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.

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