An article caught my eye on Discover. It was headed, ‘Why Boys Should Read Girl Books’, by Caroline Paul. Paul believes that boys should not only read girl books but also be made by their educators to attend talks about them.
Paul’s book is called ‘The Gutsy Girl: Escapades or Your life of Epic Adventure.’ She’s ‘wound up’, says Paul. Her offer to speak at ‘a middle school’ about her book was rejected because ‘it would exclude boys.’ In these interesting politically correct times I’d be more inclined to believe that the author of a boy’s own book would have less of a chance to get a foot in the school door than someone offering to empower women or girls would. Could Caroline Paul be holding out on us? I suspect it was an all boys school that Paul applied to. But that’s my cynical self kicking in.
Paul begins her Epic Adventure book with ‘Dear Gutsy Girl’ but in her article assures the reader that although ‘all the drawings feature girls it doesn’t mean boys are excluded… just that the book isn’t about them.’ (As in, really, does everything have to revolve around you boys?) Boys have had their chance at being top dog is the implication. It’s their turn now to take a back seat in an auditorium and be lectured to. Of course today’s boys are never going to be top dog, they’re paying the price for the sins of their forebears. Thing is, in the era of equal rights, no one should be top dog.
Paul lists some books she read as a child, like Shane and The Red Badge of Courage that exclude female characters. Despite that, she says she liked them, perhaps it’s that she was too young to know better back then and of course there would have been no alternative available to her. Political correctness wouldn’t even have been a twinkle back then in the eye of the PC brigade.
PC aside, there’s not much money to be made in non-fiction which is what boys prefer. Gutsy girl / empowered girl are the go. Books galore that aren’t about boys or aimed at boys are being written and published and read by girls but that doesn’t seem satisfy Paul and her colleague Shannon Hale.
My sister who is a children’s librarian says that there aren’t enough books written these days aimed at a male readership. Boys of a certain age don’t like novels, no matter who the hero is. Harry Potter would have had to have been an amazing exception. J.K. Rowling started a whole generation of children (and many adults) reading. She deserves to pocket every advance and royalty that comes her way.
Girls like reading about themselves and being empowered. If the stories are good enough, girls will surely read them. I’m all for that. I can sympathise with Paul. Talent isn’t enough these days and competition is fierce in the electronic age. You need to be your own publicist and build up your own readership.It’s the idea that boys are to be used to do it that I resent. No one seems to care that role models for boys are thin on the ground. In boy novels, no one encourages or empowers them to be their best. Most boys books today have a female partner or mentor to help and advise. That’s fine only if novelists plan to write girls books in which the boys get to play a positive role. If not, then Paul can expect to limit the readership. Paul needs to acknowledge that heroic girls in the present are no more realistic than boys were in past novels.
If Paul wants boys to read girls books she has to include them, she has to make it worth their while. She has to do her research to see what makes boys tick sand stop stereotyping them. Excluding boys and telling them it’s for their own good is shonky rationale, lazy writing and it alienates boys.
Paul quotes Shannon Hale, also a writer, who had written a book that featured girls and given a talk at a school got to talk to the girls ‘Many of the seats were empty because boys had been excused from the program’. It’s Hale’s belief that if boys aren’t reading girls books and finding out what girls think about in books, ‘it’s an agreement that leads directly to rape culture.’ An unfounded and thoroughly disgusting statement.
Stay out of the minds of my boys, I say to anyone who wants to force them to sit in an auditorium being brainwashed by people with an agenda that doesn’t consider boys and their needs. My boys love adventures; they spend hours flipping back their capes and being the heroes of their own stories. No one has the right to tell them what to think and how to think. I say that it’s wrong that authors, academics and educators have taken over the role of parenting. It’s up to parents and grandparents to take that role back, to raise their children and teach them right from wrong. It’s up to parents, to teach their children to respect each other and I mean each other. There are lessons that girls can learn too, particularly about how not to behave once those hormones kick in. Parents can guide them but it’s not even up to parents to choose what their children read.
It peeves me no end that Disney has invaded and polluted the Hundred Acre Woods and killed off A A Milne’s character Christopher Robin. It doesn’t seem to matter to Disney’s revisionist decision makers that Milne’s character was based on his son. Pooh has to have a female friend (called Robyn). That’s the sort of creepy PC I abhor; it tarnishes innocence and misses the point entirely.
I get book offers in my inbox telling me I could/should choose from an all-female line up of authors and characters. I won’t read books based on gender preference. I will read books that appeal to me no matter the topic or who wrote them.