I've just been on air, chatting to Linda Mottram about books and the gender divide. With Sydney Writer's Festival coming up this week the topics are running hot. What do girls want to read? Why do boys have to have beasts and macho characters? Why can't girls read adventure stories too? The fact is, girls will read about male protagonists, but boys generally won't read about female main characters, just in case it's too 'girly'.
So, pink for girls and blue for boys, right?
Uh... no. As a young girl myself I loved the adventure stories of Enid Blyton, in which a group of both boys and girls had wild and daring escapades. So what's with all the fairies for girls and monsters for boys? Publishers maintain they are providing what the market demands, but everyone knows, what children are exposed to influences their choices. DUH! Already at home, with our eight year old daughter, we are exposing her to non-fiction interests, buying Meccano sets and reading classics such as Treasure Island. And it's taking her far away from the rubbish other girls her age are reading - High School Musical, Monster High. Blargh!
What are publishers producing, then?
As a children's author I'd love to write more stories about feisty girls, but unless its a heavily structured series, like EJ12, there doesn't seem to be much interest in female protagonists in more unisex books. It's no surprise to me that most of my published books have a male protagonist or two. They sell because there are boys on the cover. However I'm holding out hope that my next chapter book will be about a girl. I've submitted two stories to New Frontier's new series. The main character is a girl who saves her sister, trapped in nasty fairytales. It requires enormous courage from her, but she fights her own fears as well as the very real dangers of ogres, witches, bears and the like. Let's hope the publisher wants a change from boys fighting demons and girls chatting to fairies!
Have we actually come any further in gender stereotyping?
The day my daughter came home from school and informed me, 'I don't like Science. Science is for boys,' my blood starting boiling! We realised we had a job to do. She rarely watches TV now. We buy DVDs that have suitable material for her age, no ads and don't give her nightmares. Hearing her laugh while reading Paul Jennings' Singenpoo adventures is such a treat! She reads books about raptors, dinosaurs, machines, marine animals - whatever we can get our hands on. We want her to have a broader sense of herself and the world.
The scary worldwide trend
It's all getting very dark in the world of entertainment. Vampires, werewolves, monsters and kids dressed like Goths. Where has the innocence and fun of childhood gone? As I say to my little girl - "Enjoy being a kid, Sweetie. Childhood goes pretty quickly. Have fun! And here's a book about time travel and wormholes."