About Women Being the Supreme Overladies of YA

| Friday, August 17, 2012
Today's Tune: GO!

OMG A BLOG POST! Don't get too excited... I'm probably going to drop off the map again for the rest of the month ;) But my online pal Johnny Dale asked me about my feelings on a certain issue, so I wrote a post on Tumblr about it. I'm shamelessly reposting it here.

So there have been a few articles lately (and a few articles in the past… there are always articles about this) about how ladies are ~*DOMINATING*~ YA literature. I kind of hate that word in this context? It implies force and superiority to me. IDK. I’m not going to link the articles here because I am too lazy to go look them up, but they were in the Atlantic and on Salon if you care to check them out.

In reality: yes, female persons are seeing a good deal (lol almost typed “god deal”) of success in children’s and young adult literature. Authors, publishers, and agents that represent these categories are, by and large, female. Several of the latest worldwide book franchise sensations have been ladies. This is all true. It is not a secret.

Here’s where I always get hung up: this is an arena in which stories about the female experience flourish and girls aged 12-18 are the primary readership. The reasons for this are many and all highly debatable, but there is no denying that THIS IS FACTS. Why, then, are people apparently so very surprised that the authors/publishers/agents seeing success in this arena are… ladies?

I also become very concerned that the knee-jerk response to YA being largely comprised of female stories (though far from all… I’ll get to that in a minute) is to somehow pin the lack of male readership on all these ladies and their girly-girlness. Bros and Lady-Bros: the reason there is a decline in the reading habits of boys in their teens, or that they skip from kidlit to VERY SERIOUS ADULT DUDEBOOKS, is not because of ladies and girl stories.

The reason YA is so popular to read and write among women and girls is because there was a hole in the market, and that hole has been filled. Girls and women needed stories about their youthful experience. They were desperate for them. And when they got them, they rejoiced with their wallets.

There is not a hole in the market for dudebooks, sry2say. They exist, and have existed for always. They are the books you have to read in school, the books hailed as classics and highest of highbrow literaryness. They are the genre staples.

Everyone has made the arguments about why exactly it is that boys stop reading and/or expressly refuse to pick up stories about girls, so I won’t tell you what you’ve already heard.

What I *will* tell you is that despite this supposed ~*DOMINANCE*~ of ladies in YA, when it comes to awards and “Best Of” lists, the dudes are very well represented. The Printz award, which is the highest honor a YA book can receive, has been split almost dead 50-50 between men and women. That “Top 100” list that recently came out? Forty percent male. One of the most hailed “serious” YA authors who writes highbrow literary YA? John Green.

So, sure, when it comes to uber-popular series that make the authors millions, we have a handful of successful lady authors. When it comes to “serious” work? The dudes keep their own just fine. Which should tell you something — in an arena that women supposedly rule, where the bulk of books are written by ladies, the awards and accolades are still almost evenly split between the sexes. Make of that what you will.

* Note that I am being facetious when I say “serious.” I don’t much care for implying that genre fiction is inherently less serious than literary. And this is not a slight on Mr. Green. He does good work. So do many other authors who are written off.

I don’t entirely have the energy to argue, once again, that I’m not saying that boys “don’t deserve” YA books or that I’m in favor of big mean combat-boot stomping ladies telling all the men and boys to GTFO of our YA playground. Suffice to say that is not even remotely my argument, and if you’re reading that into this post, you’re projecting.

What I *am* saying is that I don’t quite grasp all this handwringing over women supposedly squatting over YA like crotchety dragons unwilling to share their gold. There is no lack of male representation in YA, despite all the flailing to the contrary. There really isn’t. Just because there are MORE ladies doesn’t mean that we’re shutting out the boys/men. It just means that there are. more. ladies. in this. particular. area.

I mean, the fact that it is such a GIGANTIC DEAL that women are seeing more monetary success in ONE AREA of ONE PROFESSION and that this fact needs to be dissected repeatedly because it’s very important to figure out where all the dudes are? Continues to not surprise me, actually.

(I’d love to see more people ask where all the minority author/character representation is, actually. Current YA is VERY VERY STRAIGHT AND WHITE.)

And stuff. I’m happy to answer questions or further clarify my thoughts. My comments are always open, and my only rule is "don't be a jerk."


{ Rachel } at: August 17, 2012 at 7:29 AM said...

I agree with you on almost everything. From what I have seem teen boys are reading adult sci-fi / fantasy. Actually it's what I read as a teen girl (along with adult romances) because there wasn't anything else out there for me (Yup, a big giant hole).

While YA authors may be white & straight, I tend to find characters in YA books to be more diverse than in adult books. Of course that may just be my book picks too. And in terms of secondary characters it's becoming a bit of a cliche (white heroine with 1 black best friend and 1 gay best friend).

{ Mrs. Silverstein } at: August 17, 2012 at 8:05 AM said...

Sort of related: Shannon Hale has been blogging about why boys are so often allergic to "girl books"--I find her thoughtful and funny and also there are pictures:




{ Mrs. Silverstein } at: August 17, 2012 at 8:13 AM said...

Oh: and also. This seems to be related to a slew of articles lamenting how men are so oppressed by women because Michelle Obama said her husband has morning breath or something. (Sorry, I'm being reductionist for the sake of rhetoric and because I'm not sympathetic enough to that POV to detail the argument more thoroughly.) It's not just the kidlit world that's talking like this. (Some) men are freaked out by the world right now; I guess if your whole sense of self is predicated on gender roles that have been out of date for forty years, the world is probably a pretty scary place. I'm going to optimistically choose to view this as the loud dying squawks of a few misguided folks--yes, it seems like 80% of internet men are talking about this (notable exception: male kidlit writers I respect and enjoy) but like, MAYBE 1% of the actual men I know (because sometimes uncles need to bro out a little, I guess) talk like this in real life. I guess what I'm saying is, jerks on the internet have always been disproportionately loud, but I really am seeing progress IRL, which is where it matters most.

{ Blair B. Burke } at: August 17, 2012 at 8:35 AM said...

I think you actually point out the reason for the furor: 'women are seeing more monetary success in ONE AREA of ONE PROFESSION'. The fact that it's an anomaly is why people (men) sometimes see it as a 'problem'. It's the 'anything different is bad' mentality. Not that that justifies anything, just where it comes from.

And it's only natural that if there is a pie getting eaten, everyone wants their piece. Doesn't matter how many other dishes are on the table, or how bloated someone is from the burgers, brats, potato salad, and cake they've been stuffing down. Doesn't matter if you missed out on the main course. They still want some pie.

{ Andrew Leon } at: August 17, 2012 at 9:22 AM said...

heh I just did a somewhat related post. I do think there's a correlation between the decline in male readers and the ascension of female authors in YA literature. I think it's kind of a natural thing, though, but I do think there is reason to be concerned. Not about women writing but about the decline in boys converting from early non-fiction reading to late(r) fiction readers. I think the answer lies in more male authors writing to YA aged boys. It's not a 0 sum game, though, so there should be plenty of room for everyone if the guys would just step back up to the plate and write the books that aren't being written.

{ Phire } at: August 17, 2012 at 10:34 AM said...

John Green said (on Twitter or Tumblr, I don't remember) that if he had been a lady, his books would've had pink covers with faceless girls on them. JK Rowling, as recently as 15 years ago, was instructed to publish under her initials so that her female first name would not put off young boys. All the women at my previous office were reading The Hunger Games trilogy, and with 1-2 exceptions, all the boys were like "yeah I see my GF reading that but it just doesn't interest me". How many of them actually had ANY idea what it was about? None. But their GFs were reading it, so clearly it wasn't for them.

The problem isn't girl-only stories, because a lot--most--of YA are universal stories about growing up and finding your own and learning to get along with other people. It shouldn't matter who the author is. But slap on a female author's name, and it suddenly becomes chick lit or some other such marketing bullshit.

Girls have been reading boy-centric fiction for centuries. It's somehow taboo, however, for boys to read girl-centric fiction, because eww cooties. Remedying the widespread femmephobia and showing kids of all ages that female heroines are just as cool as male heroes will go a hell of a lot farther than just "dudes, come write YA, there's too many women here". CF: Avengers + total underrepresentation of Black Widow in marketing material despite importance of character + ignorance that 40+% of the audience was female.

/angry feminist feels

{ Stephanie Ingrid Sarah Kristan } at: August 17, 2012 at 10:56 AM said...

*slow clap*

{ Stephanie Sinkhorn } at: August 17, 2012 at 11:36 AM said...

My readers are the best readers. Love these comments and the discussion points brought up here! <3

{ Seabrooke } at: August 17, 2012 at 2:18 PM said...

It's true there's an overwhelming majority of women amongst YA new releases. Nathan Bransford posted about this a while ago:

He had an additional interesting point, which totally makes sense to me:

"I think it's equally curious when you consider that middle grade (for 8-12 year olds) is a place where male writers still have some of the most popular series: Wimpy Kid, Series of Unfortunate Events, Rangers Apprentice, Fablehaven. [I'll add Percy Jackson, Artemis Fowl to Nathan's list.]

The only explanation I can come up for that, back to the psychology, is that middle grade is a time when men have their formative taste-creation time (take it from me: what guys like at age 12 is pretty much what they like at age 32), whereas for women maybe high school is more formative? So maybe men are more likely to gravitate to middle grade?"

{ marian rose } at: August 18, 2012 at 10:02 AM said...

Thanks for writing this, provides fuel to my mental fire as I work to create curriculum for my young readers.

The question I seem to be asking myself lately is why my male students get all pissy when I assign them stories about girls. Not sure if this is cultural entitlement or if there is something deeper at play here. It bothers me that since my girls happily read whatever I give them, regardless of the protagonists' gender that we tend to read more male oriented stories. And they go on and read "chick lit" at home, on the side.

Really appreciate Phire's comments.

{ E.Maree } at: August 19, 2012 at 8:27 AM said...

It makes me sad the amount of entitlement that flares up whenever woman make a mark in any creative industry. :(

{ Rachel Stark } at: August 20, 2012 at 4:45 AM said...

One thing that surprised me about the Salon article was the statistic it cited to prove that women were "dominating YA" -- that "a little over half" of NPR's Top 100 YA novels were written by women. It's amazing to me that women are so underrepresented in every other genre that we consider the one field in which there's close to equal representation to be "dominated" by women. Even the word choice we use to discuss it implies some kind of cultural resentment of the women who have dared take to and become popular within one particular genre. I don't think women "dominate" YA. I think a lot of women write a lot of very good YA, and a decent number of women make very good money writing YA. But, apparently, so do an almost equal number of men.

{ Liesl Shurtliff } at: August 20, 2012 at 12:50 PM said...

Well said. I find it strange that this is even a point of concern, seeing as how males have basically dominated...let's see...THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE throughout all recorded history. I'm all for equality in every respect, between genders, races, etc. but complaining about females dominating one genre of publishing seems a little ridiculous. And from what I can tell, being male in the kidlit field is probably an advantage, if only because it is so predominantly female. Helps you stand out a bit.

{ Brooke R. Busse } at: November 11, 2012 at 10:28 PM said...

I actually have quite a few male friends who have read things like THE HUNGER GAMES and Cassandra Clare. And they enjoy it.

It makes me smile whenever I see a guy with a day of that nature at school. And I smile fairly often.

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