Monday, May 23, 2011

Sugar and Spice or Frogs and Snails? What Are Little Boys Made Of?

Robyn and Alison both left very interesting comments on my last post and I found myself writing a very long and drawn-out reply, so I thought I may as well write another post in response. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this and to continue this discussion.

Both Robyn and Alison wondered if the Billie books had been published with more gender-neutral covers if they may have attracted more boy readers. I discussed this with my publisher recently and she conceded that without the covers the Billie books may have been more appealing to boys, as Aki's internal illustrations are not particularly 'girly', nor are my stories.

But the more I think about this the more I am unsure if this would have made much difference.

All the research shows (and this includes the research I do with my own three sons!) that if there is a female on the cover - no matter what the colour scheme, design etc, many boys still won't pick it up. And publishers are very aware of this. For example, Suzanne Collins' 'Hunger Games' trilogy offers two alternative covers: one with Katniss (the female protagonist) and the other with Peeta (her male sidekick) to make sure they don't lose any prospective male readers. The Hunger Games trilogy is jam-packed with action and violence - themes usually associated with 'boys' fiction' - but has been hugely popular with both sexes.

So, in relation to this, the main question for me is why is it OK for a girl to be in touch with her 'masculine side' but not ok for a boy to be attracted to more 'feminine' things? Why is it that a little girl can wear pants and climb a tree but a little boy can't wear a skirt and play with dolls? And who determines what is a 'boy thing' and what is a 'girl thing' anyway?

My 8 year old son recently told me he was told off by his friends in class for using a pink texta and they insisted he change it to black. Is our cultural homophobia so great that an 8 year old boy can't even use a pink texta!? For me, this is where the true problem lies.


  1. Your poor little boy! In Steiner schools they're not even given black pencils until later (can't remember what year). But that's prescriptive too isn't it? Gender balance/inequality is too huge for my little brain on Monday morning. But you did make me think, sally, what if JK had written 'Hermione Granger and the Philosopher's Stone'. Would we have even heard about the book on these distant shores? Would it have even been published??? jxx

  2. Apparently this was a conscious decision by JK. As was the decision to go by her initials rather than Joanne Rowling.
    Wiki quote: "Fearing that the target audience of young boys might not want to read a book written by a woman, her publishers demanded that she use two initials, rather than her full name. As she had no middle name, she chose K as the second initial of her pen name, from her paternal grandmother."