I’ve been thinking about publishing and gender and pink for a long time. Some of the books I write might be considered to be “for boys” – in the pink/blue divide that exists in marketing and bookshops and people’s heads. This makes me stroke my chin a lot and wonder what it means to write “for boys” or “for girls”. I don’t, when I’m writing, think “this will really blow the y chromosome’s mind”. But a lot of publishing is set up to channel books one way or the other, towards girls or towards boys. Not all publishing, by any means, but it’s certainly a growing trend.
I feel uncomfortable about this and I don’t quite know what I think. Trying to work it out, though. Perhaps writing this will help?
I think I used to feel that all princessy books about falling in wuv and wearing nice clothes were innately rubbish and worthless. Because I didn’t like them, and because I disagreed with the ethos of “woman, be pretty, get married, shut up” that I smelled on them. But, if a book gets a kid reading, is it really worthless? If a child wants to read something, finds it interesting, who am I to stop them? Surely it’s my job as a writer, as a person who works in publishing, as someone who cares about the future of the next generation, to encourage all reading?
So, princess books, not the spawn of satan I once thought. Though maybe one of his cousins… but, whatever I think about princess books (I mean, unreconstructed ones, not feminist reworkings of em, which many actually are nowadays), snatching the pink sparkly things out of girls’ hands is not the answer.
What I do feel is my responsibility as someone who makes books – and a responsibility shared by the whole publishing industry – is to provide kids with options and variety of reading matter. A child of either gender should get the chance to sample all kinds of books – about princesses, pirates, space and sleepovers. If a little girl is given a princess book, I might shudder and flinch, but it’s all good – so long as she’s also given plenty of books with quests and girls who ride on dinosaurs (ok that’s quite specific, but, Pirates of Pangea in The Phoenix comic is AWESOME).
The same goes for boys. If a boy feels he can’t have something he wants – because it’s pink and he’s told pink isn’t for boys – that’s just as harmful as ramming pink down the throat of a girl. Let kids choose what they want to read (and try not to market them into submission). Offer them a buffet of brilliant books and let them be who they want to be, and read what they want to read.
All easier said than done – marketing and advertising are powerful forces in children’s lives, and tastes can be bent out of shape by what’s available. If a girl is always handed pink books about fairies, how will she know whether she likes books about racing car drivers? If society screams “this is for girls, this is for boys”, it’s hard to listen to your own voice and preferences.
So, where does this leave publishers?
This is the closest I’ve come to a simple solution: keep trying to offer diversity whenever you can. Ask yourself, before you publish a book, does this *need* to conform to a certain set of rules to sell? And, if we’re publishing a pink book for girls, can we do something different at the same time? Something gender neutral? Something that allows for kids’ experiences outside of the expected gender norms? Keep trying, that’s the only answer I can think of. Which I imagine is what all feminist publishing persons are doing anyway! So….as you were? And here’s hoping many more join you.
Also, don’t make pink books out of laziness, and do some proper research into sales trends that don’t presuppose the pink/blue divide. 🙂