Why boys don't read (as much as girls)

20:58, Jul 01 2013

Do boys read? The answer is, "of course they do!", but that isn't the whole picture. It's not a state secret that women, statistically and anecdotally, read for pleasure more than men. If you google "boys" and "reading", you'll find a plethora of websites that aim to lift male literacy rates and a lot of very serious discussion on how to engage boys when it comes to reading.

Though I think that reading is something that is inculcated at home, there is no denying that school and friends are other important components of a boy's total environment. Hence, even if the kid is somewhat interested in reading but his best friends are more into computer games or sports, he'll be more likely to succumb to peer pressure and go play Xbox or kick a ball around rather than read.

I read somewhere that there is research pointing to the fact that boys will read if given reading material that interests them.

I struggle a little with this concept, because I don't think putting gender boundaries around reading is the best way to get more men interested in reading. And like much else in life, gender is arguably a construct of society and clever marketing. We've all seen those pink and blue clothes and toys, which pretty much start from the moment we're born. 

A while ago, the ePad Femme, a watered down Android tablet designed especially for the simple minds of women (it came pre-loaded with yoga, clothing size converter and recipe apps), was the latest in hot female gadgets. Marketing genres and books so they will hold more appeal to men seems to me to be just as sexist as the ePad.

If you dig a little deeper, there's something insidious about marketing books this way. I know the genres that are often touted as specifically "male". Action, adventure, horror, sports, biographies, fishing, IT, fantasy, science fiction, etc, etc.


The thing is, that kind of marketing has been going on for yonks, AND it appears that it still hasn't really helped with the real issue of declining male readership. In fact, I think gender marketing (which I've railed against before), in part contributes to the failure of literature when it comes to men.

It isn't that men are more "action-oriented" or like a "more hands-on" approach that stops them from sitting down with a good book. I think part of it is that society doesn't encourage male readers.

Women have Austen and the Bronte sisters for popularising the image of the literary female. The literary male, meanwhile, is a dying species...literally. Think of examples of male writers. Hunter S Thompson, David Foster Wallace, Ernest Hemingway, Philip K Dick, Truman Capote, all dead either by suicide or by substance abuse.

When you ask famous men what they enjoy reading, their answers are inevitably either some hefty, incomprehensible business tome or The Catcher in the Rye. It seems somewhat rehearsed, and perhaps also a bit facetious.

I guess what I'm saying is that declining male readership is the fault of both genders. It's at the same time everybody's fault and nobody's, if that makes sense. Perhaps there is a secret reader imprisoned within many men, but they have not been given the opportunity to let him out. 

I think that if we take the gender aspect out of it, people enjoy reading for much the same reasons. For escapism, to feel as if they belong, to improve their intellect, for a good story, to feel less lonely, for something to do, because they relate to the characters...the list goes on. Reading is a universal experience, and yet - we still have the problem of men reading less than women. Why?

Obviously I am somewhat unqualified to speak on this topic, being neither a man nor an expert in the field. So I'm going to open the field up to blog readers...

Why do you think men read less than women?

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