Tuesday Truth: Gender Books

I was recently reading, and disliking, a book.  Now, I’d been looking forward to reading this book for several months.  I was excited.  But there was a big, huge glaring issue that I couldn’t get past.

Let me explain.  First, you need to know that I’m a boy.  Second, you need to know that the premise of the book was fantastic, but the main character was…not.  The main character was also a girl.  It was one of those instances where she was just not believable.  I could understand some parts of this girl’s life, but not the girl herself.  Also keep in mind that many people LOVE this book (and I understand why) – but I’m just not one of them.  However the book isn’t the point of this blog post.

When I was talking about the book with some friends, and specifically why I didn’t like it, someone said “well, it’s a girl book.”  End of story.   A sweeping statement essentially negating all the reasons I disliked this character.  But this comment of “well, it’s a girl book” stuck with me.  Like the book is only appropriate for one gender, and I’m anatomically predisposed to hating it.

This isn’t something new.  I’ve heard the “it’s a girl book” excuse before.  I think it’s a viewpoint that gets thrown around casually.  Lots of people use it, and the underlying view is “well, you can’t relate because you’re not a girl.”  Especially if you didn’t like a girl book – regardless of your reason.  I can say I didn’t like this book because of X, Y, or Z, but because it’s a “girl book” my opinion isn’t valid.  Or a girl’s opinion of the book is MORE valid somehow.  Yes, there are more books out there geared towards a female market, but just because girls read doesn’t mean boys should be excluded from it too, right?

Being a guy, and writing YA, it’s not like I can avoid the “girl books.”  They’re out there, and no matter how much I try to avoid them, they’re going to come at me.  Not to mention the fact that there are a lot more girl MCs than boy MCs in YA (specifically urban fantasy, which is what I usually read).

Actually, come to think of it, girl books are a lot like drugs.  Some people read them openly, while others keep their stash hidden.  Once you start reading them, it’s a gateway to issue books, romances, and maybe even the hardcore stuff like paranormals and sci fi. Plus there’s that whole addiction and munchies issue to deal with.

Okay, I’m rambling.  The point is, I think good writing takes precedence over gender any day.  The “well, it’s a girl book” excuse basically suggests that I can’t appreciate Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, The DUFF by Kody Keplinger, and so on.  It’s reverse sexism.  And isn’t one of the benefits to books is that they can expose audiences to new, different and sometimes utterly alien viewpoints?  Even if that audience happens to have a penis?

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16 thoughts on “Tuesday Truth: Gender Books

  1. ha! I like this post – gives me something to think about. And yes, I think gender of the reader really shouldn’t matter – though I know it will at times.

  2. I think this is kind of similar to the whole Chick Lit/Woman’s Lit Franzen Picoult Debate raging right now. There’s a difference between it’s a Girl/Woman Book and it’s a Chick Book. I think Girl/Woman book is gender blind. It can be read by anyone, but the main character and the writer just happen to be female. Books like Speak and Hunger Games and The Duff…are examples of that genre. Chick books are written primarily for girls, they aren’t written for a guy audience, and have fashion and boyfriend bashing and giggly girly stuff in it. I think that distinction needs to be made more often…especially in the Franzen/Picoult debate.

  3. I completely agree. Good writing always takes precedence. But you’ve definitely given me something to think about, especially with the way I write and who I’m writing for. I’d like to think that more than just teen girls will read my books, that the writing would attract others. But I do think we make generalizations about why someone might not like a book–although maybe it’s easy to do that when we don’t want them to not like the book because we disagree with them. But you’re right–gender should not be a consideration.

    Now I’m rambling 😛

  4. It bothers me that you would say you had issues with the character being believable and that someone would wave your opinion away by saying “well, it’s a girl’s book.” Because that, to me, almost suggests that they’re holding the book to a different standard. Which would be sad.

    A character should be believable regardless of how much you have in common with them. Take Rob from High Fidelity. I can’t really identify with the way he treats his girlfriends or the twisted record-filled basement that’s his (very male) brain. I don’t have to. Rob’s actions and thoughts make perfect sense for Rob and, with the information we’re given about Rob, make perfect sense.

    Sorry if this sounded long and ranty. Our local library has a “Book Club for Men” which is a monthly meeting for the male-folk to talk about such edgy titles as Catcher in the Rye, Get Shorty, and Fight Club and every time I see one of the posters, I wonder why they couldn’t have called it an edgy book club or something more inclusive. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE that they’re promoting and showcasing these books but the assumption that these are boy books kinda bothers me.

    • The argument in question didn’t bug me so much because it was off the cuff and in the middle of us shopping at Borders. But it reminded me that I’ve heard that argument several times before, and this time it just happened to stick with me.

  5. I wouldn’t even say that it’s reverse sexism–it’s sexism! Particularly when, even in YA, “girl” books are almost universally seen as fluffier. I’m not sure, though, that any book by a woman is automatically assumed to be a “girl” book; I suspect that it’s a phrase almost universally used to refer to romance-oriented books, rather than (say) action- or politically-oriented.

    • Definitely, to a degree. Some girl books are “fun” and “light” (I hate calling books fluff). I love the Gallagher Girls series, and I love the Wicked Lovely series, and both of those are on very opposite ends of the spectrum as far as tone and content. But I think the idea that something is “a girl book” and therefore you don’t have a valid opinion about is faulty.

      Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  6. Ya I agree the statement, “Its a girl book” is not acceptable. I know many men who read and enjoy a lot of books that might be construed as a ‘girl book’ and love them. I have heard people say that only women are allowed to write romantic books, however I have read a several great novels that center around romance that are written by men… in fact I just read a great one, a YA fiction novel titled, “A Wind In Montana” by Mitch Davies that I found to be extremely excellent. The story plot really grabbed me, however I also enjoyed the fact that it was written with great wisdom… focusing on issues that most teens would most likely have to deal with and then teaching them to think and work through problems… and to plan for their futures! I loved the book, and could have cared less whether a man or a woman had written it.

  7. I used to work in a library, and there the rule of thumb was that girls will read boy books, but boys will not read girl books. If it has a girl on the cover or the main character is a girl, boys usually look for a different book. Of course, not to stereotype, but girls also read a lot more than boys so it would make sense that there are more girl books than boy books.

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