boys and books.

| Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mmmk. I was of course reading Natalie Whipple's most recent entry, and I started commenting and had to cut my comment short because I got carried away >.>

I thought I'd continue here.

So. Boys and reading. MEN and reading. What's the deal? They supposedly stop doing it, that's what the deal is. Actually, it's not really a "supposedly..." statistics back it up. I'm way too lazy to use my Google-Fu to find you concrete data right now, but it's the truth. At my job, we print a yearly report of the school performance of boys and girls, and every year I look at the stats and I get a little wigged out. Early on in their education (ages 5-9, roughly) boys and girls perform at more or less the same level across the board. Math, English, everything. Around age 10, however, the boys start to decline in their English skills and the girls start to decline in math. BUT, the boys decline MORE in English than the girls do in math.

Hm. Hmmm. I do not for one second believe that kids start out performing on even ground, but then hit a wall where one gender is miraculously better at X subject than the other. No way. So what's going on? A combination of a dozen or more factors, I'm sure, but I'd put a shiny new nickel down on gender conformity and social pressure. As a woman, I'm sure I'm not alone in dealing with stereotypes when I was in school - everything from people being astounded that I was interested in (and good at!) science, to immediately hearing, "Oh, so you're going to be a teacher!" when I decided to major in English in college. And my male counterparts were hearing, "Dude, why are you in English? What are you going to DO?" Gosh, I dunno, contemplate my navel all day? Yeesh.

Back to boys and reading. Why do they stop? DO they really stop, or is it assumed they're no longer interested and/or they're pressured to no longer be interested? Lack of books, what? I have my theories, the first being yes, I do think that, to an extent, males in our society are pushed away from reading. Among other things. From a young age, boys are pushed toward the external, and girls are pushed toward the internal. It's not always blatant, but it is always there. Boys are "supposed" to like the physical - science, war games, sports, first-person shooters. Girls are "supposed" to like the domestic - playing with makeup, talking on the phone, dolls, quiet activities. Expanding on this, boys are encouraged to be good at concrete and physical subjects, and girls are directed toward the more contemplative and quiet. So, boys are supposed to excel in math, science, physical education. Girls are encouraged in art, English, languages.

Now, obviously there are boys and girls that break the mold - boys who make pottery, girls who love soccer. In fact, I'd go so far as to say MOST of us break the mold in one way or another. I was on the swim team, loved science class, and haaaaated playing dress-up. My youngest brother used to write. Poetry and everything; really clever stuff. Then he just... stopped. And I don't think it was because he woke up one day and found it too difficult or boring. I think it's because he, like so many other kids reaching their pre-teen years, met with opposition. I did, too. Before age 10, my outspoken answers and large vocabulary were applauded. Then we reached that age where some people were cool, and some weren't. My two best friends at the time let me know that if I didn't stop "talking like a dictionary" and learn to dumb myself down, no one would like me. Horrors!

My brother experienced something similar, I'm sure. Why write? Why read? That's something nerds and girls in the library do. He was supposed to skateboard and junk now (he couldn't, not for the life of him).

Ack, got sidetracked again. Right, reading. Reading is an internal, contemplative activity. You sit, you take in the words, you think about them. One of those activities that is so encouraged in girls - sit, be quiet, use your imagination. Boys don't get that. They get: go out, be with your friends, play something. Again, this isn't all-inclusive, this is just the general feel I get.

As for YA literature. It's no secret that it's largely written and read by females. It's marketed that way. However, I think the assumption that YA is all about angsty romance with female protagonists is a misconception. Yes, a lot of them are. But there are a lot of stories about friends, and adventure, and drug abuse, and murder, and intrigue, and even about just being a teen. Books that would surely speak to boys as much as they do to girls. Yet there's this overhanging idea that boys don't want to read books (period), or at least don't want to read books by women and featuring female protagonists. How awful is that? I know most women won't pause for a second before picking up a book with a male protagonist or written by a man, and there's no assumption that we won't be able to relate to it because the gender is not our own.

Is this really what boys feel? Or is this what people ASSUME they feel? If pre-teen and teenage boys do feel this way, WHY? What is with the lessening of the female? Boys and men are interesting enough to read about, but women aren't. Books featuring female protagonists must be centered around a romance, and they can't relate. Female authors probably don't write anything boys want to read. How much of this is reality, and how much imposed?

I've totally lost my train of thought now, so I'll have to come back to this another time. Bleh to late nights, I say. Bleh!


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