the case so well and so eloquently. I've been in this business for nearly 30 years (eek), first as an editor when children's books was the poor relation, then as a bookseller, then as an author. I am SO fed up with the current attitiude on YA women writer that it makes my ovaries creak. A friend of mine was heckled at Cheltenham Festival just last week for writing books with girl heroines. Kick some ass with pointy boots, I say.

Leauxra said...

25 years ago, I jumped from Judy Blume to reading Stephen King novels. It wasn't appropriate, but I couldn't stand the offerings in the young adult section of the library. I wanted action and fantasy, did not really care for romance, and hated books about real life.

I have picked up several YA books in the last year or two, and most of them have been male authors (not purposely). Why is that?

There must be a difference in marketing that would bring male authors in front of me, but rarely female...

Unknown said...


This post says everything I want to say to folks who try to point out that women dominate in YA. Do we really? Ever heard of John Green? Scott Westerfeld? Neil Gaiman? Avi?

I was just getting ready to send this as a reference to the girls on my podcast, because we're going to be discussing gender/feminism/equality in genre fiction and writing as one of our podcast topics (also, Mary Sues are a topic we'll discuss), and before I hit send, I realized something...

Um. Would you like to be a guest on our podcast for this discussion? We meet via Skype and timing is flexible (we have one member in Japan, and we're all over the US, so we're used to balancing schedules). If so, please let me know at sakurazawa(at)gmail(dot)com! We're at, if you'd like to listen to an episode or two before deciding. :)

If not, thank you so much for the awesome references! We've used your blog as a reference before, and it's always informative and right on point!

~Lauren "Scribe"

Zoë Marriott said...

Lucy: Thank you, dear Lucy! You bring up the point that frankly p*sses me off the most, which is that children's and YA publishing actually used to have a rather larger majority of women working and publishing within it than it has now, and those women MADE the YA and children's market what it is. But when all that hard work reaches tipping point and ch's and YA stuff becomes huge, despite the fact that no one even cared about YA and ch's before, now everyone is pointing the finger at women and blaming them? For what? Making YA and ch's the exciting, innovative, wonderful, inclusive PROFITABLE field that it is? SHUT THE FRONT DOOR.

Leauxra: I imagine it's a combination of factors. Male authors tend to get a higher profile, as I've said above. They get more critical attention and more awards, so they're more likely to be prominently shelved in large numbers. Also, books by women, even fantasy books or thrillers or science fiction or books where any romance is secondary to the main plot (like my books) will generally be given art and cover synopses that emphasize the idea of romance within the story (however inaccurate that is) because everyone thinks there's no hope a boy will pick up a book by a woman, and so they might as well go all out to attract the girls, who are supposed to be desperate for romance. Hence, I imagine, you've been put off by the art and apparent stories of the books by female writers that you have seen.

Kate Hart said...


Also 200000 bonus comment points to Victoria up there.

Unknown said...

Lauren also shared the link to this on G+, where I made the following comment:

Partly I agree with it. But there is another thing that really counts.

No-one cries out the Fantasy writers or Science Fiction writers are either men (or if they wanna make it big, women with male sounding names). The under representation of women in those categories apparently doesn't count.
Or in the genre of war books.

At the same time, people cry out that education is too feminised and there are too many female teachers (in the Netherlands anyway). In new classes for teachers less than 1/100 is male. You can't try to make the education system less feminised if there are simply no men who want to teach primary school. The people who whine about it being too feminised don't want to teach because it is not masculine enough. Which makes the problem only bigger.

I feel the argument that there are not enough "boy books" (honestly what teenage guy wants to be called a boy anyway? Labelling them like that is insulting to begin with) is the same as people in Christian countries saying they feel oppressed by Muslims because the Muslims would like a day off on their own holidays to be able to celebrate it with their family. They don't care that those same Muslims wouldn't mind working around Christmas or any of the other holidays, but they do care that they would like to have a day off on their own holiday.

There are enough books for teenage guys, but some people are scared that because there are more books coming out for teenage girls that it will hurt the guys, even if the output of books by or for males has not dropped at all.

CB Soulsby said...

You're my new favourite person.

Isabel said...

Such a good point! Thank you so much for addressing this. I didn't realize there was such a bad reaction to women in YA!

Maureen E said...

My parents taught me to read anything and everything--Louisa May Alcott, RL Stevenson, Elizabeth Enright, CS Forster. My brother? Was actively discouraged from reading "girly" books. It's attitudes like that which create the boy book issue, not women writing their hearts out.

(In short: this issue makes me stabby. Yes, I want boys to read. And I want girls to continue to be able to read--not to be limited because our society thinks boys shouldn't care about girl stories.)

Zoë Marriott said...

Kate: Thanks. I will :)

Kia: So very true. But many successful female SF and F writers have spoken about being treated as 'other' in their own genre. Female fans have said the same thing, that male geeks at cons refuse to accept them as fellow geeks. In any area that men like and think of as important, when women start to be prominent they will be greeted with hostility and fear.

CB: Thanks :)

Isabel: I think I'm probably more likely to notice this stuff, because it feels as if it's aimed specifically at me - and yet also seems so unfair, since up until recently it was considered natural and normal that women be interested in children's lit. Now we're supposed to get out of the way? *RAGEHULKSMASH*

Maureen E: Damn straight! But the same people who moan and lament the bad literacy rates among boys will often be the very FIRST to rip a 'girly' book out of a boy's hands because it's not 'for him'. How stupid and counterproductive is THAT? They need to change their attitudes, then we can change the world.

Unknown said...

@ Zoe, I used to be mainly SF/F reader (before the real influx of YA books a couple of years ago). I'm also a huge geek and nerd. I totally get what you mean with not being accepted. Luckily for me, anyone who is an ass to me gets their ass whooped literally or figuratively. Which make some of them really uncomfortable and the other half usually makes me uncomfortable afterward...

Beth Kemp said...

Brilliantly argued, as ever, Zoe. I don't understand why so much of this is just not noticed. I don't see how anyone can think the world is equal now (or even the west, or the UK). Yet every year, I see a new influx of teen girls who think feminism = whinging unreasonably and 'looking too much into things'. So much more feminine to avoid all analytical thought...

Zoë Marriott said...

Beth: That's precisely the attitude that I grew up with. 'Feminist' was actually used as an insult at my school! The idea is that women who fight for equality 'give us all a bad name' because the most important thing, of course, is not to be unfair to boys or make them think we're all nasty and 'man-hating'. They might decide they don't like us! Eugh.

Lucy Coats said...

I gave my teenage daughter a book by 'new feminist', Caitlin Moran. She loved it, and sang its praises to her friends, because the kind of equality Caitlin describes was what she related to. Many of those friends attacked feminism exactly as you describe above, Zoe, and she was very shocked. She also tells me that many of the friends she sees as clever (all of them going to university) just want to get married and not have a career. It makes me despair, honestly, when intelligent girls think like this.

Megha said...

I'm so late in reading this! SORRY.

Thank you for making me realise this. It's like you totally read my mind and my opinions on feminism in the publishing industry, and put them into words, because I didn't know how to! And also, you made me realise things I had never known. Like Izzy said, I didn't know there was such a bad reaction to women in YA publishing!

I hate how so many people go on about how boys don't read enough. As if all the women writers are saying: "Here, girls, I've written books for YOU and ONLY YOU. Ohmygosh, BOYS?!?! Go away! My books are not for you!". Urgh. Sorry, but THAT IS NOT THE CASE. Okay, fine, there are quite a lot of women YA writers -- and what? Have they ever SAID that it is prohibited for boys to read their books? Boys are free to read whatever they want. When girls read 'boyish' books, it's fine - it's GOOD! - but it's not acceptable for boys to read 'girly' books! Of course not! There are a few boys in my class who enjoy reading and they've tried to get me into a series called CHERUB which apparently is a 'boyish' book, but if I tried to get them into reading something like Jacqueline Wilson or Karen McCombie? They would just look at me like, ARE YOU CRAZY?! asdfghjklasdfgh I AM NOT CRAZY. I AM ONLY SLIGHTLY DERANGED RIGHT NOW.


Also I know of a school library (no naming any schools...) that opened up a Boys' Zone in the corner of the library. Like, a place only for boys, where there are books that the school believes may be good for boys only. I cannot express in HOW MANY WAYS THIS IS WRONG! So I felt that I should tell YOU about this, because I wanted to hear your opinion on this. Should a school be doing this? Opening up a 'boy zone' in the corner of their library, making an impression that it is only 'cool' for boys to read those specific books? What do you think? (Also, I'd prefer your answer in the form of a comment... LOL, I know I sound picky, but I don't want to make this a big-ish deal and turn it into a reply in the form of a whole blog post, cos that certain school may not particularly like that and I'm scared...)


I will write more later, maybe I'll just blog about this, but right now I have an aching headache...

Thank you so much for this wonderful post Zoe! + Please answer my question if possible! You're so good at viewing things from an unbiased perspective so I want to find out what you think.

Jayme V. said...

I know I'm commenting on this kind of late but I wanted to thank you for posting this as well as the links to the other posts on "equality". I'm an avid reader of yours and I've always loved reading your posts cause they are eloquent yet don't allow for bullsh*t. Being an aspiring writer, I'm currently working on a story where, of my main 5 characters, three of them are female. While I loved this story, a part of me felt weird and wrong for not having more men and I thought about adding more characters just to make the feeling go away. Now after reading all of the posts I know why I felt that way. So, I'm going to leave more story exactly how it is because IT IS OK THAT I HAVE MORE GIRLS THAN BOYS IN MY STORY. Part of me is a little ashamed that I felt guilty for having more gals than guys but I believe you've mentioned in one of your previous posts that, we are so caught up in our gender inequality that sometimes we don't really notice it. So, now I will write on, knowing that I shouldn't feel guilty when my books contain more girls than guys (and the girls aren't talking about the guys! Le gasp!)
Thank you for not letting us forget or feel ashamed for the fact that we are girls and our characters are girls.

Jessica said...

I see this in other aspects of my life as well. I work in a very technical profession and I'm the only female on my team. I ran a training day last week and, out of a roomful of attendees, there was one woman. About a week ago, I went out with a male colleague to visit an organisation we're working with and there wasn't a woman in sight. You could see the surprise on people's faces when I was introduced as the technical expert.

The company I work for is very keen on equality and runs events for teenage girls with the aim of encouraging them into technical professions. We want them to know that technology and computers are fun, interesting and not just for boys.

The comments from the men in the organisation - why don't we run some of these days for boys?

In my writing, I have computer programmers, mathematical geniuses, lots of fighting and plenty of explosions. Apparently it's quite a male book. I had various discussions when publishing my first novel about whether or not I should use my initials in case my female name put off potential male readers. In the end, I kept my name in full - I'm not going to pretend to be a guy. Potential readers will have to decide if a female name on the cover is more important than whether the story sounds like one they'd like to read.

It's a slight tangent, but I remember reading a post somewhere about how the rise of ebooks had caused a massive spike in the sales of romance books. Apparently men who would never dream of buying romance print books were buying ebooks because they could read them without everyone knowing that they were reading "girly" books. I find this both amusing and sad at the same time.

Misty said...

So... having nothing to do with the (fabulous) article - am I the only one who thought Ross from Friends was a complete douchebag? Couldn't stand him.

Ella B said...

This article is fuel for my feminism. Thank you!

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