WOMEN DOMINATE? IN WHAT UNIVERSE?
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 issue in this way - lack of 'boy books', 'feminisation' of YA, failing a generation of young men, etc. - 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?
Surely I'm overreacting - no one would ever suggest that! Except that I've read at least a couple of industry professionals making serious arguments that there needs to be a drive to create an influx of male editors, publishers, cover designers and writers into the YA sector - presumably to produce books which are sufficiently manly to drive away the girl cooties.
But what am I so worried about? If women were to stop writing YA books and the number of female protagonists 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 by the suggestion they should read about that weird niche experience of being a girl. You can't expect them to care about the stories that have female protagonists. It's unfair and goes against all their instincts. 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 similar to or lower than the current levels for boys - well, that wouldn't really matter, 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 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 felt that it was 'women's work' - to discover a deep interest in it.
But to their shock and disgust, many of the biggest names in children's and YA writing are women. Many of the most successful agents and editors are also women. Many of the books seem specifically aimed at girls. Is it really possible that women are contributing more to this field than men!? Not in terms of general sales or award attention or anything, but - there are still all these women everywhere!
What is the world coming to when such a high profile and lucrative field is full of GIRLS? Women are taking up all the 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 want to read.
The fall in literacy rates for boys is nothing to do with icky female authors and their icky books that dare to treat female characters and their stories as important. It is everything to do with a society that teaches young men that in order to be 'normal' they must embrace traditional ideals of masculinity - and that means rejecting any activity which might might be considered feminine, even tangentially.
It is 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. So if they do read, they must be careful to never, ever, ever betray any interest in a book with a woman's name on it or a girl protagonist. In fact, to be safe, just play video games. Or football. Those are safe, boyish activities.
It is 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 something unnatural or sick, a forced '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?
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, alone, 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).
THIS IS NOT WOMEN'S FAULT.
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.
WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO EXIST, THE RIGHT TO CREATE, AND THE RIGHT TO PROSPER.
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).