Discussion: Kid’s Books and Gender

Working in a book shop has made me far more aware of kid’s books than I have been before. I don’t know any kids, I don’t have kids and don’t have any younger cousins. Some of my cousins have just had babies, but they’re far too young to be reading just yet!

I’ve noticed how so many parents and grandparents come in, especially over Christmas, and reject books based on the gender of the protagonist. It’s not happening so much in the YA age bracket, but in the younger children’s books.

Please, people… just because the main character of a book is a female doesn’t mean that your little boy won’t or can’t empathise with her or enjoy her story! If he wants to read it, let him! Reading a book with a girl in it won’t turn your son gay, but it could make him a better and more empathetic man when he grows up!

Reading a book forces you to put yourself in the shoes of another person. Studies have shown that reading fiction makes people more empathetic. This is a fantastic thing! Empathy is an important feature in a person’s life; it makes them more likely to relate to other people, be more sympathetic to the feelings of others and will help them in all aspects of their life. This is a really great trait to have in any gender, and will do nothing but make you a great human to be around. Empathy is not weakness, and your boy will benefit from it… and reading is a key to this aspect of his personality!

Little girls are often reading books with male characters involved, with little to no judgement. We learnt to place ourselves in the position of a boy from a very early age. Of course there are loads of books that feature fairies, princesses and ballerinas, which are fully intended for a female audience.Hey, I loved them as a child too! But I also loved Selby the Talking Dog, Ratty and Mole, Harry Potter and various other male characters, and read those books over and over again!

We gender so much of what we do already, and literature for adults has not escaped this at all. It just seems such a shame to box children in to a limited number of books, simply because of their gender. There’s a whole world of books out there for children these days, at all levels of reading, that deal with all manner of subjects. Let your children choose for themselves whether they want to read a book or not based on their interests. Your little girl loves dragons and ancient Greeks? Awesome! Your boy wants to read about a cat lady and a family of sisters? Cool! Go for it!

This makes me really sad, and I felt like getting it off my chest. Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know!

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17 thoughts on “Discussion: Kid’s Books and Gender

  1. I completely agree. So often adults can dilute the joy of reading for children by setting such arbitrary limits on what they should and shouldn’t read. Obviously there might be some things that aren’t appropriate, but in general I think kids should be just allowed to get on with it. Don’t tell them not to read a book because it is about a boy and they are a girl, don’t tell them not to read a book because it is too old for them or too young for them, don’t insist they read a certain genre. Just let them read and learn to love it. The more we try to micromanage their reading they less they will want to do it. Part of the joy of reading is the joy of discovery. Let them discover.

    • Thanks for your wonderful comment! I’d like to think these limits are being unconsciously enforced, which is sad, but it is actually a consideration for some people, and it’s those people who made my blood boil!
      I was reading way over my age level as a kid, and the adults who just asked me questions about what I was reading to monitor my awareness and let me explore and discover were the ones I respected, like my awesome primary school librarian. The teachers I hated were those who stuck me in a category, gave me a book and told me it was the only one I could read- those were the teachers that destroyed certain books, like Narnia, for me… though luckily not my love of reading, though that could have been a very real eventuality!

  2. I’m happy as an adult to read books both by men and women with both male and female protagonists, and I don’t see why children shouldn’t either. I don’t like the gendering of toys, clothes, media or anything, but at the end of the day we need to be encouraging to read what they want and what they love, without boundaries.

    • Me too, and the same goes for most women I know. Gender doesn’t really even figure into my decisions on whether to read books or not. I feel like it may not even be the children themselves limiting their choices at first, but their parents, teachers or guardians consciously or unconsciously enforcing these gender divides. There’s a few notable exceptions like Roald Dahl who manage to slip through, so maybe there’s a sliver of hope!

  3. I absolutely agree with you. In fact, not only do I think that kids shouldn’t be limited to books based on gender, I actually think that parents should go out of their way to expose children to a variety of characters, stories and genres. One of the great joys of reading is to have your world shaken up by a story or an experience that is so unlike your own life. Why wouldn’t you want to share that with a child? Especially since you’re already trying to teach them to be an empathetic, kind person that lives in a diverse world? The parents of girls shouldn’t be the only ones buying books that feature a female main character just as the parents of a black child shouldn’t be the only ones buying books that feature black children.

    • I 100% agree! Being placed in the world of another, and a world so completely unlike our own experience is one of the greatest parts of reading! I would love for all children to see the world from the perspective of a huge range of people, of different ages, genders, cultures and abilities, especially those who live in a fairly homogenous social circle/area. I think it would absolutely go a long way to solving a lot of the world’s problems, especially those that require humans to empathise with the situation of another person.

  4. I think girls should also be allowed to read books with strong female (and male) characters in them. Neil Gaiman (The Graveyard book, The Sleeper and the Spindle, Coraline etc), J.K.Rowling (HP etc), Tolkein (nowt wrong with a little bit of fantasy if that’s what floats their boat!), Blackman, Pullman, Alcott etc……I try and ensure that my nieces and nephews get books as part of Christmas – whether or not they read them is (almost) beside the point – I want them to have the books in their possession, their little hands on the paper copy and not some ebook that can be ignored so that at some point at least one of them will go “well someone was looking out for us”

    • Strong characters are awesome, there’s enough Mary Sue/Gary Stu characters out there, all of us need variety! When I know kids, they’re only getting books from me, on the off chance I manage to create a reader… or at least get them to read SOMETHING not school related!

      Ps. I adore Tolkien ❤ even without many female characters, his messages are the kind kids need. And hey, Eowyn is badass enough to cover a fair few bases herself!

  5. Pingback: Raising Socially Conscious Children – Tangerine Wallpaper

  6. This makes me think of how JK Rowling abbreviated her first name because she was afraid that boys wouldn’t read a book written by a girl. When my fiance and I heard this, we thought it was ridiculous, because what young boy cares? But it’s always sad to see there’s a group of influential parents out there that teach their children to see the world that way. I think a girl is more likely to read a book with a male MC than a boy is to read a book with a female MC because boys are taught to be manly men and understanding women is something that feels LOOKED DOWN UPON in some cases. I don’t understand why it’s wrong/impossible for a man to be understanding AND manly? I don’t get what these parents’ end goals are at all when it comes to their children.

    • Loads of people are surprised by the reason J.K. Rowling didn’t publish under Joanne, and in some ways it’s good that it makes people stop and question why someone would have to go to that length. But nothing has changed in the time since Harry Potter was begun- there are still loads of authors sticking to initials or pseudonyms.
      You’re so right about the manly men thing, it’s really enforcing that for boys to read books involving girls is wrong… why? Because girls are apparently inherently weak. There are plenty of men who manage to balance all this and more, and I wish it were a much larger group than it is!
      I don’t get what their end goals are either… I think they just don’t THINK about what messages their behaviour sends to their children. At least I hope that’s the case.

  7. I also work in a bookshop and sadly one of the common things I see is women and girls happily reading books by male and female authors with male and female protagonists. But there is still a group of male readers out there who fail to rate or read anything by women or with female protagonists. To their way of thinking women’s issues and concerns are just for women, but men’s issues and concerns are for everybody!

    • I addressed this in a post a few months ago, not bookshop specific but still! It drives me crazy, I can’t stand it and when people ask me for recommendations I will often give a good mix of male and female writers, since there’s no reason why one would be superior to the other. Sadly my dad is one of that group of male readers, and I’m slowly trying to combat his mindset. Baby steps at the moment, but maybe one day it won’t matter to him anymore.

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