So I have a lot of feelings every single time I hear that people are “angry” or “annoyed” or whatever that they can’t find ONE SINGLE YA BOOK IN THE ENTIRE YA SECTION FOR BOYS TO READ and YOUNG MEN ARE FAILING BECAUSE GIRLS ARE TAKING OVER LITERATURE and HOW CAN BOYS POSSIBLY BE EXPECTED TO WANT TO TOUCH WHINY GIRLY CRAP WITH A TEN FOOT POLE?????
I have a few thoughts.
1) If you cannot find at least a handful of books in the YA section that might appeal to a teenage boy, you aren’t looking very hard. Maybe peruse this list of 140 titles that would appeal to teenage boys. Also, that list is from last year and similar books are being released every month.
2) LOLOLOLOLOL okay yeah young boys have absolutely nothing to read, you’re right. It’s not like you can walk into any library or bookstore and find that the majority of the books in it are about white men.
3) I resent the implication that a book with a female protagonist OR romantic element, no matter how slight, is a “girl book” unless it’s by some guy who gets really upset when anyone calls him a romance author because HIS BOOKS ARE NOT ROMANCES THEY ARE ~SERIOUS LITERATURE~ because the two are mutually exclusive. I also resent that we continue to encourage our boys to distance themselves vehemently and often violently from anything that could be considered even slightly non-masculine.
There is this thing people say: “My son/brother/I had nothing in the YA section to read! They/I had to go STRAIGHT FROM KID’S BOOKS TO LORD OF THE RINGS/WHEEL OF TIME/ENDER’S GAME/CATCHER IN THE RYE/ETC.!”
Wow. I mean, do you understand what a tragedy it is that these poor boys don’t even get to stop in the YA section and they are forced to go immediately to the thousands and thousands and thousands of fantasy and science fiction and ~real literature~ books that are about young white men coming of age and having adventures? Greatest tragedy of our generation, honestly.
I mean doesn’t anyone find it a little… odd? That the fantasy and sci-fi shelves are bursting with young 16-25 year old men who are doing lots of different things (including kissing/sexing ladies OH MY GOD ROMANCE???!!!!?!?!!?), and then the YA section is hanging out over here with lots of stories with VERY SIMILAR CONTENT (Kristin Cashore! Tamora Pierce! Beth Revis!), but everyone looks at those books and goes “Ugh, girl books, there’s no possible way a young man or even a smart girl could be into those?”
TAMORA PIERCE LITERALLY WRITES ABOUT KNIGHTS AND MAGIC AND FANTASY CREATURES AND WAR AND SASSY ANIMAL SIDEKICKS. She just writes about them from a *girl’s* perspective. Which means boys are physically incapable of reading it, I guess?
I just can’t wrap my brain around the fact that people do not get the irony in what they’re saying. They don’t even realize as the words are rolling off their tongue that YA is so female-centric because coming-of-age stories for young men have already been staples in the “real books” section for decades. Because being a young straight white man is universal, see, while being a girl is something that’s impossible to care about unless you’re both a girl and stupid. (COOL GIRLS read the boy stuff, duh!)
And even then, even then, there’s still plenty of boy-centric YA, too. Because there is no boy-free space, you guys. That’s the thing about privilege — you’re so used to being allowed in every space and have everyone accept you as the default that when you can’t immediately find something that’s obviously “for you,” you claim that it’s excluding you and that you must be included. You don’t even see that you can literally sidestep into another area that is catered exactly to you.
Honestly, to a point, this is not even the fault of young men. It is the fault of a society that continues to tell them that they’re the most important of all. Boys don’t start out believing that they can’t relate to girls, or that romance is sappy and beneath them. They’re not born with the idea that sex is a game or they’re “naturally” better at certain things. We feed them that. And we continue to feed it to them every time we huff about there being no “boy stuff” in YA, which is a flat-out, complete and total lie.
Of course, at a certain point they can reason on their own, and then it’s on them whether they’re willing to learn some empathy, just as it’s on any other privileged class.
There is so much more to this, like the fact that patriarchy often drips from those so-called “girl books,” even though they’re “for girls.” That publishers literally can’t afford to be idealists and they have to take society and money into consideration, and how much that sucks.
I have said this before, and I doubt I’ll stop saying it: if young men aren’t reading, it is not because of women and their stupid girl books. There are other elements at work here, because there has never and will never be a “lack” of books written by dudes for dudes. Please try again.
In the meantime, I might segue into the way we pish-posh “romance” and sex if it’s written by women, but that’s another post.
I want to contribute with a little personal anecdote, not related to YA but related to the way the odds are always against us women in literature, and the way EW ICKY ROMANCE IS NOT SERIOUS ART (UNLESS A DUDE WRITES IT). I’m not sure how interesting this story is going to be for you guys, but it changed the way I saw the publishing industry forever. It was a wake-up call:
Some years ago I wrote a novel. It was a little story about the way life imitates art and not the other way around: it was about a film crew making a low budget film and how one person in the crew starts having experiences that resemble the events in the script eerily. It was a story about film and pop music and sex and how culture shapes how expectations when it comes to personal relationships. It was, also, about a passionate if brief erotic affair. If I had to explain the novel I wrote to you I would say it was kind of an experimental lit version of “High Fidelity”.
That’s not important. The important part is when I started sending sample chapters out to publishing houses. It’s a gruelling process but I loved my little weird novel so I went at it with joy rather than dread. The rejections started coming in and though it was a bummer I was pretty okay with it. I had sent the novel to the publishers I thought were more interested in this kind of stuff, because they had published books that were similar to mine (or so I thought!) and the type of stuff I had been inspired by. So yeah, rejections, rejections, rejections, but I was okay with it. Then came a rejection from a publishing house that wasn’t just my #1 ideal option, it happened to be my favourite house in the world. I mean I idolized these guys. Their rejection was personal (showing they had obviously read the thing) but short and to the point: we do not publish romance.
“WE DO NOT PUBLISH ROMANCE”
At first I wasn’t even dejected. I was stunned. I literally could not understand the rejection. I thought there must had been a mistake. My book is not a romance! Nothing in it suggested that it belonged to the romance genre - even if they had not read the sample chapters nothing in the sypnopsis or the cover letter would make you think that this was a romance. I had no idea how this had happened. I was writing experimental literature, not romance (and don’t get me started on all the internalized misogyny going on inside me and my instant outrage at being called a romance writer).
Then I started doubting myself. Maybe my book was a romance. They are the big publishers, I was the unpublished ignorant author. They knew better, surely. Surely?
A couple of days after receiving their letter a suspicion started to arise in my mind and wouldn’t let me go. Maybe because I was reading Ian McEwan’s “Atonement” at the time and I thought “well, this book is much more in the romance genre than mine is, however way you look at it”. But you wouldn’t tell McEwan that sorry, we don’t publish sappy WWII romance. And not just because he was famous. At the time I was obsessed with a book called “The bird room” by Chris Killen, a debut author whose tone was very much like mine. At the center of “The bird room” was a love story. A dark, obsessive, destructive love story, but a love story nonetheless. Did any publisher tell Chris Killen that they rejected their book because it was a romance? I don’t know, but I don’t think so.
The question that haunted me then was: Would the publisher have categorized my novel as romance if I had been a man?
I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe they just didn’t like my book and the romance thing was just a excuse. It didn’t really matter, you see. That rejection letter changed forever the way I approach queries to the publishers. Because the doubt was already there. I re-wrote the synopses and cover letters to downplay the romantic/erotic element of the book. I didn’t want to risk it happening again. And it got me thinking about all the (prize-winning!) books of VERY SERIOUS literature being hailed by the establishment and written by men which were, basically, romances. Think about them yourself, you’ll be surprised how many you can come up with. From “Never Let Me Go” to “One Day”. But imagine the scandal if anyone implied their writers were romance authors. Imagine. It makes me so angry that I have to misrepresent my work because I feel I have to, in order to give it a fighting chance in the industry.
Because of the rejection letter I cannot stop thinking about these things.
Oh, and also, since I got that “we don’t publish romance” letter I have been writing under my initials and not my name so THE PUBLISHERS WOULDN’T KNOW I’M A WOMAN. This was something I never ever wanted to do. This is something I hate. Something I thought belonged to another era, some 19th century shit (apparently not, as I discovered from reading AM Homes, AL Kennedy, AS Byatt and yes, even JK Rowling). I am sad that I don’t use my (obviously female) name. But my mind is stuck on the suspicion that if I’m a woman and there’s a love story in my book I am a romance author, but if I were a man writing a love story I could be Ian McEwan. On the bright side, when I send out the chapters of my YA novel I will do so under my full name because Young Adult is one of the few corners of this industry where I don’t think being a woman will harm my chances.
Sorry if this was too long. I thought my story illustrated how sexism in the literary world not only obvious exists but affects people in very real ways. At least it did me.
Reblogging some of the great commentary the post has been getting! Sorry about the length :X