Gendered Reading: What It Is and Why It Matters

I have to admit that I’m not a huge podcast fan.  IMO they tend to be a bit long and I’m not interested in a 30 minute blog that starts with a 10 minute ad.

But I love Shannon Hale’s work and Grace Lin’s as well. So when I saw the podcast KidLit Women had recorded one of Hale’s essays for discussion, I clicked through to listen.  You can find the podcast here.  In it, Hale discusses her experiences doing school visits and what she has learned about gendered reading.

Gendered reading is when we make the gender of the characters the most important aspect of a story.  We define the story as appropriate or inappropriate based on the gender of the reader.  As Hale noted, girls were encouraged to read her book, Princess in Black.  Boys?  Sometimes but not always.  In fact, at one school visit, only middle school girls were encouraged to attend her talk.  The assumption was that she would have nothing to offer the boys.

Think about how you buy gift books?  Is your first thought whether the young recipient is a girl or a boy?  If so, you gender reading at least to an extent.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  I am working up a proposal for Puke-ology: The Science of Vomit in People and Other Animals.  Me?  I think of it as a book for 2nd to 5th graders who like gross things and learning about animals.  But a lot of people try to narrow this definition.  They think they are helping me out.  “That’s a book boys would love.”  I’m glad they think so but I also know a lot of moms and girls who would also love this book.

Gendered reading.  I think it tells us a lot more about the expectations of adults than it does about the preferences of young readers.  At least the preferences they start out with.  We adults are still putting effort into skewing them whenever possible.