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Gender, that Elephant in the Room

Cross posted to Rowena Cory Daniells‘ blog.

There’s been quite a bit of commentary recently on the blogs about gender – talk of how there are too few books for boys in the YA market, talk of the number of books by female authors that get reviewed as compared to books by male authors and talk of the roles that females are typically given in fantasy books. Over on the Bad Reputation blog, Juliet McKenna did a post on the topic. She made this point:

‘When the importance of great men is taken for granted, that’s where the historian’s focus will be. If women are not deemed important, why bother writing about them except where they impinge on the main subject’s life or deeds? They will inevitably end up absent from the narrative that emerges.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. That was then, and this is now. Since the first emergence of women’s studies as a discipline in the 1960s, a wealth of historical research has explored the role of women in all levels of society. Women’s influence and significance is now apparent, even when they were effectively denied financial and political power by the cultures of their day.’

But only if you do your research and look for it. has anybody seen the movie Priest? It looks like exactly what it is –  a movie made by someone who grew up on computer games. (Not that it isn’t fun). Where I teach the students are asked to write a film treatment and many of these treatments are set in fantasy worlds. I can tell when the students are regurgitating what they have come across in computer games or seen on TV, without reading a fantasy book. But even if they do read fantasy, how many of them read books like History of Private Life Vol 11: Revelations of the Medieval World?  If the closest they have ever come to research is watching Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings (don’t get me wrong I really enjoyed these movies), they could be forgiven for thinking that women played a very small role in the medieval world, whereas in some instances a woman could take over running the family business if her husband died. (Note – obviously, the role of women changed from place to place and from era to era).

So if a writer wanted to create well rounded characters, male or female, they need to research the era they are basing their fantasy world society on. I find it is the interesting quirky things that stick in my mind. This is a bit off track for medieval settings but I came across the description of a New Guinea tribe where, when a member of the family died, the female relatives cut off the joint of a finger. If they lived to become old women they ended up with only nubs on their hands.

Juliet goes on to say:

‘… somewhat paradoxically, the representation of women in fantasy must still include women leading circumscribed, subordinated lives, to remind all of us reading, male and female, why our grandmothers, mothers and aunts campaigned for the vote and marched for equal rights. To remind us what women’s lives are like today in so much of the world where their human rights are curtailed by culture and poverty. And of course, so many similar arguments apply when we consider the equally problematic question of characters of colour in fantasy fiction.’

In the comments there were many suggestions of authors, both male and female who do create interesting female characters. Amongst those comments was this one from Elizabeth Moon:

‘Judging by both audience and speaker comments at a convention this spring, and email received from readers or would-be readers, there’s still quite a bit of resistance to accepting women writers or women protagonists (in either traditional or nontraditional roles.) One man told me at a convention that a story with a woman protagonist “just wouldn’t interest me.” (others in the audience were nodding.) A fellow panelist made the pronouncement that women don’t write epic fantasy. (Um…yes, we do. Though I’ve found pronouncements by women who don’t approve of epic fantasy, as a “patriarchal” form, that women either don’t, or shouldn’t, write it.) Another told me in email that he can stand to read only three women writers (I think I was supposed to be flattered to be one of them) and won’t even try books by other women anymore. A woman at a booksigning told me proudly that her sons would not read books by women or with girl characters–as she was providing their reading material, it was clear that she approved and probably created their attitude.’

I wonder if a male reader like the one mentioned above would find it hard to identify with a female character because of her limited life choices. Why would he be interested in reading about someone who is not in control of their own destiny? If it’s not a problem he has ever had to face, then perhaps he can’t empathise with a character who has.

And sometimes even the writer can slip into the gender-divide mindset. Over on the ROR blog, Lara Morgan, YA writer was talking about gender and YA when she said:

‘I write YA with a female protagonist and it is marketed for girls, though when I was writing it I didn’t think about who the reader would be, just what the story was. Now I have been delightfully surprised when people have told me their son read it and loved it, because I didn’t think boys would.  That fact I am surprised a boy read it shows I am also guilty of putting that boy in a ‘he won’t read that’ box.  You see how this mindset is everywhere?’

Meanwhile, Andrea K Host has been talking about the differences magic can make when world-building, specifically when working out the role of women in the fantasy world society. She says, for one thing, magic of some kind can be used as birth control. Immediately women have the freedom to limit the size of their families.  I used this in my first trilogy, which explored a clash between a rigid patriarchal society and a society that leant towards equality. The birth control herb was just one small thing, but when the priests from the patriarchal society discovered that the women of the other society controlled their fertility with a herb, they set out to destroy all these herbs because it was unnatural. To them a woman’s place was to bear children.

Andrea K Host also talks about the power imbalance which exists because, on average, women are physically weaker than men.If these imbalances were removed what how would a society evolve?  Andrea asks:

‘The society which forms around women who can overcome inferiority of strength with an equalizer such as guardian spirits will not necessarily be any less inclined to call them chattel.  But the odds are better, and when you’re putting your world together, and you decide how your magic works, you have to ask: if women can do THIS, why do they allow THAT?’

I ask this very question in my new trilogy The Outcast Chronicles which will be published next year. The T’En are mystics and, while the males are physically stronger, the females are more gifted. This changes the male-female dynamic. It isn’t the core question of the trilogy, but it influences the characters’ interactions, just as the imbalance of power influences our interactions every day.

Exploring gender and our perception of how gender defines us is a rich field for writers. The fantasy and science fiction genres give us the freedom to create our own worlds to explore this question. But because this is the real world and not ‘the best of all possible worlds’, it appears there will be some readers who refuse to read a book because of the gender of the author and/or the main protagonist.

I can’t say that the gender of the author influences me. I look for story. And the gender of the main protagonist never worries me either. They have to be an interesting person with an interesting problem.  Have you ever read a story and had trouble identifying with the protagonist because of their gender rather than their characterisation?

  1. “I write YA with a male protagonist and it is marketed for boys…. Now I have been delightfully surprised when people have told me their daughter read it and loved it, because I didn’t think girls would.”

    “I write YA with a white protagonist and it is marketed for white people…. Now I have been delightfully surprised when people have told me their black son read it and loved it, because I didn’t think blacks would.”

    “I write YA with a hetrosexual protagonist and it is marketed for hetrosexuals…. Now I have been delightfully surprised when people have told me their gay daughter read it and loved it, because I didn’t think gay girls would.”

    Just curious… did those swap in’s of ‘others’ Lara’s Morgan’s statement set your teeth on edge? There is the REAL elephant in the room.

    September 13, 2011
    • She admits, she caught herself thinking this and realised how she’d been caught up in gender sterotypes.

      September 13, 2011
  2. Rowena,
    Great post.

    One of the things that certain segments of the genre ignore is how heavily physiology differentiate the genders. Boy and girls show differences in toy preferences from a young age. Male and females are both capable of tolerating different levels of different types of pain along pretty strict gender divides. Basic biology and physiology.

    Some unfortunate folks who write fail to take this into consideration, and get miffed when they are told their boys/men don’t act that way. If you have two “normal” 13 yr olds one female, one male and both are punch in the face by their 15 yr old cousin who out weighs them by twenty five+ pounds their reactions are going to be different. She’s more likely to look for a way out of the situation, he is more likely to at least stand his ground.

    Why? Lots of reasons, one is that while women can take much higher levels of pressure pain, blunt force trauma is likewise a specialty of the male body and this will shape their perception of the threat imposed by the mean cousin. What annoys many male readers is when they are told that no male should act any different than this particular female did or that all females will act the way the boy did if they were raised a particular way. Sorry, but no, biology may not be destiny but it is the launch pad and social training is mostly pretty weak attempts at course changes by breaking wind in a particular direction.

    September 13, 2011
    • Mike, I saw the in-built differences when I tried to raise my first child (a girl) using non-gender specific toys and dressing her in overalls. When she was about two she suddenly found the colour hot pink and would wear nothing else. Her litle brother acted as though he’d been reading the boy manual before he was born.

      Having done 5 years of Taekwondo, Iaido and Aikido I know that a male will beat a female all else being equal. Even with all the training in the world she has to be lucky to get away.

      September 13, 2011
      • 🙂

        It is so nice to run into people who don’t view their children as extensions of themselves. That is a rant for another day. I’ve blogged my rant over at my digs.

        September 13, 2011
  3. You’re missing the point, Rowena. Had the author’s name been Laurence, not Lara, and said the same thing but swapping genders, there would have been a fuss and botheration. He’d have been accused of discrimination, gender insensitivity, chauvinism — which was not her intention, I am sure. She just never put herself into the shoes of another person. It’s rather like those endless office signs “The best man for the job is a woman” on a woman’s desk. If I’ve seen one I’ve seen a thousand. No one bats an eyelid. Try getting a man to put the inverse ‘A man can do any job better than a woman’ on his desk. Can you imagine the riot? The demands for instant dismissal, the tribunals…. And how far do you think he’d get with ‘It’s just a joke’? Women (and various other groups) frequently behave in a chauvinist, discriminatory and exclusive manner. Having been victims of it, you’d think they’d be more sensitive to it. But they happily accept places in exclusive anthologies, accept exclusive awards, cheer about genres being dominated by their group… which is fine IF you accept that in others. But they don’t. How often have I heard outrage at the unequal representation women on SF anthology TOC’s, or about reviews. I agree it’s not right, counterproductive, and like quite a lot of male authors and editors, have tried to do something about it. Have spoken out about it. So far I know of ONE female author in YA who had the courage to invert roles and question the situation there. And the Femme-chauvinists said it was only fair redress. The trouble is, it wasn’t those who hurt them (or their mothers or grandmothers) being ‘punished’. It was people chosen merely on the basis of gender. And if that was wrong one way, it’s just as wrong the other. And don’t even mention Romance – with 50% of the market, 20% male readership… and how many openly male authors? Imagine the outrage at the inverse of that.

    My point is either you apply the same rules to everyone, or no-one. You are my equal, and not just when you’re getting worse treatment than I am.

    Somehow I feel this will not be a popular point of view.

    September 13, 2011
    • Publicly applying logic to human behavior is rarely useful. Not unneeded, not wrong, but rarely useful.

      September 13, 2011
      • LOL. Mike, I have a son who is so logical he has trouble fucntioning in the real world.

        September 13, 2011
    • ‘Had the author’s name been Laurence, not Lara, and said the same thing but swapping genders, there would have been a fuss and botheration. He’d have been accused of discrimination, gender insensitivity, chauvinism — which was not her intention, I am sure. ‘

      Wow, really good point, Dave. I wasn’t considering the gender of the author. Just shows how we can all be blinded by our socialisation!

      September 13, 2011
    • Had another thought while I was driving my son to the train station. Ah, the joys of being a mother.

      Warning – I’m making broad assumptions here.

      You have to consider the in-built assumptions of gender dynamics. eg. Why is it hilarious when a men dresses up as woman, but it was considered confronting when women first started to wear trousers? Because when a man dresses in women’s clothes he is deliberately dressing down, when we all know he is superior. (You see this in the Footy Show and places like this all the time). In the 1930s it was scandlous when a woman first dressed in men’s trousers, because she was saying I am as good as a male.

      Lara assumed that male teens wouldn’t be interested in reading her book with a female protagonist because that would be ‘reading-down’ for them. (Just like kids don’t like to read-down about children younger than themselves, they like to read-up about older kids because that is what they aspire to. Another generalisation, I know). She was saying I was surprised someone who considered themselves superior (another assumption) was willing to read a story from the POV of an inferior person.

      Wow, I am really stomping on a mine field here. But I’m going to finish what I started.

      If a guy said – I was surprised when a girl read my book with a male protagonist – he would be saying I was surprised an inferior being was able to identify with my superior protagonist. (Ducks for cover. But you have to remember there are male readers out there who simply won’t read a book by a woman because how could a woman have anything relevant to say to them?).

      I’m putting words and assumptions in the male author’s mouth. But you have to remember doctors were highly resected in Russia until women doctors outnumbered men, then the profession lost some of its prestige. (Wish I could remember where I read this).

      (Wish I could remember where I read this).

      September 13, 2011
      • Leaving aside the female/male *feriority, its also a matter of the emotional content and mental behavior of the characters. Some people can’t write a convincing internal dialog for _either_ gender, some can’t do it for _their_ gender flavor and others fail in spades at doing the opposite gender. I remember a couple years ago this variety of discussion took form as “man with breasts” vs “woman with penis” as often the only differences between characters by a some writers was the gender pronouns applied to them.

        September 13, 2011
      • Think I hit the wrong reply. My comment is up higher.

        September 13, 2011
      • What I was saying was it was time (especially in YA) to realise that assumptions from 1970 (or 1930) no longer hold true. No one thinks twice about a woman in trousers now, whatever they may have done in 1930. In YA and Romance women are dominant and have been for many years. Doctors’ prestige may have suffered a while because of sexist preconceptions, but if the female doctors do a good (and much needed) job, and are proud of themselves, respect will re-assert. Assumptions like these do as much self-inflicted harm as any bigotry.

        I’m not stupid enough (and I know a fair number of males who are at least as intelligent) to make the assumption that ‘All women’ are my inferiors! Or that I am ‘stepping down’ to read their work! Try this one on a bunch of Lois Bujold fans – you will find there are vast numbers of male ones! The assumption is both dated and false. It’s time women stopped ‘assuming’ males think this, against all credible evidence. I doubt if it was ever universally true, and I very much doubt if it is anything more than a minority viewpoint now. Yes, there are still bigots, but I’ll bet they’re outnumbered by the proportion of female editors and readers who would say the same about male written romance (yes, there are a number of male romance writers… doing the James Tiptree).

        Assume that it is your work that is being judged, unless proved otherwise.

        September 13, 2011
      • Rowena,

        I think you are on the money with he idea of gender dynamics. I know part of my mental conditioning is to question men when they are writing female protagonists. I have raised the question a few times on my blog, asking my female friends how well certain male authors portrayed women or girls when they were made pivotal characters. This could be partially from insecurity, me believing that I” may not understand women well enough to write well from their perspective and tranfering those doubts onto other people, but I have never asked the same question about female authors.

        I was wondering to myself why this is so and came to the realisation that one key reason(there were a couple) was that I simply expected women who could write at all, to be able to write good male characters! There is no reason for this expectation which to hints to me that there is an internal bias at work and I think your ideas above probably encapsulate the underlying cause of this bias.

        September 14, 2011
    • True, Mke.

      But then it down to the writer’s ability to create believable characters and that had nothing to do with gender, it requires insight. I read somewhere that we are spending too little time in our own internal worlds, and too much time interfacing with the larger world.

      September 13, 2011
    • Dave, I think you ae tilting at windmills here I am afraid.

      The reason why Lara thought as she did isn’t from a feminist bias, but because that is what her experiences so far have taught her. Experience has shown her that boys largely don’t read her books, just as my attempts to share some top quality world cinema have shown me that a number of my friends absolutely refuse to watch sub-titled films. It is really sad and my friends and the boys in question are missing out on good stuff, but that is the reality of society.

      September 14, 2011
      • Brendan, I love subtitled films. I’d much rather watch a movie with subtitles, than watch it dubbed. You lose the nuances of the actor’s speech. And I never have problems reading the sub titles.

        September 14, 2011
      • Rowena, I normally go for the subbed versons too. Have you seen the Night/Day Watch films? They really made the subs part of the film there.

        It really saddens me that people refuse to step outside their comfort zone and try new things, so often there is so much to offer.

        September 14, 2011
      • Brendan, I loved the Nightwatch/Daywatch films. iI thougth they were very creative and I liked the different sensibility set in Russa!

        September 14, 2011
    • Dave
      thanks for your interest in this debate, but I must politely point out that in one instance it is you who is missing the point. I don’t think that if a male writer, who had written a book with a male protaganist that was marketed for boys, had said he was pleased and surprised a girl had read and enjoyed his book that there would be an outcry. It is not discrimination to be surprised by something. What you are talking about in your comment is something different.

      And I certainly do put myself in the shoes of other people or how else could I write? As to your replacing words in my quote with words chosen to make it blatantly racist or homophobic I find that incredibly offensive. If you are trying to make a point, you do it another way and do me the courtesy of not inferring I am either of those things, especially as you do not know me and I have certainly never done, nor written anything to deserve such treatment.
      I suggest you read my entire blog about the topic before deciding to quote me out of context for your own ends. Your are entitled to your opinion but you are not entitled to villify me to make it.

      September 14, 2011
      • Lara, my apologies if you have taken this as a personal attack on you, which it is not. I simply said the quote set my teeth on edge, and by using transpositions, showed why. I realise context is vitally important as to what YOU meant, but the piece quoted I found belittling and a worrying example of deliberate exclusion – which is, I am sure, not what you meant it to be. You probably never imagined it could be taken as such. Would you prefer not to know? If you like I can amend the post to state that this out of context and not what you meant.

        I shall indeed make an effort to read your blog post, as I am very concerned about the gender imbalance in YA – not as a writer, but as a parent who believes a society where young men do not read is heading for trouble. I would be similarly concerned if it were women. We are, at least in my idealistic view of society, all integral parts, and willful exclusion is wasteful, and causes hurt and damage. YA seems to be in the same (but inverse) position that Science Fiction was in in the 60’s. I felt we needed more balance there, and do in YA too. The word transposition exercise is BTW a well-established technique to establish whether a statement is likely to be taken as offensive, and one I try to apply to my own writing. For example: “The best man for the job is a woman” -“The best woman for a job is a man.” You would be offended if a man said that, right? I am sure you could come up with a dozen similar statements, which, when thought about, most people would wish they hadn’t said.

        I am sure your statement was – as I said – well intentioned, but in terms of gender relations, women need to start thinking how statements could be misinterpreted, could cause offence, to males. This is an idea which men found very hard about women, and I don’t expect it do be any easier the other way around. I think women -particularly in YA, but in various other areas too, are now finding themselves where men were in 1960. Men as a dominant group in most fields, had never really had to put themselves into women’s shoes before that. When they found themselves needing to consider women as equals, many simply failed. Others attempted to deal with it by belittling women and by rationalizing discrimination. Others did precisely what I used your words to make an example of — to see how they would feel if the shoe was on the other foot. Swap out the words and speaker for the people/group of whom you speak — if you then find that offensive, then it is likely that your statement is offensive too. As I said, it’s a test I apply frequently, and I think women who consider themselves equals (something I believe passionately in. You are not my inferior because of your gender, your skin color or your orientation. I will not treat you like that and I will chide anyone for treating themselves like that) will too. It is, however, a new idea to many women (not the ones I grew up with!), as we were often socialized against seeing each other as equals. That has to change. As you found the swap-in offensive (and so do I) that was how I felt about your original statement. Yes. It was. I am sure that was NOT what you meant to do. Yet, as exampled by the transpositions, it can be taken as exclusive, belittling and insulting to males.

        So: simple and direct question: would you prefer it if I pretend I didn’t find something you said derogatory (so you continued to do it), or would you rather be told, so that you can avoid it in future, and clarify your position? I know that I’d rather be told, apologise for the inadvertent offence, explain myself, and understand the situation better, maybe part as friends instead of them thinking I’m jerk, but that is simply my attitude. Yours may differ.

        September 14, 2011
      • I find it very interesting you don’t think he makes you sound blatantly sexist.

        I also find it hillarious that by being offended at his other transpositions (but not that one) you prove the point he was making AND are unable to see it. I suggest you remove the mote from your eye, my lady.

        Dave was not vilifying you. He was making a point by using a rethoric device to prove how shocking a statement we accept in one form can be in another. This is routinely used to evaluate content in semantic classes. I presume you’ve never taken them, but it shouldn’t be hard for a writer with a minimum of empathy to grasp. His point had precious little to do with you, and none of us interpreted it as being so. You, on the other hand, are bringing the focus squarely onto you. And the light, btw, is not flattering.

        September 14, 2011
      • Brendan #

        Sarah, there is a problem with Dave’s rhetorical approach since it uses extremes which are going to raise emotions almost regardless of the context. This then turns his point into a straw-man argument where he is no longer addressing the issue at all, but something else entirely. I completely understand why Lara could be offended since Dave has in fact used false equivalents to strengthen his point, which in the end makes the whole exercise redundant.

        Personally I think the fact that you found that Lara felt the altered statements to be offensive(and I think the fact that she vigorously refutes the first example shows she found that as offensive as the other two versions) speaks a lot more about you than it does her.

        September 14, 2011
        • Oh, Brendan, PLEEEAAAASE. Honestly, you think I got degree in literature without being exposed to the emotions behind semantics? The whole point of the transposition is to excite emotions, so one can compare it back to the statement that did not offend, because we’re dulled to it. BTW this is a GREAT way of testing how a society is ACTUALLY skewed, not how they tell you it’s skewed. Which is part of the reason for the semantic exercise, and which Dave got.

          NO, Lara didn’t successfully explain away why she wasn’t offended by the sexist transposition. She just said “That’s not exclusion” — and pardon me, that’s bullshit. I think you’re in Australia, right? You might want to look at statistics from the US sometime. Crime — boys are at greater risk. Education — our college population, even in the sciences is now so skewed to females it’s ridiculous. Most teachers — female. Learning styles in schools? Slanted female. YES, there are studies on all this, but it would take a whole article for me to document. However, you can google it. Frankly, if these statistics were reversed, feminists would be — and should be — up in arms. Instead, they have their heads circa the thirties and continue screaming for men to be beat harder. Which is why the fact that EVERY action hero is a girl in morning cartoons and if you want to sell a book with an action hero, you do better to make it female.

          She took offense at those statemetns? Good. Then she should hold them up as a mirror on the first one. Feminism is going the way of the French revolution and beheading the people who were their first supporters. (Or their equivalents, since those are dead.) And it’s serving boys and girls — both — very badly. And “offense feminism” is just a way to stop people discussing it and noticing how badly it’s going.

          As for what it says about me, it says I HATE — HATE — for people in power to act as victims. I don’t think that’s a secret to anyone. I’ve done plenty of posts about it. But I can do one more, if you so wish.

          September 14, 2011
      • Ms. Morgan, you state that you don’t think there would be an outcry if a male author said he was surprised a girl read his book. Maybe you haven’t seen or heard such a thing, but I have. I’ve seen it on blogs and I’ve heard it at cons. So, yes, there will be and has been a response. It’s usually preceded by a condemnation of the male author by the female commenter who is making the point about how chauvinistic the man is.

        I am sorry you took Dave’s comments as a personal insult. I will say, as I read the bit Rowena quoted, I found myself asking the same thing Dave posted. (and yes, I did go to your blog and read the entire post). I also recognized the thought exercise Dave was going through — and asking us to consider as well — in his response.

        One of the first things I was told as a writer was to develop a thick skin. The second was not to hit the “send” button before I’d had time to calm down and re-read, possibly several times, what I’d written in response to that review that stung. I think that is good advice for us all to keep in mind.

        September 14, 2011
      • Brendan #


        Since it is you who is the writer and the one with the degree I suppose I will have to bow to your reading of what Lara said and that “she wasn’t offended by the sexist transposition.” As I said, I read her response differently but you are obviously so superior to myself that you could never be wrong.

        My forgiveness for ever doubting that you could be anything but fair and balanced in anything you say or for ever reading your words in a way that would indicate that you were intentionally trying to belittle someone.

        Please ignore anything I have said in any other comments that may cast a different light or contradict your understanding, Any understanding that I may have received is proven erroneous by you differing opinion.

        I shall remain silent now since as you rightly point out my colonial Australian upbringing is totally devoid of any understanding of what life in the USA is like. I am not worthy to speak in your presence.


        September 14, 2011
  4. I enjoy both female authors and female protagonists. Although I’ve never been published, I do write fantasy. Probably the reason I write fantasy specifically instead of hard SF is because of the profound effect of the Dragonlance Chronicles had on me. At the time I was reading them I thought that they were written by two women. My bad. Margaret Weis is a woman, but it turns out that Tracy Hickman is a man. Oops.

    Come to think of it, one of my other main influences has been Catherine Asaro. I grew up in the Dungeons and Dragons tradition and her books about Shape Mages (no clue what the name of the series is and I’m too lazy to go look) really got me thinking about different ways that magic could work in a fantasy world. It really got me thinking and now the people who have read my (as yet unfinished) manuscript all comment on how awesome my magic is.

    As far as female protagonists go, Honor Harrington is one of the finest protagonists of any work I’ve written regardless of gender. She is just unbelievably realistic in her interactions with people and driven.

    And let’s not forget Sarah’s (speaking of female authors who are awesome) own Dyce from her furniture novels, even if I can’t think of what her last name is right now. Awesome character, awesome novels and a realistic portrayal of a single mom just trying to make it in the world. (Ok, so she’s getting married. As of the end of the last book she hasn’t even moved in with the guy so she’s still a single mom at the moment.)

    All of that being said, I’m not a YA anymore. I don’t necessarily claim to be ancient at 34, but I don’t have a lot of the hangups about gender that I had as a teenage boy. I honestly don’t think you could’ve gotten me to read either Sarah’s furniture novels or David Weber’s Honor Harrington novels 15-20 years ago. I’m just not the same person I was then and I honestly don’t think I would’ve wanted to read something featuring a female protagonist.

    Think about it this way:

    At 32 (I think) I read Dipped, Stripped and Dead. It was excellent. The protagonist was a woman named Dyce who had a complicated life and reacted in realistic ways to real life problems. Sure, she solved a murder (and most of us never do) but she also had to figure out things like how to pay her rent and feed her kid. It was well written, mature and entertaining.

    But that was at 32. At fifteen, a woman chasing a child around would have come off as an older version of The Babysitters Club. E wouldn’t have been a cute kid, he would have been an impediment to having a real life. I mean, think about it. What teenage boy wants to deal with that?

    September 13, 2011
    • Jim, you’ve got a point there. The human brain doesn’t finish maturing until around 25 years of age. I have 4 sons ranging in age from 17 – 25. I know they read female POV characters and female authors. But I don’t know if they would have the patience to read about a character caring for a child, as that requires a different level of maturity.

      September 13, 2011
      • Rowena, this may sound odd and perhaps even OT, but I didn’t start reading “regular” romance novels until I was well past thirty. I wanted to read SF, preferably hard SF, to prove I understood it. Then, I read milSF, like Bujold and Moon; I read some fantasy, like Moon’s excellent “Deed of Paksenarrion” and “Legacy of Gird” and of course anything with Bujold’s name on it was an automatic read.

        Anyway, it took me time to get past what I’d like to call a “reverse prejudice,” but now I read regular romance (I prefer historicals and urban fantasy crossovers, but I’ll read anything if it makes sense) along with all he other genres and nonfiction. Which is a good thing, because I write urban fantasy/romance nine times out of ten — while I love hard SF and milSF, I just don’t get that many ideas there. (I am doing my best to keep my late husband’s milSF novels alive, albeit with my additions and edits. That’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.) My protagonists are men and women; I can write either way, though I seem to be more comfortable writing male characters (or those, at best, that aren’t from Earth at all, so their viewpoints as to what “normal” male/female roles are is a lot different).

        I tend to think that the reason things have shifted so much in what I read and how I read it is due to maturity. While many mature around age 25, some people perhaps take time to assimilate that maturity. (Maybe I was just one of those, or perhaps I was so worried that the men I were friends with would think ill of me if I admitted to reading contemporary romance. Now, I don’t care what they think; I only care about what I think, and if my late husband was still alive, of course I’d care about what he thought though he was principled and his main principle was, “You should do whatever you need to do for yourself; I’ll always back you.”)

        September 14, 2011
      • Mind, in my just-posted comment, I meant to say _the_ rather than “he” — typed too fast there and didn’t catch it. (This goes along with the whole “beware of self” thing when it comes to editing . . . :sigh:)

        September 14, 2011
      • Barb, I didn’t discover romance books until I joined RWAustralia. I’d only ever read the Georgette Heyer Regency romances before that. (Absolutely love Heyer. thinsk she’s brilliant).

        I had a secondhand book and record shop and read my way through just about everything in the spec fic section.

        September 14, 2011
  5. Synova #

    “I wonder if a male reader like the one mentioned above would find it hard to identify with a female character because of her limited life choices. Why would he be interested in reading about someone who is not in control of their own destiny? If it’s not a problem he has ever had to face, then perhaps he can’t empathise with a character who has.”

    I would think that the most common, and most interesting character is the one who overcomes the limitations and constraints of their life to become a hero. Often enough, and certainly in folk tales, the eventual hero is the one with the most to overcome. There are a certain number of princes and princesses that are the heroes of stories, but they probably started out, somehow, “not in control of their own destiny.” The story is how they take control.

    In real life, of course, men often feel trapped and powerless. They hate their job but have to keep it, etc., In many ways I’ve had more freedom and more control as a stay-at-home mom than my husband has had. His lack of freedom bought mine for years. If the lesson of History is that women were far more active in life than it would appear, more vital and more important, it could also be that the lesson of History is that men seldom had meaningful freedom, because all people are constrained by their cultures, men no less than women.

    The fun part about stories is that you get to imagine that you’re in control, that you’re powerful. I think that someone unable to empathise with the initially powerless character who drives the story would find very little to read.

    (I did read a novel once where the protagonist was swept along by events through the whole book. It took me a while to puzzle out what was “off” about the story, and that was it.)

    September 13, 2011
    • Good point, Synova. I was trying to find a reason why someone would refuse to read a book by a woman or a book with a female protagonist.

      But you are right, we are all constrained by society. My DH went out to work for all those years while I stayed at home and reared 6 children. I wrote in my ‘spare’ time. He did his artwork in his spare time.

      September 14, 2011
  6. Rowena,
    Most of my fans seem to be male. The ratio in fan letters, even for what I consider my “froo Froo” mysteries are three to one. My characters are female. NO ONE has complained. OTOH I’d REALLY REALLY REALLY like to find good series with male characters who are allowed to be heros, not just suffering, sensitive souls, for my sons to read. They read women, but I’d like them to have more “role models.” It might not matter now, but when he was three my younger son told me he’d like to be a girl because they have all the adventures. Which will show you how SKEWED we’ve become. And, as Dave says, it’s not the thirties any more.

    Like Synova I’ve had more choices than my husband. He’d have loved to work on his music, but someone needed to earn a living, and traditionally, that is a male’s obligation. Bucking it involves so many social explanations/fights, it’s NOT worth it in the long run. And so, here we are. I was supposed to be a bestseller fifteen or so years ago. That didn’t happen. And his dream went by the wayside.

    September 13, 2011
    • Sarah, I’ve found there are few good role models in society for my sons. In Australia the media spends far too much time lauding sports people for being able to run and catch a ball. (This is my particular pet peeve).

      Then you have to ask what role models do boys see in movies and read in books? I read my kids Lord of the Rings (The abridged version, where I skipped lond descriptions of landscape and back story. I could judge when the story was starting to lose the kids’ interest). And I read the kids Tom Sawyer. Luckily for our cat, they never tried to feed it their medicine!

      September 14, 2011
  7. Responding to Brendan:

    Brendan, I was going to stay out of this because, frankly, I couldn’t believe the author took offense at what Dave said. She spoke about reading in context and I feel she needed to do the same thing. Nothing Dave said put her in any sort of negative light, at least not in my opinion. Also, I don’t see that Dave was using false equivalents, especially not when you consider the Publishers Weekly post earlier this week about agents trying to force their authors to take gay characters out of their YA offerings.

    Also, as the mother of a son, I find it insulting that so many people — and so many authors — think boys don’t read. More of them read than we give them credit for. Worse, one of the reasons they traditionally don’t read as much as girls is because they haven’t been given middle grade and YA books that appeal to them. So, you see, the authors are part of the problem.

    Anyone should find the statements in question offensive. IMO, Sarah wasn’t saying she’s surprised the author found them so. I think Sarah is saying she’s surprised the author took them as a personal attack on her. That is not, as Dave himself said, what was meant. But they are good examples of the cross-thinking that has been happening and that is promoted by a lot of folks in the publishing industry.

    To get back to the point, those “extremes” you condemn Dave for using are exactly the same ones that came to my mind as I read the post. They are things we all need to be aware of and if we, as writers, don’t have a thick enough skin to take what we see as a personal affront and simply respond to it with logic instead of crying that we’ve been insulted then, well, we’re in for a lot of heartache as the reviews start coming in.

    September 14, 2011
    • Brendan #

      Amanda, if you thought the same as Dave (and I presume Sarah) then you are all missing the point. Lara wasn’t saying she was surprised boys read, but she was surprised they read that particular book.

      To give an example of the point I felt Lara was making, earlier this year I bought a book from a bargain bin that was by one of my favourite authors. On properly examining it when I got home I found the content was very different to the sort of books I was used to. Everything I had read to date had been fantasy and this is a straight romance.

      You know what? I still haven’t read it. This is a book by an author that I have gone out and bought at least 15 times(probably closer to 20), yet I still haven’t read it. I know and like this authors style and if/when I finally crack it open will probably like it again(it has happened before)but I am avoiding this book primarily since it is a genre I don’t normally read and have seldom liked when I have read it. If I open this book I will no doubt end up like the boys Lara said she was surprised to find saying how much they liked her book.

      But I am not there yet, and given I have been known to be a bit on the ornery side it may be a while before I get there.

      September 14, 2011
  8. Brendan, go back and read the quote above. She said she didn’t write the book thinking about who her audience would be. Then she says she is surprised boys read it. Conflict in statements, no?

    And, sorry, but you missed the point I was making. She got upset because Dave extrapolated into a thought exercise something we should all be thinking about. She took it as a personal insult. THAT is what I was addressing, especially in the face of the apparent conflict in her own statement.

    September 14, 2011
    • Brendan #

      I didn’t miss “your” point. As I said above in the comment you responded to that I didn’t feel that Dave’s exercise was particularly valid, so I simply chose not to respond to that part of your comment.

      I did find it interesting that while you admitted the altered statements to be offensive you deny that Lara should be offended by the offensiveness. But then you found the initial statement to be offensive too so I suppose that makes all the difference.

      If you didn’t find the context of my first hand experience to be of any value, what of Jim’s? He made the point that at 15 he wouldn’t have picked up a book by a woman regardless. Personally this is a blanket attitude I have a problem with, I was quite happy reading women(but did skip the group hugs), just not certain genres.

      All along(except in my responses to Sarah, that I confess could be considered somewhat intemperent 😉 ), I have been trying to reframe the context of Lara’s words to show my understanding of them. If you don’t feel that my understanding has any value, so be it, but I wouldn’t feel right not offering an alternate understanding, one that may allow us to remove ourselves from this quagmire of misunderstanding and place the conversation on a more fruitful footing than arguing of the intended meaning of a single paragraph.

      September 14, 2011
      • Brendan , it is obvious we are talking around one another here. What I said – what I understood Dave to be saying as well as Sarah — is that the statements themselves are such that anyone should be upset by them. However, the fact that the author took the statements to be a personal insult is what I did not understand. Nor do I see any reason why she should have attacked Dave for them. He did not attribute them to her. He used a rhetoric exercise I’ve had in high school and college. Maybe that’s why I recognized it for what it was.

        What part of that you have to take exception to, I don’t know nor, at this point, do I care.

        As for the points that you haven’t read a book you bought because it isn’t in a genre you usually read, that’s your decision and I’ll leave it up to you to decide what it says about you. Jim’s comments refer to a 15 year old reading about a girl protagonist. My comments pointed out the fact that there has been a dearth of reading material that does interest a 15 year old. Correction, that is due to the misconception that there is a dearth of reading material for young men of that age. It is also due to the fact that most of the books assigned as required reading in schools here in the States that aren’t “classics” all seem to have some sort of “social consciousness”. Add to that the fact that most adults turn their noses up at manga and graphic novels, something guys do tend to like, and you have the view that boys don’t read and you have boys who have been told they aren’t reading “real” books.

        One last note, I stick by the advice I was given. Develop a thick skin if you’re going to be a writer — and that includes if you blog or comment on blogs — and think twice before hitting the “send” button.

        September 14, 2011
  9. This is something of a general omnibus comment because I’m at work and I don’t have the time to say what I need to in point by point replies.

    First, Rowena, you made a good point in your post about hidden assumptions and how easy it is to get caught by them – and kudos for acknowledging when Dave caught yours. I hope I can do the same when people catch my assumptions that well. As for role models, media everywhere make horrible role models. The best possible role models for anyone are their own parents and the adults around them. That’s usually what kids end up following in the most important choices they make.

    Lara, if you can’t handle someone using an example of your own hidden assumptions in one of the older rhetorical/semantic exercises around, what on earth are you doing writing? Dave was pointing out that your comment – both in and out of context – demonstrates a hidden bias that “boys don’t read ‘girl’ books”. Given that the wardens tell everyone that all the time, it’s not surprising you got infected by it, but let’s look at the facts, shall we? Of all the possible marketing slots for books, exactly one is dominated by males: Westerns. Everything else is either more or less even or it’s female-dominated (based on the wholly scientific method of looking at the number of male author names vs the number of female author names on the shelves). Women outnumber men entering college, and even more graduating from college. They outnumber men who graduate high school. They dominate the workforce in everything except the positions requiring that you basically give up any prospect of a life and the ones that require grueling physical labor, apart from a few uber-geek or hard-sciences holdouts which seems to be at least as much caused by inept math and science teachers as by anything else (males are usually more adept at math and the hard sciences early, which also means they’re more likely to overcome the problems a bad teacher can cause in those areas, if they get a good one later on). The gender war is, at least in most of the Western world, over. Women — alas, not equality of opportunity — won.

    Brendan, good grief! I’d ask what you’re thinking except that it’s painfully obvious from what’s on the screen that you aren’t. Your “colonial Australian” upbringing has buggerall to do with any of it. What matters here is that you’ve bought — and paid for, more’s the pity — the line of the wardens who are trying to silence any honest discussion of gender issues. And frankly, as an Australian I’m disgusted that another Aussie can’t see past the surface to what’s actually being said. I thought my fellow-Aussies were smarter than that.

    September 14, 2011
  10. Lara & Brenden

    Question for you.

    Not all that long ago as time as measured the town I grew up in had a… high instance of bumper stickers that read:
    “I brake for men and other helpless animals.”
    How well do you think people would respond to someone with a similar sticker that merely added the letters “w” and “o” in the logical place? No one said anything about the original form, none were defaced by anything except time. Do you think that would happen with the hypothetical version?

    September 14, 2011
    • Brendan #

      Mike, I wasn’t going to say anything else but since you addressed me with a question I am going to be rude and not answer it, but talk about something else.

      Believe it or not, except for my comments to Sarah, I have been trying to steer the conversation away from the semantic games that Dave started and everyone else ran with. To my way of thinking(prior to re-reading the post) there was three ways of looking at the debate about Lara.

      1: All the Mad Geniuses who chose to go with the Dave Game of rhetoic are right, and Lara is a bigot who is so wrapped up in her own feminist ideals that she couldn’t see reality if it sat on her.

      2: Lara is just telling it as it is. She reallly has so few boys tell her they like her books it is a (pleasent) shock when she hears from them.

      3: Lara is putting her own biases up on display since she has recognised them for what they are and wants people to learn from her mistakes.

      Prior to re-reading the post, I would have guessed 2 or 3(I think you can tell I was never convinced by option 1) but it turns out 2 is wrong also. Let me quote the the very next line after the one Dave played his linguistic games with.

      “That fact I am surprised a boy read it shows I am also guilty of putting that boy in a ‘he won’t read that’ box.  You see how this mindset is everywhere?”

      Now can you see why Lara may have been a little upset? The fact NONE OF US bothered to properly read the post, where she is open and honest about and error she made and confessed to, choosing to slam her instead, using rhetorical tricks to make something she already knew was wrong into something so much worse.

      Frankly, I am ashamed of myself that it took me so long to actually look at all of what she said. Getting stuck in a nothing argument that had no basis in reality when just a moments attention could have ended it all.

      September 14, 2011
      • Brendan,
        You’re tarring everyone with your brush. I did read her post, and if someone is going to offended by something so simple as a logical proof that _does not_ make any actual statements or conjecture about them that perhaps reflects a serious issue. Logical proofs are just like math proofs. When you want to prove you’ve done 10X4 right you divide your answer by one of the original numbers. If you come up with the other number you were correct. If you get something else you dropped the ball somewhere.

        Nowhere do Dave, Sarah, Kate, Amanda or myself call Ms Morgan a bigot. But if you want to go back to her original post we can. Here’s a quote:

        A recent study of young adult novels released between 1900 and 2000 showed that males were the central characters in 57% of books published per year while only 31% of the central characters were female.

        So, really, it’s only in the last eleven years that girls have started to become the more dominant lead characters in YA fiction. And I’m not going to be sorry about that. A part of me wants to say (hands on hips), well isn’t it about time we girls got to dominate something? Men have more of just about everything on this planet. More power, more money, more rights. Is the fact that girls hold a bigger place in YA really such a tragedy?

        Starting with the first sentence the pertinent question is: How is that relevant to anyone writing 10+ years _after_ that study?

        The next section is part and parcel with the sentence put through the rather salient logical proof above. This is a clear bias. Does it cross into bigotry? Probably no, I haven’t met Ms Morgan, nor have I yet read any of her works. You’re right the sentence in question by itself doesn’t prove anything, you can’t triangulate off one data point. With the other points since quoted, and her refusal to even consider that someone might find her words offensive you are part the three points needed for forming a basic direction. Clearly, if nothing else Ms Morgan has a blind spot.

        You on the other hand are indulging in every inane act of handwavium know to poor discussion. You’ve moved the goal posts, tossed out strawmen, engaged in ad hominem, gross generalization, poisoning the well, spotlight fallacy and more. I’m not sure if this is the result of some form of calculation on your part or simply some facet of your nature that make it inevitable, but if you don’t like having your discussion tactics or your nominal arguments trampled please avail yourself of this neat little resource or one like it.

        September 14, 2011
  11. Mike, the point I made in my last comment to you was that Lara KNEW her words were offensive, otherwise she wouldn’t have called herself on them. She didn’t need the MGs wiping her nose in her own error or belabouring her with their “Logical proofs”

    So far you and I are the only ones who have mentioned ANYTHING in the post apart from the Line That Shall Not Be Named. If you want to call her on her other words feel free, I will listen, but the only ones she has been attacked with so far are ones she doesn’t deserve condemnation for.

    As for my debating skills, you are right, they are non-existant. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a mind or opinions. I try to word them as best I can and if I fail to convince you, well I have failed. And since as Kate says “What matters here is that you’ve bought — and paid for, more’s the pity — the line of the wardens who are trying to silence any honest discussion of gender issues.” obviously to a number of MG my opinions are worth nothing.

    September 14, 2011
    • Brendan, come on. No one, and especially not any member of MGC, has said your opinions are worth nothing. Frankly, if we thought that, it would be easy enough to simply delete your comments and block you. Have we done that? No. Have some of us taken exception to what you’ve said? Perhaps. Or perhaps we are simply trying to explain our point of view.

      I will say, as I did earlier, that it is clear that we are talking around the issue. That’s fine. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. So I will simply repeat what I have said now in several of my replies to you — something you have continued to either try to justify or ignore –my concern is that the author took personal offense to Dave’s exercise in rhetoric. She not only took offense to it but she then attacked Dave.

      This is the last I will post on this because it is taking me away from my writing and I have a deadline fast approaching.

      September 14, 2011
    • Kate Paulk #

      Obviously you missed the part where Dave addressed his rhetorical exercise to Rowena – who recognized it and accepted his point. Lara wasn’t called out for that – she was called out for attacking Dave.

      Now, you’re welcome to express your opinions as best you can, wherever you can. I’m not trying to shut you down.

      However, I don’t have much tolerance for anything I see as stupid, so if you’re going to make arguments that I could shred into tiny pieces (so far, I haven’t. You’re getting awfully close to a sentence-by-sentence vivisection), you’re going to get responses that aren’t exactly gentle.

      If you’re not just reacting to the whole set of nonsense, I suggest you think about your actual points, find a way to put them into a half-way coherent form, then try again. It’s possible if you manage to format your observations in a way that doesn’t sound like whining deference they’ll be better received.

      September 14, 2011
  12. Nigel #

    Wow, this quickly got controversial!

    Look, people aren’t all equal, at least when you think of equality in terms of a specific attribute. One person is physically stronger than another. One person is smarter than another. One person is more physically attractive than another. These things are real.

    The two real problems are, IMO:
    1. The tendency to pigeonhole and stereotype everything (ie you meet a stupid Irishman once, and from that time onwards believe in the inherent stupidity of Irishmen).
    2. The willingness to dominate others. Dominance can be justified and accomplished in many ways (not just physical strength), but those justifications and mechanisms are all bollocks. Take away the willingness to dominate, and the comparative average physical strength of different groupings of people becomes meaningless.

    September 15, 2011
    • Drive to dominate. True.

      I have a solution. Let’s all have a nice cup of tea and agree to let bygones be bygones.

      September 15, 2011
      • Nigel #

        Wouldn’t it be nice?

        September 15, 2011
  13. Sean #

    Lara Morgan:
    “As to your replacing words in my quote with words chosen to make it blatantly racist or homophobic I find that incredibly offensive. If you are trying to make a point, you do it another way and do me the courtesy of not inferring I am either of those things, especially as you do not know me and I have certainly never done, nor written anything to deserve such treatment.”

    This reaction is very interesting. If simply replacing the groups Ms. Morgan chose makes the statements blatantly racist or homophobic, then what is there about your original statement that isn’t blatantly anti-boy or misandrist? After all, Dave very carefully kept the actual sentiments expressed exactly the same.

    I think that what she and Brendan are missing is that we’re talking about a matter of degree here. (At least, I think we are–maybe I myself and misinterpreting Dave, Sarah, et al., but what I’m saying is definitely a possible interpretation of what they wrote.) Ms. Morgan mildly says that she realizes she’s been “guilty of putting that boy in a ‘he won’t read that’ box” and goes on to state that she plans to keep on writing just as she has, with the belief that boys can learn a lot by reading about beta boys and take-charge girls.

    Now try that cool, unruffled self-rebuke in one of the scenarios Dave wrote about. Would it fly? I highly doubt it. A straight author who was surprised lebsians liked her books and a white author who was surprised black people liked his would be expected to engage in ecstatic public rituals of shriving for having been so inattentive to identity politics as to think of their own in-groups as their target audience. And they sure as hell wouldn’t be able to get away with saying that, well, maybe some gay people will be relieved to hear that they don’t have to act so stereotypically queer “for a change.”

    Is it, to coin a phrase, different for boys? If so, what is the difference? Maybe there’s a good answer, but I haven’t seen anyone offer it.

    September 15, 2011
    • Sean, you have to ask yourself what Dave’s exercise achieved? Yes it showed that Lara’s words held bias but then that isn’t much of a discovery since Lara heself admitted this in the line after the ones that Dave quoted. The whole snippet runs(Italics indicate text left out by Dave & emphasis mine):

      ‘I write YA with a female protagonist and it is marketed for girls, though when I was writing it I didn’t think about who the reader would be, just what the story was. Now I have been delightfully surprised when people have told me their son read it and loved it, because I didn’t think boys would. That fact I am surprised a boy read it shows I am also guilty of putting that boy in a ‘he won’t read that’ box. You see how this mindset is everywhere?’

      What do you want Lara to do? She has recognised her own bias and as the aphorism goes: “recognising you have a problem is the first step to dealing with it”. She knows at least some boys have read and liked her books so presumes that others will too if they give it a chance. She has no or very little influence on how her books are presented or marketed, so what other options does she have?

      Do you want her to go with a male psydonym so boys will pick up her books? Do you want her to stop writing books with female protagonists?

      What she can(and I presume will do, now she has recognised her bias) is do more herself to encourage boys to read her books.
      (The deeper problem next…)

      September 17, 2011
    • Sean(continued from last)

      If you want to know the truth, I agree that there is a problem. We need to be encouraging boys to read more. Does that mean we need to pander to their prejudices and produce books they will take off the shelves? In the short term – perhaps. But this isn’t a long term solution. As the MGC wanted to show Lara her own prejudices, presumably as a way of developing her thinking, shouldn’t we show boys that their aversion to female heros and authors is unjustisfied? And if you disagree that this bias exists, can you explain why boys aren’t reading(assuming you agree that they aren’t)?

      I think the whole publishing industry may be to at least partially responsible. At the moment for purely economic reasons companies who are only looking at their short term profits promote mainly female YA for economic reasons. The cycle goes like this:

      1: Publisher checks Sales Figures and sees that YA female readers give the bulk of the revenue
      2: Publisher says “YA female readers read, I will sell to YA female readers”, proceeds to publish a largely YA female friendly list with a few other books who are simply too good to be ignored(So all ‘A’ grade gets published male and female but mostly only YA female friendly are chosen from the ‘B’ list.)
      3: People who want to read buy:

      * What is there(Mostly female YA) and
      * What is most heavily advertised(Mostly YA female. Publishers want to get value for money and if YA female readers read they get the most value promoting YA female)

      4: Back to 1

      Now as I said, this is short term thinking and bad. Publishers need to be thinking on how to grow their male market. But one thing they can’t do is to simply start producing YA male focused books. If they do that, the next time you pop into you local bookstore and wander over to the YA section, what you will find is a line down the centre with YA female on one side and YA Male on the other side. And that isn’t going to be good for anyone.

      What I would do(initially at least) is encourage publishers to look at the stuff that they are already buying and look for books they think guys will like. Lara says that she knows boys like her books so perhaps her publishers need to change the marketing a bit so a boy will be more likely to pick it up.

      In the long term though, I believe a cultural change is needed. Look at the 4 comments starting from Synova’s(September 13, 2011 at 10:24 pm). She, Rowena and Sarah all make the point that they have more freedom than the men in their lives since the feminist movement has given them more options but nothing significant has changed in men’s lives. As Rowena says “there are few good role models in society for my sons.” We need to ask ourselves who are good role models for boys today. We need to examine what pressures society is placing on them and what paths they are being drawn down. We need to start training boys to be citizens of 2011, not 1950.

      September 17, 2011
      • Wow, Brendan, I am so glad you saw through our plan here at MGC to start pointing out to the world other people’s prejudices so we can educate them to the “right” way of thinking. And, just in case you can’t or won’t recognize it, yes, that is sarcasm I’m employing. Btw, I suggest if you go back and re-read the comments you mentioned, they aren’t saying they have more freedom than the men in their lives since the feminist revolution (or whatever terminology you used). Of course, as you are so fond of pointing out, I could be wrong.

        Now, for a couple of your other comments. Let’s start with your comments about publishers. While you are right in assuming publishers do tend to buy books that are of the sort people are fawning over, that isn’t all they buy. After all, some editor had to buy Twilight before it became a YA hit. The same with Harry Potter. Also, what you have to understand is the simple fact that the books you see now on the shelves were bought by editors two years — or more — ago. Now they want something different because they know trends are just that, trends. So it is also up to authors to write something that isn’t Twilight-lite.

        You also say publishers need to start marketing differently so boys are attracted to books aimed at them. Sorry, but what part of the “publishers don’t market like they used to” have you missed in all the previous posts talking about promotions and marketing? Unless a book is forecast to be a best seller or they are trying to market a new author as the “next best thing”, there is little to no marketing done for a book. It is up to the author to get the word out.

        Then there’s the whole attitude of assuming boys don’t read. Sorry, but they do. Even if they aren’t reading YA — and I can’t blame them for that — they are reading graphic novels, manga, science fiction, etc. Frankly, I’m not sure why there is all the hullabaloo about YA anyway. It really is a very new distinguisher in publishing.

        You also state publishers can’t start putting out male-focused YA because that would cause a line to be drawn down the middle of the YA sections? WTF? On the one hand you say they have to start marketing to boys so they want to read and then you say they can’t put out male-focused books because they might be highlighted in bookstores. Why is it wrong to have “women’s lit” sections, for example, but we can’t point out books featuring male characters? Besides, that delineation you seem so afraid of hasn’t happened in science fiction, mystery, or even general fiction sections. So why would it happen in YA?

        You also ask, “Does that mean we need to pander to their prejudices and produce books they will take off the shelves?” OMG, prejudices? Is that the only reason you think boys take books off the shelves? How about if we produce books that have plots they are interested in? Why not write books that don’t have sparkly vampires and emo werewolves in them? Boys — and men — read about things they enjoy, just as girls and women do. No prejudice involved.

        I find it interesting also that you place the blame for the lack of male-oriented YA novels with publishers and readers but never with the author. Yes, publishers buy based on what they see as purchase trends. But they also buy novels they think will sell well and start the next new trend. How else do you think Harry Potter and Twilight came into being? So, there is another part of the equation you are missing.

        As for needing to have role models for boys and to train them for the current day and not the 1950’s, give me a break. Why is it that people feel they have to choose role models from sports figures or movie stars? Is it because they are in the media? Give me a break. The media isn’t going to report on someone who isn’t notorious in some fashion. Look around you. Role models are people who don’t seek out the limelight. They are real men and women, not those created by publicity machines. If you can’t find them, then you aren’t looking in the right place. And, no, fictional characters aren’t role models either.

        September 17, 2011

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