Warning: This blog post contains massive sweeping generalisations with regard to gender so I expect backlash.
Controversial statement coming up…
Males and females of the human species differ from each other.
Okay, so it’s not THAT controversial a statement, but as society seems to be preoccupied with gender equality, it can sometimes feel as though we have forgotten this fundamental fact of life. And it is with this thought in mind I bring you to today’s blog.
Recently I have been quibbling with myself over whether my children’s fantasy book, Prophecy of Innocence, will appeal more to girls or boys or will it be equally appealing (or abhorrent!) to children of both genders.
The question of gender equality rears its head on a daily basis for me as a teacher. Lately it has become the subject of ‘learning walks’ and teaching methods expected to adapt as a result. Debate rages about why girls are under-performing in maths compared to boys and why boys are under-performing in Literacy compared to girls. I don’t have any definitive answers to this, (though I have my somewhat left field theories) and I’ll not explore this here because: ,
a) the question is too broad & I’m not writing an education based blog,
b) the answer depends on individuals and
c) I’m writing a blog not a dissertation so I will just leave you to dwell on what you think about that for yourselves.
Instead I’ll leave this mystery for my managers to unravel for me. However, I will say this: I think we should stop ignoring the fact the genders are different and (another massive controversial statement ahoy) stop trying to make girls and boys the same, because whether we like it or not, males and females of the human species are not cut from the same cloth, no matter what gender stereotyping we subject them to or keep hidden from them.
So, back to my original thought on whether Prophecy of Innocence will appeal overall more to one gender or the other. I can honestly say I do not know for certain yet. However, my little pupil beta readers so far are coming back pretty even on the enjoyment factor in terms of gender of readers.
As some background, I have no qualms in admitting I am not a conventionally ‘girly’ girl. I do not particularly enjoy romance novels or ‘Rom Com’ films and my favourite books and films err on the side of the male dominated realms of fantasy, adventure, crime, historical epics and comic book superheroes. (My best female friend calls them ‘brown’ films and books!) So when I began writing Prophecy of Innocence it was with these influences I set off. However, despite these influences, I am a woman and so I think like a woman and therefore I probably write like a woman. In other words, when reflecting on my writing, I have found I have delved far more into the psychology and the humanity of the characters than perhaps, arguably, is necessary for a children’s fantasy adventure story.
As I believe the fantasy adventure genre is quite a male dominated genre… ( I warned you I would make sweeping generalisations regarding gender, but these are what they are – generalisations and I know the ‘rules’ don’t apply to all.) Anyway the fact that fantasy adventure seems to be dominated largely by my male counterparts has caused me some concern with my writing. I remember, as I wrote the first draft, specifically thinking: “I need more action. I need a battle scene; perhaps some death, because otherwise this won’t appeal to boys.” (I spend a lot of time planning lessons for my pupils in this way too – minus the battle scenes and death.) In general I find I consciously think more about what will appeal to boys than I consciously think about what might appeal to girls. I wonder if this is because I am not male and so have to try harder to think like one. When I am not consciously thinking about it, I believe my natural writing style inclines more towards female readers.
So with this in mind what I think I have ended up with is essentially a story for children rather than either for boys or girls. At least I hope. A balance of both. I think parts of it will appeal more to boys, some parts more to girls. This I don’t think is a bad thing, but would I be criticised for not stopping to think about the issue of gender appeal in the first place? I know Book 2 will appeal more to boys because this is where they will get their battles and wars, but for now Book 1 is a story about how those come about. I didn’t embark on the journey with a specific target gender in mind. But the more I write, the more the question has come to mind. Who will this appeal to? Should I have considered the question more when I started? Did C.S Lewis think about it when he wrote the Narnia stories? Did Tolkien think of it when writing Lord of the Rings? Did JK Rowling consider the issue when she wrote Harry Potter?
I have now started questioning the issue of gender appeal related to children’s literature even further. I would go as far as to say I believe there is a gap in the UK market for fantasy adventure stories written for girls but is this because girls are largely not a fan of the genre rather than there are no books out there for them? I see solely from the girls I teach that they like, for example, Jacqueline Wilson’s books. Girls, I have found, appear to like stories related to real life; stories about relationships and their effects. As it seems do women. (Yes I know this is not true of all.) Boys, on the other hand, seem to enjoy escaping real life a bit more. Not just in books but through their play. They seem to prefer action and adventure more too. On further researching this, most of the blogs and books I have come across in the MG fantasy genre are also, it seems, written by men. I feel quite alone in the writing community writing fantasy adventure for the 9-11 age bracket in the UK. And from what I read on male author’s blogs and in their books is that they write action, battles, danger, magic, monsters. Stuff which appeals to boys. I wonder perhaps that male authors might not need to consciously think about writing these things as much as I do simply because they are male and these subjects are inherent to their psychology?
I have many more thoughts on the issues surrounding the question of gender appeal in YA and children’s literature but I would like to hear what others think. Should this issue of gender appeal in children’s books even matter? Art is subjective after all and literature is just one form of art. Surely we enjoy what we enjoy regardless of our gender? Or do we? Do the rules not apply in the case of literature or if you happen to be under a certain age? I know I certainly don’t fit the stereotype I’m putting forth here.
Since originally writing this post I have now actually come across a contemporary fantasy adventure MG novel series written by a female author from the UK. Having read it, it felt very much as though girls would enjoy it more as the main protagonist is a girl and most of the main characters are female and it just has a more ‘girly’ feel to it all round. Personally it didn’t appeal to me, although a sound enough story and well enough written, I actually found the main protagonist quite annoying, dare I say. I’m reading another book at the moment with a female protagonist who I’m finding rather irritating although I’m loving the novel itself so I can forgive the fact I’m not keen on her! Strangely I find my own main female character in Prophecy equally annoying and difficult to write.
Thus, I have had a sudden epiphany with regards to my writing:
I have concluded…drum roll please… I perhaps need to work on being a better writer of female characters.
I will not dwell on what this conclusion says about me personally.
Thanks as always for reading. The longest journey in writing history continues.
(P.S: Women: feel free to bash me with feminist views in the comments box below. I probably deserve it.)