Book Walrus Interviews ‘Book Riot’ Blogger, Kelly Jensen, about Gendered Fiction
Kelly Jensen is a librarian who writes about books on the internet. She blogs for several websites and has strong opinions she isn’t afraid to share. Kelly recently wrote an article that has got a lot of people talking, called, ‘Books for Boys and Books for Girls: Problems with Gendered Reading’. It was originally posted at Book Riot before being re-posted at the Huffington Post:
Book Walrus caught up with Kelly afterwards, to ask her a few questions:
You criticize the way people talk about ‘books for boys’ and ‘books for girls’ and suggested this limits the options available to young people. At what age do you think this idea of certain books being ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’ begins?
It starts at the beginning. We make things pink and blue. We designate some books as “a girl’s guide to” or “a boy’s guide to”. Then when kids enter school, it happens as we impress upon kids who likes to read (girls) and who does not (boys). We don’t do it intentionally; we do it because it’s how we grapple with big issues. We simplify. Gender divides are simplifications. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard teachers, librarians, or authors mention books that weren’t used in class read-alouds because they weren’t “boy books.”
What do you think young people would gain from reading a wider range of books?
They would learn what aspects of a story or book they like, rather than learn what it is people think that they should like. In other words, boys might find they like a little romance in their stories. Girls might find they love a good graphic non-fiction work about sports. It affects pre-teens in the same way it impacts teens or elementary readers. Gatekeepers impact these gender norms — and I don’t think it’s INTENTIONAL and I don’t think it’s MEANT to be harmful. It’s just how it happens.
Do you think the problem has got worse since you were a child?
Hard to say – it’s something I don’t know I consciously paid attention to until I became a librarian, and I’ve been a librarian for about five years now. I guess if anything, maybe it’s become something we’ve all become more conscious of.
Do you think it is partly created by the publishing industry? I am thinking of specially commissioned series like the Rainbow Fairies for girls.
I don’t think the publishing industry helps solve the problem – my friend Jackie wrote a post last summer about a pair of books, one designated “for boys” and one designated “for girls.”
Her post: http://interactivereader.blogspot.com/2012/06/sexist-much.html
The post caused a huge stir, which she followed up on: http://interactivereader.blogspot.com/2012/06/dont-accept-sexism-or-today-in-dont.html
Scholastic pulled the book. That says a LOT to me – they accepted they’d made a poor choice, took responsibility, and then followed through with action. THAT SAID, I do not think series like the Rainbow Fairies series or the series which could be aimed at boys HAVE to be aimed at them. I know plenty of younger boy readers who loved the Rainbow Fairies series; it’s their parents, their teachers, their librarians, and so forth who steer them away or impress upon them those books aren’t “meant” for them.
Book Walrus has noticed that a lot of the books considered to be ‘for boys and girls’ are funny books, for example those by Roald Dahl and David Walliams. Why do you think this is?
All books are for both boys and girls. I don’t think it’s any one genre that is for one or the other. I think humor, as well as sports books or non-fiction or romances or stories about families, pets, construction, and so forth, are for both boys and girls when we allow them to be. It’s us – adults, gatekeepers – who put the labels out there that they are not.
Which children from fiction do you think make the best role models for young people today?
I’m totally not qualified to answer this. Every child is an individual and every child is going to find the role model that inspires them in their reading.
Book Walrus thanks Kelly for inspiring us. If you want to read more of her thoughts, check out stackedbooks.org and/or bookriot.com. You can also follow her on Twitter as @catagator