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Books for Boys, Books About Girls

In this column at School Library Journal, school librarian Diantha McBride says:

I’m afraid this won’t be popular, but I need more books for boys—as do most librarians who work with young people. I’ve noticed that lots of books with female characters aren’t really about being female. In fact, in many cases, the main characters could just as easily have been males—and that would make my job a lot easier.

The part of McBride’s statement rankles me most is this:

I’ve noticed that lots of books with female characters aren’t really about being female.

I feel that her conclusion that since the books aren’t about being female, they should have boy main characters, suggests that books with female main characters should be about uniquely female experiences.  Certainly there are many experiences unique to females, and those need addressing.  But can you imagine if every book with a female main character was about that?  I would get so bored so quickly.  I would probably refuse to read books with female main characters then, too.

Books about members of marginalized groups should not have to be about experiences unique to only those groups.  I’m reading David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy right now, and I love how even though Paul is gay and the book is about his romantic relationship with another young man, the exploration of that relationship is by no means limited to aspects that are unique only to individuals in same-sex/gender relationships.  It is an exploration of universal experiences that could happen to anyone at the beginning of a new relationship, regardless of any specific characteristics of the people in that relationship.

Does that mean I think that no books should be about experiences unique to a marginalized group?  Of course not.  It’s important to acknowledge experiences and challenges unique to members of certain groups; to ignore those would be to act as if we live in a world where everyone is always treated equally and lives the same life.  But to insist that being a member of a group means you must be defined only by membership in that group is absurd.

Photo by Foxtongue.

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