Jul 31, 2013

More YA gender crankiness

So there's a bookstore near my house that has a pretty decent YA section. But they've organized the books into "YA," "YA Fantasy," and a huge shelf of "YA Chicklit." Last time I checked, chicklit was a separate, adult genre that, by its very definition, has nothing to do with YA. On top of that, the store has lumped all the books with girly-looking covers and female protagonists into, you guessed it, "YA Chicklit." So you've got a bunch of contemporary YA (not chicklit, but I guess maybe kind of, sort of closer to it?), but also stuff like Lauren Oliver's Delirium series (dystopian) and Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle series (fantasy).

I asked why they'd decided to organize the books like that, and they looked at me like I had three heads. They said they hadn't had any complaints and that the section was very popular with customers. I gave a couple of examples of books that were straight-up fantasy and asked why they were calling them chicklit, and they just kind of shrugged at me. So I dropped it. But obviously I'm still harping about it months later.

Here's what gets me. Obviously, what they're doing isn't hurting sales, so they've got no reason to consider fixing it. But it all goes back to the maddening idea that books ABOUT girls are FOR girls and should be labeled as such.

I have to admit, I felt a little stupid arguing that Delirium was not chicklit when the covers of this gritty, action-packed dystopian series feature a blandly smiling model and a shit-ton of flowers. They're beautiful covers, but they scream "This is a book for girls!" And they aren't, necessarily. But I guess that's the way they were marketed.

Which brings me to my point. Apparently splitting out YA books as "for girls" and "for boys" is not a bad thing for sales. But I can't help but think it's a bad thing for readers. How many books are getting passed over by male readers because they feel alienated by covers and labeling? If we want inherent sexism in society to change, surely exposing young men more consistently to a female perspective is beneficial, right? But what boy is going to buy a book out of a "chicklit" section? We talk about this kind of stuff all the time, but it just seems like everything from toys to books to freaking office supplies is becoming more gendered and isolating.

If you haven't seen it, check out Maureen Johnson's Coverflip project. Sums it up nicely.

Jul 13, 2013


Yesterday I saw a list on Mashable of the 15 Young-Adult Books Every Adult Should Read.

I've read a bunch of these and they are, indeed, very good. But as I scrolled through the list, I found myself thinking, "These are all about boys. Hmm." It wasn't until I got to the tenth book on the list (I repeat, the tenth) that I came to one with a female protagonist. As it turns out, only three out of the 15 books featured female main characters. Three. Which is exactly 20%.

YA is often dismissed as drivel for teenage girls. Twilight has a lot to do with that, as it's the only YA book a lot of people have heard of. So you get articles like this by well-intentioned writers who are really just trying to get people interested in YA, but it's at the expense of all things girl-related. Look, YA is about boys too! Come on, won't you give it a shot now that you won't accidentally read about makeup/kissing/shopping?

Everybody loves a good coming-of-age story, right? How come all the famous coming-of-age, naval-gazing, important ones are about boys? What is it about a young woman's journey into adulthood that gets it dismissed as something that only applies to members of her own gender? The male experience is universal and valued, while the female one is specialized, a niche. 

And I know all this already, I really do. It's not news that women's experiences are not valued the same as men's. But you know, I really think we have something good here in YA. We've got a ton of female writers, a ton of amazing female protagonists, some supremely kickass books, and it feels good. But then somebody makes a list like this and it reminds me that I'm still living in a world where I'm the inferior sex. And maybe I'm just being an overly sensitive woman, but it feels like a kick in the teeth.