Earlier this week Maureen Johnson tweeted about this article which talks about a school library that created a “boy cave” in order to encourage boys to read. Johnson expressed her concern for one quote said by the librarian involved in particular: “‘part of my concern is that girls will check out books from a boys’ area, but I’m not sure how many boys will check out books from a girls’ area. We don’t want to restrict books.'” Johnson explained her issue with this quote:
“Please never get me wrong: I am ALL FOR getting boys to read. But there is a constant reinforcing of the idea of ‘girl books’ (and who even knows what that means) as some kind of ‘other’ thing. And in the publishing, they are now a LESSER thing. It perpetuates.”
As I often do, I find myself agreeing with Johnson, and I think it’s the idea that there are “girl books” and “boy books” that is a large part of the problem. I have a real issue trying to distinguish between these genres. Is it based on the sex of the author? The sex of the protagonist? The genre? As a female reader, I’ve read plenty of novels by men and women with protagonists who were male and female and nearly every genre imaginable.
But apparently male readers can’t do this. They need “boy books.” They need “gross books” as the librarian in the article stated. Am I the only one wondering why they supposedly need those specific kinds of books? Are girls born with the ability to read and enjoy anything and boys born with a more specific reading taste? Somehow I doubt taste in reading is part of our DNA.
Reading taste based on gender is a social construction, just like gender itself. Society teaches boys that they should like bugs and dirt and bodily functions. Society decides what is a “girl book” and then it tells boys that if they read that book it makes them “girly,” and of course being anything like a girl makes a boy less than what he was before. Girls on the other hand can only improve themselves by reading “boy books,” or at least the higher forms of boy books that are the classics, so we don’t feel any pressure not to read “boy books.”
When it comes down to it girls are still viewed as less than in our society, and anything connected with femininity is on the bottom too. Separating boys may promote their reading, but it’s not going to fix the real problem. If anything, it’s only going to make it worse.