The question of gender balance and reading is neither simple nor easily discussed.
Start talking about, say, boys reading and it then becomes also what do boys want to read and how is that taken into account when we talk about reading? Is it just novel-reading that people are concerned about? If so, does it matter what novels are being read?
Take a different tack, and it’s about the novels, and who writes them, and what they’re about, and how easy they are to find.
A whole different discussion is to what degree does it matter? Should the conversation take place within the context of college and university attendance, and post-degree careers, and how many women are in Congress? Or how many of the readers become writers, and does the boy who become a writer stand a better chance of getting reviewed by, say, The New York Times?
And that’s just trying to figure out what question is being asked.
Add to it, the questions of perspective and both subjective and objective knowledge.
So many thoughts! So little time! So much research!
One place to start is Gender Balance in YA Award Winners since 2000 at Lady Business (run by Renay, Ana and Jodie). As explained there, “One of the ideas that repeatedly surface in these discussions is that the reason why teenage boys don’t read is because there’s an alarming shortage of YA novels with male protagonists.” So, it examines the gender balance (both author and main character) of YA Award winners since 2012. Disclaimer: it quotes a tweet of mine (and bonus, totally gets what I was saying in that stray, short Tweet.)
You should really read the whole Gender Balance post, especially the charts and data. And there were many lines I found myself agreeing with and saying “yes, this,” such as “It’s interesting how a slight predominance of female authors on a list immediately makes people think “female dominance”. If the numbers were reversed, we would perhaps say appreciatively that the list was close to being gender balanced. We expect to find male dominance everywhere – anything else is an unusual occurrence, and as such it stands out. And this affects how we view the world far more than we realise.”
And, “The crucial thing is not to slip into either biological or cultural determinism and decide that change is impossible before we even try; that this is simply “the way things are”.”
And, “I accept that boys too have the right to want to see themselves represented in the literature they consume. However, it seems very disingenuous to make this comparison when we live in a world where the overwhelming majority of stories are still for, by, and about men. A quick browse through the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media website will show you that this is the case. Even if (award winners aside, as we have just seen) the world of YA were to prove an exception, we can’t pretend the impact this has on boys is the same the impact that lack of representation in every single sphere of our culture has on marginalised groups.”
Anyway, go, read it, and let me know what you think. And if you’re talking about it on Twitter, the hashtag is #YABalance