Books shouldn’t care about gender

Kettlemag, Chloe Smith, boys books,
Written by Chloe Smith

From the first moment I stepped into a bookshop, I was automatically steered towards my worst nightmare – pink. I wasn’t a girly girl. but the bookshelves assumed that since I was a girl – I would love reading about horses, princesses, dresses and fairies – not that I begrudge anyone who does, or did, it just wasn’t my thing at all, and I felt left out, thinking, Is this it? Why do they think that all girls would read these? Why isn’t there more choice?

Why the gender stereotypes?

Thankfully, due to some great libraries and parents, it wasn’t. I walked away from those girly books and read the ‘boy’ ones – the ones full of action, heroes and adventures – much more my kind of thing. But then that got me thinking – why do the boys get left with the adventure books? What about the boys who would prefer to read about princesses? and why aren’t there any princess heroes? Why can’t there just be both? Adventure books, full of action, but with romance and relationships, too?

When I started growing up, I found that this gendering of books became more internalised. In the school library, I often found boys laughed at by their peers by wanting to read books for girls just because they were about romances, and I often got funny looks for steering towards the books about boy spies. I even had a librarian call the Harry Potter series one for the boys. 

‘Girls love reading action scenes and boys enjoy reading about relationships’

So I agree with Robert Muchamore, who raised the issue of gendered books at this years’ Hay Festival, reported in The Times as saying ‘girls love reading action scenes and boys enjoy reading about relationships, but publishers refuse to acknowledge the fact’.

Ever since I can remember, there has been a gender divide in books, perhaps more so in the 11 and under category, with the bright pink, glittery books with ballerinas obviously aimed at the girls, and the cameo themed action books for the boys instead – but the divide still being present all the way up from there, with any book about romance subtly targeted towards women, whether that be thanks to the lipstick on the cover (because all boys hate makeup, right?) or due to the women being steered towards those books, whatever their age. The same with boys too – any action book having an explosion, or dark colours – as if they wouldn’t want to read a book with any colour brighter than green, like it would put them off, and any male reader having them recommended to them straight off, instead of asking them what their preferred genre is first.

A book is a book, so who cares who reads them?

Book publishers do gender books. But is that the right thing to do? Well, a book about romance is still a book, and a book about secret agents is still a book, and they both tell equally important stories that will influence an expanding mind in important ways, otherwise they wouldn’t be published.

So who cares who reads them?

If it’s a good book, with relatable characters and important themes – just let it be read, by whoever wants to read it, whether they’re a boy or a girl. Don’t bother gendering books, because the instant you do, then that’s when the problems start – because why shouldn’t everyone be allowed to read the same good story? A young boy can be put off by glitter and pink, like a young girl can by camo and explosions and with the younger readers already needing encouragement to pick up a book, this issue shouldn’t be making it any more difficult. 

The stories inside don’t mind what your gender is

So, in my opinion, stories are stories – words that are meant to impact, to widen someone’s worldview, to comfort, and for people to enjoy. No matter your gender. So just go into your local library and bookshop, and pick up a book that appeals to you – no matter what’s on the cover, or who it’s targeted at. I promise that the stories inside don’t mind what your gender is.