Are there such things as "guy books" and "girl books"?
My oldest sister has two kids - a boy and a girl, the perfect pigeon pair, and being the nosy bookworm auntie that I am, I regularly browse through their bookshelves to supervise their reading material.
I find it disheartening because, inevitably, I'll get kinda pissed off that my niece reads pink fairy books full of fluffy tales about girls who are helpful and sweet and kind-hearted, whereas my nephew gets to read about dinosaurs and dragons and brave boys who slay them.
What's more, this sort of pink-and-blue divide when it comes to reading doesn't stop when we leave the land of recess and school uniforms. No, it carries over into adulthood, like some kind of neverending hangover.
Young-adult author Maureen Johnson, writing for The Huffington Post, rants in her column about how "female fiction" is perceived 95 per cent of the time as being "trashy", labelled with pejorative terms like "light", "fluffy", "breezy" and "beach read". She goes on to say that she spent most of her college career taking entire papers that revolved around male writers, and makes the strong case that "for much of history, women read the works of men".
Whereas I did read some excellent women writers when I was at uni, I was from a different generation than her and I have to admit, even I still commit the same crimes when I talk about certain genres of books. But I am going to consciously try to quit that s**t from now on.
The most interesting section of Maureen's piece was when she talked about her Twitter experiment, where she challenged her followers to something called "Coverflip". Essentially, readers had to take a book's cover and redesign it in such a way that it was clearly aimed at one gender or another. You can check out the covers here. Most of them are cleverly done, and it makes you realise how insidious gender marketing can be.
For example, take the cover of a classic tale like Jack Kerouac's On The Road (original cover below):
And see how with a few tweaks, you can turn what's been marketed as the grown-up version of a boy's own adventure story into what looks like a Thelma and Louise-like romp through the Dixie heartland of America.
I particularly agree with what Maureen said about how men are almost always perceived to write about "Big Things That Mattered". I am a fan of many wonderful female authors who are respected within the world of creative writing despite their gender, but that is the key - despite.
Women like Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou, Anais Nin, Virginia Woolf, J.K. Rowling, Sylvia Plath, Isabel Allende, Toni Morrison, Arundhati Roy and many, many others may be accorded literary merit and the respect of their peers and readers, but there is still the uneasy sense that there are those who would perceive that they write about female issues, by virtue of being a woman.
Take Allende, for example, and the literary criticism hefted her way that she is "killing [Gabriel] Garcia Marquez a little more each day the same way Michael Jackson's sisters are killing Michael Jackson". While I have deep respect for Garcia Marquez's early works, he is by no means a gatekeeper for magical realism in novels. He's written absolute tosh too, like the self-indulgent Memories of My Melancholy Whores.
I am by no means saying that the gender bias doesn't also run the other way for male authors, but it's to a far lesser extent, I think. By and large, even when they're writing self-pitying twaddle like Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie's infamous recent memoir, they're still perceived as having something important to say. I mean, fer gawd's sake, Rushdie spent at least a third of the book whining about the women in his life, and how hard done by he has been by them.
What do you think about gender marketing when it comes to books?