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One Possible (but Highly Politically Incorrect) Reason Boys Don’t Read “Girl Books”

One Possible (but Highly Politically Incorrect) Reason Boys Don’t Read “Girl Books”

by Mike Duran · 43 comments

boy-not-readingLast week, writer friend Katherine Coble linked to an interesting article entitled If Boys Really Won’t Read Books about Girls, We Have a Problem. The author, Amy Sundberg, is coming at this from the angle of a YA writer and how the gender of your protagonist possibly affects the scope of a book’s readership. The argument goes like this:

“…girls will read novels with both male and female protagonists, but boys will only read novels with male protagonists. So if you want the widest crossover, you write a boy protagonist, and if you write a girl protagonist, that means you’re mostly writing for a female audience.”

This is a pretty volatile debate in publishing circles that inevitably broaches issues of gender distinctives, which only fuels aforementioned volatility. After rather gingerly defining, in conventional terms, the difference between a “girl book” and a “boy book,” Sundberg gets to the crux of her concerns:

“I’m not going to mince words: these truths about boy readers, the YA genre, and boy and girl books are harmful and sometimes flat-out false. If boys won’t read books with girl protagonists, especially by the time they are teenagers, this is not a good reason to write and publish fewer books with girl protagonists. This is a red flag that something is wrong with the message our society is sending to these boys.” (bold mine)

One issue that often muddies this discussion is the “reading gender gap,” that is, that girls read more than boys. In fact, THIS ARTICLE in NPR notes

When it comes to fiction, the gender gap is at its widest. Men account for only 20 percent of the fiction market, according to surveys conducted in the U.S., Canada and Britain.

So not only do boys have a problem reading, they have an even bigger problem reading fiction. It’s when we ask Why that the tap dancing begins.

The politically correct answer to why boys don’t read, much less don’t read “girl books,” is because they’ve been wrongly conditioned. This appears to be Sundberg’s position.

“Obviously boys learning to read is important. It’s important that everyone learn to read. And it’s also important that we throw away outdated and harmful ideas about gender and stop teaching boys that girls and anything related to girls are somehow shameful or uninteresting or embarrassing.” (bold mine)

So the real culprit behind the reading gender gap is our “outdated and harmful ideas about gender.” Gender schemas and societal conditioning have brainwashed our boys into believing that “anything related to girls are somehow shameful or uninteresting or embarrassing.” This, writes Sundberg, “is how sexist thinking gets passed on to the next generation.” So boys not reading “girl books” is the result of sexism.

As an example, she links to a literature student, provocatively glossed The Feminist Batwoman.

“The Feminist Batwoman wrote a fabulous essay called “Boys Don’t Read Girl Books and Other Lies My Society Told Me.” She ran a successful experiment exposing her little brother to novels about girls as well as boys, and she has this to say about boys not reading books with girl protagonists: “My outlandish theory is that if boys aren’t belittled for reading books about girls, if they’re not taught that girls are lesser, if they’re not teased about cooties, if we don’t teach them to fear the feminine… they’d probably like more “girl” stuff.”” (bold mine)

Okay, so I’m sensing a stacking of the deck. (And I’m wondering how experimenting with your little brother’s reading habits isn’t reverse cultural conditioning.)

What is conveniently ignored in these discussions is the possible role that gender and genetics plays. In other words, it could be that boys don’t read “girl books” because they inherently don’t like “girl stuff.” And this is, in my opinion, a good thing.

But this is where things get politically incorrect.

Business Insider recently noted that Girls Have a Genetic Advantage Over Boys When It Comes to Language. There are many such studies with similar findings. Like Live Science’s Matters of the Brain: Why Men and Women are So Different, WebMD’s How Male and Female Brains Differ, and the more strident The Sexes Physical and Mental Differences from MensDefense.org. Most note the malleability of the brain, that nature v. nurture is a legitimate debate, and that there’s plenty of exceptions to the rule. Very few, if any, see genetic hard-wiring as tantamount to predestination.

However, there is pressure from many professors, activists, and ideological liberals to squelch discussion about inherent gender distinctions between men and women. Just ask Lawrence Summers. This from the NY Times:

…Lawrence H. Summers, then the president of Harvard University, suggested at an academic conference that innate differences might explain why fewer women than men succeed in science and math careers. His remark sparked a firestorm that brought many changes — among them, Mr. Summers’s resignation and the naming of the university’s first female president, Drew Gilpin Faust.

Apparently, even though there is legitimate scientific data to back up his claims, Summers had gored a golden ox. Al Mohler lamented this as evidence of the continued moral bankrupting of our academic institutions. He wrote:

President Summers broke an unwritten rule of the academy and suggested that men and women might actually have different aptitude sets, relating this to the fact that relatively few women earn doctorates in the hard sciences. This revealed him to the faculty as a bona fide throw-back to the dark ages.

All that to say, political correctness, I believe, has tainted a legitimate, much-needed discussion about the reading gender gap.

The reason why some people want boys to read and like “girl stuff,” is because they want there to be no real distinctions between boys and girls.

In fact, it is the complete deconstruction of all traditional gender roles and distinctives that motivates such opinions. And sadly, like Lawrence Summers, people like me who suggest that the reasons boys don’t read “girl stuff,” may be because they’re boys, are made to appear as “a bona fide throw-back to the dark ages.”

I’ve raised two sons. Next month, I’m expecting my second grandson. Of course, I don’t want my sons and grandsons to “fear the feminine” or embrace “harmful ideas about gender.” It is stupid to not read a novel simply because a protag is female. And teaching them “that girls are lesser,” is patently absurd. However, unlike The Feminist Batwoman…

I DO NOT want my sons and grandsons to “like more ‘girl stuff.’”

Call me a Neanderthal. A misogynist. A dimwit from the dark ages. I just happen to believe that this conversation has been hijacked. Furthermore, I think that 0ne reason boys don’t read girl books is because… they aren’t girls. They don’t think like girls. They don’t visualize things like girls. They don’t process emotions like girls.

And this is very good thing.

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{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Kat Heckenbach March 4, 2013 at 9:06 AM

I know you’re taking this into a more generalized statement about boys being wired differently than girls–something I happen to agree with you on, being the parent of a boy and a girl, as well as me *being* female and married to a male.

But I read that original article when Katherine posted it, and something the author totally neglected: The vast majority of teen books with female protags are ROMANCE. How many grown men read romance? Not many that I know, but I know a LOT who read avidly and have no issue with non-romance books with female protags. Same goes for boys. Look how many guys went nuts over The Hunger Games.

It’s not that boys won’t read books with girl leads, it’s that boys don’t want to read the OMG-he’s-so-hawt-I’m-so-in-love books. And quite frankly, as a girl, neither do I most of the time. I do read some romance, but it has to have speculative elements and if it gets all gushy I’m outta there.

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Fred Warren March 4, 2013 at 9:24 AM

I second Kat on this one. Gender of the protagonist was never an issue for me or my sons. A good story is a good story. As for books focused on romance or girl vs. girl power struggles, those were a non-starter for the boys, while my daughter read many more of those, with no parental prompting on either side.

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Mark Carver March 4, 2013 at 9:45 AM

I just finished read Havah: The Story of Eve by Tosca Lee, and while it was by and large a very good story, there were several times when I thought, “I would enjoy this more if I was a middle-aged mother with several children.” If a book has a gripping, fast-moving plot, the gender of the protagonist doesn’t matter, but personally I prefer storylines with historically male-centric elements (action, violence, science, etc.). But in the end, a good book is a good book no matter what.

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Christian Jaeschke March 4, 2013 at 5:04 PM

Haha! I know what you mean. ‘Havah’ was very good and thought-provoking but not really aimed at the male-readership.

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Rebecca LuElla Miller March 7, 2013 at 1:24 PM

And yet I just finished reading Iscariot, same author, same fine writing, and didn’t once think it wasn’t really for me.

That, I think is the point Mike missed in his post–boys don’t read “girl books” because they are boys, and yet girls don’t seem to mind reading “boy books.” Why is that?

I have my theory, but I think that ought to be at the crux of this discussion.

Becky

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Christian Jaeschke March 4, 2013 at 5:08 PM

So true, Kat. I didn’t have any problem reading books with girl protagonists but I would not (and still don’t) touch books with romance as the focus. I just don’t find them interesting and I believe the same is true for boys. But that’s pretty much the conclusion we arrived at with Katherine Coble.

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Kessie March 4, 2013 at 9:33 AM

Wow, I’ve read and lightly researched the things-boys-will-read. But I didn’t realize it got taken up into the realms of sexism and gender identity. That’s whacked out.

And seriously, experimenting on the reading whims of her little brother and then proudly touting that as “proof”? Seriously, no scientist worth their stuff would base all their findings on one result. Maybe after a few hundred tests!

Guys like different stuff than girls. While some guys I know will tolerate a romantic subplot (there’s always one in action movies, after all), mostly they dig adventure, action, and cerebral stuff that challenges thought.

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R.J. Anderson March 4, 2013 at 10:29 AM

I’m not sure why we feel this need to define certain things as “girly” and certain things as “boy-y” and shield our children from anything that smacks of the opposite gender. A lot of our current notions of “for boys” and “for girls” have nothing to do with Biblical principles or teachings and everything to do with what our modern, relatively affluent, 21st century culture has decided constitutes masculine and feminine traits, interests, and work. I am 100% in favour of Biblical roles for men and women, but they must be genuinely Biblical, and not merely What We Do Here In Manly (or Womanly) North America.

I have three boys and I fully support them in their individual interests and activities — many of which are stereotypical “boy stuff”. I don’t try to push things on them that I know they’re not interested in and won’t enjoy in an effort to “balance them out”. But I certainly do read books to them with girl protagonists when I think the story is one they will enjoy, and in my experience they’ve responded very positively to those stories overall — even the ones with icky romance in them (which I generally cut down while reading aloud, to spare all the moaning and groaning).

What my boys want, I find, is something involving action, tension and conflict — but not non-stop action either, as that seems to numb and bore them in a whole different way. My 7 and 10 year old sat patiently, even eagerly, through every word of THE LORD OF THE RINGS (well, okay, I skipped the poetry, but then *I* skip the poetry). My 12-year-old and I just read Megan Crewe’s THE WAY WE FALL and Veronica Roth’s DIVERGENT and INSURGENT, both of which feature female protagonists who fall in love over the course of the book and also do a lot of soul searching (and, in my oldest son’s opinion, far too much crying) — but the books also deal with issues of survival, hardship, and fighting to survive, and that’s what keeps my son riveted.

Anyway, I do think it’s important not to assume that books with girl protagonists, or even with some typically “girly” elements to them, will not be enjoyed or appreciated by boy readers. Every boy is different, and I’d like to see more books which are currently being dismissed as “girly” because of the cover or premise made accessible and attractive to children of both genders.

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Kat Heckenbach March 4, 2013 at 11:06 AM

R.J.–great point about the cover art. I think if we’re going to point fingers it not ought to be at the boy readers, but at the marketing. I’m so tired of seeing pretty girls in pretty dresses on the fronts of books – a lot of which have plenty of action and such that would appeal to boys. Honestly, I’ve been turned off from reading some of them myself, and then find out later that the book is *not* all fluffy romance. Hemlock by Kathleen Peacock, for example, is a werewolf story and would appeal, I think, to both genders, but the cover is very girly.

My novels have female protags, but I purposely did cover art that I though would appeal to fantasy fans and teens in general, not just girls. I want my books to not be considered “girl books.” And so far, I’ve been rather astounded and pleased by the number of grown men who like them.

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Mike Duran March 4, 2013 at 11:49 AM

Kat, after reading your book, Seeking Unseen, I thought how much my grandson might like it (of course, he’s only six now). The female lead and the romance, in my opinion, would not prevent a boy from reading and enjoying the story. I’m glad that you kept the covers neutral for that reason.

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Kat Heckenbach March 4, 2013 at 11:55 AM

Thanks, Mike :),

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Mike Duran March 4, 2013 at 11:45 AM

R.J., I was going to comment on the covert art and marketing of YA books in my original post but nixed it for brevity. I do feel this is a culprit behind much stereotyping. The larger issue, as Kat pointed out in her first comment, is the “romance” factor. “The vast majority of teen books with female protags are ROMANCE.” And the book industry knows exactly what buttons to push to sell romance. From my perspective, that’s the harder sell to boys — not just covert art aimed at girls, but stories aimed at romance.

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R.J. Anderson March 4, 2013 at 2:57 PM

From my perspective, that’s the harder sell to boys — not just cover art aimed at girls, but stories aimed at romance.

True, but I would say “stories which are marketed as romance” rather than “aimed at”. For instance, John Green is pretty much the king of YA contemporary at the moment, and all his books are very much concerned with romance — albeit from a boy’s perspective in most cases rather than a girl’s. But nobody calls Green’s books romances, or accuses them of being “girly” reads, because they don’t have pretty-pretty covers with the usual feminine motifs and signposts, and they aren’t marketed as romance. They’re presented as serious literary novels, and they get taken (and read) as such.

It’s sad to me how many excellent female-penned novels there are written by women in which romance plays a secondary or even a negligible part, which nevertheless get marketed as though they’re Kissing Books for Girls. Because girls wrote them, see? So clearly, only girls will be interested in reading them.

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Mike Duran March 4, 2013 at 4:33 PM

But this is a marketing issue, right? I mean, if we know boys “visually” are turned off by flowers or skirts or lipstick or jump ropes or eyelashes, why employ them? It seems we’ve taken to bemoaning the fact than just navigating around it.

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R.J. Anderson March 4, 2013 at 8:44 PM

The problem is that “we” don’t get to make that decision in traditional publishing. The marketing department does. And when you the author are presented with a cover that they’ve specifically designed to sell to the particular subset of readers they want to sell to (i.e. girls, or what they think appeals to the largest number of girls) and moreover to meet the expectations of the chain bookstore buyers in North America, it’s very hard to “navigate around” that. Even if you the author think that the cover is doing your book and your readers a disservice, and that the bookstore buyers’ idea of what “sells” to the largest number of readers is frequently misguided, there is really nothing you can do about it. Except, well, bemoan the fact.

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D.M. Dutcher March 4, 2013 at 10:39 AM

I think the problem isn’t really male or female authors or even books. I think everyone here would agree than no boy would read a pony book if bought for them, but if we look back far enough, we’d find Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion books. I’d also wonder myself how many boys read John Green’s books, for a counter-example, despite the male protagonists.

The problem though is that you cannot make a boy passive, and expect boys to like the book. Boys don’t like the Hunger Games because Peeta is a girl-he has a girlish profession (baking,) acts like a girl in that he plays the secondary, affirming backup-role to the main heroine, is emotional, empathetic, and kind of sucks at fighting. He tends to fall into the passive role in the actual battle, too. Even Peeta’s name is somewhat girlish/childish. If anything, if Peeta’s gender was flipped nothing would change, even if you kept the aspects of frustrated love-the book probably would have even better due to transgressive elements and a stronger clash between woodsgirl Katniss and homebody Peeta.

I think this is what many YA authors don’t get. Even as secondary actors, boys have to be active; they cannot model female traits too much, and cannot orbit or be passive. It doesn’t have to be boys dominating the book, but too many paranormal novels have men who do little but affirm the heroine and look pretty while the girl does all the interesting things. They don’t even bother with any subplots for the boys.

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C.L. Dyck March 4, 2013 at 11:10 AM

“Even as secondary actors, boys have to be active; they cannot model female traits too much, and cannot orbit or be passive.”

This is the exact same problem with female characters that all the girl-power stuff is supposed to correct. Dumping a story weakness onto the other gender doesn’t fix it. The best stories have active characters of both genders who aren’t content to orbit each other on principle. The clashes are bigger, the alliances stronger, and the resolutions more satisfying.

Maybe we should be trying for gender-equal fiction. That shouldn’t be politically incorrect simply because it’s not female-supremacist.

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D.M. Dutcher March 4, 2013 at 12:38 PM

There is a problem. Women seem able to be both active and passive in gender roles, while men positively flounder if relegated to the passive. I don’t think we can have true gender-neutrality in this. Usually if a man takes the passive role, he gets diminished or needs to be propped up some in other ways to be acceptable. Or he gets the worst of both worlds-the leveling gestures aimed to take down the active male, while being in the passive role. It’s a tough thing, because not all situations can always be active-active. The passive has a place too.

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Mark Carver March 4, 2013 at 9:20 PM

Definitely feeling this. I think people are okay with a passive boy if he eventually “mans up” and becomes someone who takes charge. It doesn’t mean he needs to take control away from the woman, but a man who continually needs saving/coddling quickly invites contempt.

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Amanda B. March 5, 2013 at 5:37 AM

Isn’t this true of a female protagonist as well? As a woman myself, few things make me as frustrated as reading a book where the protagonist is a milquetoast, woe-is-me, someday-my-prince-will-come girl, to whom life simply “happens”.

The romance genre as a whole is rife with this. I read a number of books by a Christian romance author on the recommendation of a friend. I was ready to throw the books at the wall by the end of them, because the lead character was always without substance. Sure, there would be *descriptions* of her as a take-charge go-getter, or a bashful country girl, or an adventurous nature-lover, but when the rubber met the road, she never actually *did* anything. Each book essentially featured the same bland character in a different period costume. It was abysmal.

(Note: This doesn’t apply to all romances–for instance, Pride & Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet has a brain, a personality, interests, skills, weaknesses, times she took charge, and times she needed help. In other words, she gets to be a whole person who actually does things on her own volition. But such books are few and far between.)

The problem with “girl books” that boys don’t like is–by and large–not that they are “girly”, but that they are poorly written. A passive, aimless lead is not a girly thing (despite being token to many YA “girl books”); it’s shoddy storytelling. And I do think the idea that such a technique is “just fine” for girls’ lit (but not for boys!) is residual of a culture that has spent much of its history in overt sexism.

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Fred Warren March 5, 2013 at 9:01 AM

I’ve always thought one of the coolest and most romantic events in any action-oriented story is when we find male and female leads fighting back-to-back. It’s a beautiful illustration of what a balanced male-female relationship *should* be. Neither can survive the situation alone, both bring all their individual strengths to bear in defense of the other, each trusts the other to guard the place where they’re the most vulnerable, they’re operating as one, often without the need to exchange any words at all, and in that configuration, they’re usually unstoppable.

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D.M. Dutcher March 5, 2013 at 11:13 AM

But not all passive roles are bad though. I think we’re confusing passive with bad, and I should have explained it better. Here’s a clip of a good passive role, from the animation Clannad: After Story:

http://youtu.be/RHz1ZDPkVy0

Ironically, Clannad is a male romance, and a tearjerker one at that. I don’t think it’s possible for a man to model Nagisa’s behavior without being diminished. The role itself isn’t particularly bad; in the series Tomoya and Nagisa are almost two halves of a whole in how they relate to people and each other. But I’ve never really seen a guy character fulfill that role and be readable. For that, I’ve never seen a woman even propose to a man in fiction. This is how entrenched the idea of male as active only is.

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Mark Carver March 6, 2013 at 5:44 AM

You’re definitely right about society’s attitude that swoony, sappy romances are okay for girls but not for boys. I’m with Fred on the idea of an action-oriented plot featuring men and women struggling together against their common foe. And if the story is primarily a romance, the characters should both be strong but be aware of their incompleteness without each other.

Of course, there will always be a place for sappy romantic candy, just like there will always be ultra-macho action movies. There’s no inherent problem with any of it; the problem arises when the audience internalizes what they see/read and lets that shape their perspectives. Young readers often lack the maturity and worldly understanding to differentiate between what belongs squarely in the realm of fiction and what is applicable to reality.

But hey, it makes boatloads of money.

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Rebecca LuElla Miller March 7, 2013 at 1:38 PM

This still misses a central point. Girls read and enjoy books in which the female character is passive and in a secondary role (see Lord of the Rings, for example), whereas, I agree, boys don’t like books that don’t have a character they can emulate or admire. They don’t enter into the world and the thinking of a girl, but girls don’t seem to mind reading about macho male protags doing macho male things.

This in itself indicates a difference in the way we think and feel, don’t you think?

Becky

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R. L. Copple March 4, 2013 at 11:01 AM

I find it interesting that the same camp that will say homosexuals are just born that way, so should be who they are, go totally the opposite direction on gender issues–its all cultural conditioning, they should not be who they are.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say that was selecting evidence to fit a preconceived outcome in both cases, instead of realizing the issue is more a matter of both in either case.

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John Robinson March 4, 2013 at 12:10 PM

Several here have noted that men (or boys) won’t read romance, but we hairy-chested knuckle-dragger types WILL read books (or view movies) with a female protagonist.

For Exhibit B, consider the movie Places in the Heart. It’s one of my favorites, featuring a story of a poor Texas widow in the dustbowl of the 30s having to dig deep and draw on resources she didn’t know she possessed, to triumph over incredible difficulties and save herself and her family.

And for Exhibit A, I give you the movie Aliens. Of course it’s action-adventure, which we males love, but strip away all the fighting, running, shooting, and killing, and at its core you’ll find a story of the damnedest example of a mother’s love (Ripley’s and the alien queen) ever penned.

So yes, we’ll read female protagonists, provided it’s not the “Heathcliff on the moors” stuff.

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Adam B. March 4, 2013 at 2:06 PM

Okay,first time to comment here. Love your blog Mike; at some point I’ll have to track down one of your books and actually read it. (Sorry this will be a long ramblin’) I think one of the telling things missing from this debate is a discussion about developing one’s lead male character’s attitudes towards women. Notice how these mainstream authors are so concerned with how young male adults, or boys perceive lead roles for female characters, or the availability of those characters or role models at all? What’s missing here? Of course, they’re not talking about male characters attitude towards women. That would be sexist (would be perceived as sexist). I’m with Mike somewhat here. While I agree with some of the commenters here, a good story is a good story, I don’t necessarily want my nephews to have female role models in fiction, I want them to have decent male role models with the revolutionary attitude of being able to deal with the challenges of a twisted world with solidarity, grit, hope, creativity and an attitude of treating women with equal parts of respect and courageous love. Remember chivalry? But talk to most culture-creators today and attitudes of chivalry are dismissed as backwards, sexist and the absolute opposite of the type of fiction they’re trying to produce. If my nephews head to any bookstore or comics shop, they’ll be able to find plenty of gender-bending YA fiction, or supernatural romance on the one hand; or fiction that purports that the type of masculinity a young man should mimic can be lifted directly from Willis’ Die-Hard macho-renegade-cop-dude-characters. Seen the impossibly figured female characters in comics today, complete with outfits that consist entirely of small bands of spandex that could be easily be balled up and fit into my jeans’ pocket?! Yes, these are the choices young men are left with. Chivalry is now a totally revolutionary concept, although I’ve never really considered it dead. When told it’s dead by any number of women today, I respond that an idea is never totally dead as long as there are people willing to risk swimming upstream and take on the challenges of putting said idea into practice. Trendy ideas promoted on Oprah aren’t the only ones that are revolutionary and can change culture. Sometimes it’s the older ones that no-one’s courageous enough to believe in anymore that are the most revolutionary. When I ask my feminist friends whether or not they think men should treat women better than they usually find themselves being treated, I never get “Of course not!” for an answer. If I then ask, “Well then, what’s wrong with promoting a set of ideas that encourage that proper level of respect for women?”, I never really get a straight answer. Young men shouldn’t have to choose between being ashamed of their masculinity in an over-feminized over-technologized consumerist politically correct society or having their concept of masculinity be lifted straight from “The Man Show.” Both concepts are out there en-masse in society. All people have to rely upon that don’t have the Holy Spirit to encourage them, is the idea that past ideas of gender roles has been oppressive and insufficient and must be reworked and punked around with, “reinvented” so as to recreate a new future with “new and improved” results. Better living through chemistry, isn’t that the science fiction way? And why not? If you didn’t believe in redemption from a debauched humanity imprisoned by its own sinful choices via a living God, than there is no hope in repentance and turning back to traditions from the past based upon fixed absolutes, because there are no fixed absolutes. Our only hope is to “reinvent” the future, roll the dice, cross our fingers, and “hope” that, against logic that the future will build will avoid the tragic violence, oppression and stupidity that other past leaders and cultures built as they tried to rush headlong into a “Brave New World.” I hope that as Christians we can be courageous enough to dig into the past and into the Holy Spirit in order to envision the future. Not a fictional rosy-colored everything was better 50-100-2,000 years ago past; but instead just not being sucked in to either the cult of futurism on the one hand, or the “Jesus is coming back, the Anti-Christ is just around the corner, let’s just vote Republican and stock up on freeze-dried food, ammo and Tim LaHaye novels and wait for all-hell-crap to hit the fan” worldview. Life will never be perfect until Jesus comes back, but there’s always hope in the future for those who take their chances putting their trust in the foundation of faith of a living God incarnate in the choices we have the courage to make, that can build a better life for the people we care about, for however longer we have a “future.” Whether those choices are inspired by us looking forward or backwards doesn’t really ultimately matter. In the Holy Spirit we don’t have to get trapped in a reactionary attitude that forces us to put our trust in an agenda focused “ism” mindset. Our gender energies as well as our political, cultural, artistic, technological, environmental, and economic values are all balanced in the Spirit. A Spirit, by the way, which emanates from an eternal, timeless God. We don’t have to come out of the box wielding political or ideological hammers, preaching doom and gloom when expressing our views of where we’re headed. We instead can choose to inspire a better future through REAL hope in a future influenced by maybe just a few individuals committed to treating ourselves, each other, and the w we live in better, based upon ideas of unchanging truth in an eternal reality. In this way, all committed acts of creativity, innovation, storytelling, art, technology, are inherently theologically based. We don’t have to reinvent, (in a Created world nothing is ever really invented) or patchwork -spot-weld together a makeshift on-the-spot “magic society” that once we hack together something by crossing the right cultural wires and making certain combinatory changes in ideological standard policies; (read “groupthink”) everything will sorcerously transmogrificate into… a neverending episode of Barney the Purple Dinosaur (read the Wikipedia entry under Marxism (I know I just CAN’T be the first person to link Barney to radical Marxism…). Yes, the current state of art and culture can be pathetic, but EVERYTHING in this created world of humans, hamsters and undersea sponges can inspire people with the right outlook, if we’ll just commit to stop whining about the culture we’ve been given and start creating the kind of kick-butt culture we wanna live in. I don’t blame my feminist, LGBT, transgender, or otherwise liberal friends of trying to gender-bend or culture hack their way into a better world. If there’s no God, our only option is to bend blend and mix what we’ve got into some kind of randomly concocted mix that equals a better kind of humanity. Because then THERE IS NO BASIS FOR WHAT HUMAN IS. There’s no basis for good, or for evil. No basis for culture, art, no limitations for technologically culturally, or governmentally augmented humanity. (See Wikipedia entries for Transhumanism, Futurism, or Modern Art; just for starters.) At that point there’s no basis for anything, really. Until beauty revolves around that which is imitable being limitable by TRUTH, in the divine, lovemaking process that is God’s created revealed essence in the world via the concrete transmittable personal love of Christ; men getting dirty bringing the love of a God getting dirty bringing His love to men. THAT is the only imaginable source of true beauty. Recombinatory science trying to resplice beauty out of a random, thoughtless, cold, and unfeeling world, hopefully trying to chance some sort of fleeting, fumbling accidental moment of experienced beauty coughed up from a universe of mere dust is not only completely illogical, it’s also just… really depressing. True beauty is a free gift, a source of inspiration available to men courageous enough to risk faith. People who try to gender and cultural-bend their way to an engineered happiness; usually just end up getting themselves bent over and screwed by the societies they unwittingly create (see Wikipedia entries under French Revolution, Soviet Russia, and the Third Reich).

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Christian Jaeschke March 4, 2013 at 5:19 PM

Excellent post but you may want to include paragraphs next time.

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Adam B. March 4, 2013 at 10:22 PM

Thanks, Christian. Read this post while checking my Twitter feed before heading into work night-shift at the old ball-and-chain. I kind of wrote my comment in one long Kerouacian river of consciousness (they’re usually too long to be considered streams); which is how I usually write anything before it’s edited. I didn’t really edit it because I knew I wouldn’t finish writing it after I got home from work. Conciseness takes a lot of work for me, personally. I usually spend as much time editing a work for brevity as I do writing it. Next time I comment I’ll take the time to make the comment shorter than the post itself, as I think anything else is either impolite, or narcissistic.

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R.J. Anderson March 5, 2013 at 6:22 AM

Long comments are fine, but throwing in a few paragraph breaks (even if you have to do it at random) definitely make it more likely that your comment will be read and understood and become part of the larger dialogue. I wanted to read what you have to say, but my eyes glazed over after the first three sentences, I’m afraid!

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Thea March 6, 2013 at 11:05 AM

Could I copy this post and share it with people? I’ll have to add paragraph breaks (just for better readability), but I found this to be really excellent and I know a few people who I’d like to give the chance to read it. I’ll attribute you and, when I can, I’ll link back to here so that people can see the original.

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R.J. Anderson March 4, 2013 at 4:15 PM

On the same subject, here’s an interesting just-published piece by YA author Marie Lu (author of LEGEND and PRODIGY, two bestselling neutrally-packaged SF novels with alternating boy/girl POVs): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marie-lu/writing-a-book-for-boys_b_2806387.html I think she makes some good points.

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Thea March 6, 2013 at 11:58 AM

Thanks for sharing that! She definitely does make good points. This whole topic has been one of special interest to me, because I want the people who will like my books to be the ones who find and read them, without being turned away by incomplete messages.

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Jeremy March 5, 2013 at 8:43 AM

Thankfully the world continues to leave people who hold outdated opinions such as yours in the past.

Scientific studies have shown repeatedly that there is no inherent difference in the way men and women’s brains process thoughts or emotions. It’s all societal gender-bias and how we think men and women *should* act. We don’t allow people to behave how they would, as men showing feminine interests makes us uncomfortable.

I hold hope that my children will have the opportunity to do whatever makes them happy, my girls enjoying action movies and programming, my son enjoying dolls and knitting. And that maybe society will finally stop telling people how they *should* think and feel.

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D.M. Dutcher March 6, 2013 at 7:03 AM

The problem though is that we often have a societal wish which says one thing, but people’s actions hold to its opposite. A related example was the discovery that despite cultural ideas that single parenting is just as fine as dual, the upper classes actually still traditionally marry at higher rates than anyone else, and raise their kids in two parent families. This is because they really do make for more stable environments to raise children in. People profess one belief, but act on another which is more rooted in biology than the idea that human nature is as malleable as you think.

The thing about men is similar. If anything, so is women; the biggest push to be a traditional SAHM is from educated women, as is the idea of “manning up.” Not just conservative women either; for all the talk about gender roles, you’ll find that liberal or feminist women still tend to marry men who manifest male roles over female ones, while either friendzoning or showing distaste at those that don’t.

What is scary is that the people who do tend to take these words at face value suffer for it; its the middle class and below who buy the ideas, and then suddenly wake up to find they are in a culture of pathology. The man who truly believes in men embracing their feminine side finds that not only do men shy away from him, women do too. The person who thinks being a single parent is okay finds out that its a tremendous handicap and stressor, and if enough do, you have communities with often feral kids.

So you think this idea man, but actions wind up being different. Would your wife have married you if her first image of you was knitting and reading a Nora Roberts book? Aren’t often the very people who believe these things models of the exact opposite?

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Jeremy March 6, 2013 at 11:23 AM

I still contend that you’re attributing something to common knowledge that has no basis in scientific reality.

An analysis of 13 studies on the differences between men and women found more differences between individual women and individual men, than between men and women: http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-02/science-confirms-obvious-men-and-women-arent-different

The myth of the “manly” man and “caretaker” woman are imposed by culture and society.

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Thea March 6, 2013 at 11:55 AM

The person who did the study also has this to say about the level of its accuracy (this is quoted directly from that article):

“The study was based on questionnaires, and the authors admit that the results may not encapsulate real-life actions completely, as people don’t always self-report accurately.”

This is completely true. Questionnaires can only suggest certain things due to these exact limitations, but they can *prove* nothing. If you want a cause and effect relationship, you’re going to have to look at a study that does a proper experiment. Even still, the problem with psychology research these days is that the vast majority of it is being done only on first-year psychology students that go to the universities where the research is being conducted (generally in developed, Western countries). This does not, by any stretch of the imagination, allow for the ability to generalize the results to the rest of human kind, never mind Western culture.

While the results of this analysis-study may or may not accurately reflect the lack of specific characteristics that men have and women don’t (or vice versa), we simply can’t know for sure because of the way that the study was conducted.

But, even still, this study isn’t saying that there’s no behavioural difference between the two: “While there are average differences between the sexes, they aren’t consistent enough to accurately characterize the entire group. Just because a man or woman fits into one stereotype for their gender doesn’t mean they will fit into another.”

Genders are fuzzy categories. One needn’t show all the characteristics of the prototype that the category is based on in order to fit the category. Penguins and kiwis are still considered birds, even if they don’t fly. Platypuses and the spiny anteater are still considered mammals even though they lay eggs. I am still a woman even though I dislike housework, interior decorating, or fashion, and even though I am excellent at both math and art, and I enjoy reading science fiction written by men and primarily marketed towards men. And, yet, as much as they’re fuzzy categories, they still do exist.

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Thea March 6, 2013 at 11:28 AM

(Just a note: I use the terms male and female to refer to the biological sexes, and masculine and feminine to refer to the behavioural genders. This is a technical use of the words that anthropologists use and I find to be helpful when discussing this and related topics)

While studies have shown no significant difference between the neurobiology of males and females in various areas (not all – for example, females still have a larger and more developed corpus callosum, which is what connects the two hemispheres and allows them to communicate with each other), one significant difference that has been shown between the two is behavioural. These behavioural differences lie on a spectrum from [insert culture of your choice]‘s definitions of extremely masculine to extremely feminine, but they do exist.

Something that seems to be ignored in this kind of discussion is the fact that each culture contains, at the bare minimum, two subcultures: “male” and “female”. These encompass the spectrums of behaviour that the culture considers to be acceptable masculine or feminine behaviour (and the two can definitely bleed into the other; these two definitions may be a dichotomy when many people think about them abstractly, but they are never such in practical reality. There is always some sort of continuum).

That said: In Western culture, *like every culture*, there are the two major subcultures of “male” and “female”. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a normal thing. What *is* the bad thing is when people look at others, or other groups of people, whether within or without their culture, as lesser or greater than themselves. That’s where we get racism, sexism, genocide. The Inquisition. The Holocaust.

If you view difference(s) as existing on a hierarchy, then that’s a problem. But if you can truly value people, regardless of who they are, and do so unconditionally, then it doesn’t matter that someone is different from you. All that matters is that you are two people walking through life together.

And that is beautiful.

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Rebecca LuElla Miller March 7, 2013 at 2:07 PM

Great comment, Thea. Especially this: What *is* the bad thing is when people look at others, or other groups of people, whether within or without their culture, as lesser or greater than themselves . . . If you view difference(s) as existing on a hierarchy, then that’s a problem. But if you can truly value people, regardless of who they are, and do so unconditionally, then it doesn’t matter that someone is different from you.

That’s the problem with the way contemporary Western culture approaches gender issues–women have to do everything men do in order to be considered as good as men. Why can’t a woman be considered as important as a man while fulfilling roles considered traditional for a woman? Oddly I find a greater acceptance problem from those with a liberal attitude toward gender issues than I have ever found among those with a traditional approach.

Becky

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Thea March 7, 2013 at 4:50 PM

I totally agree with you. Gender-related things are also viewed as a competition or conflict between men and women, which is something I find to be extremely harmful. We’re not antagonists. We’re two halves of the same whole. If God made humankind both male and female, then removing one or the other, or having the two fighting each other is destructive and definitely not what God had in mind. After all, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

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Thea March 6, 2013 at 12:02 PM

Thank you for opening up this discussion, Mike! It’s given me a lot of food for thought, and it’s helped me a lot in terms of writing and marketing what I write. I really appreciate that you’re willing to say what you think, and that you’ve fostered dialogue of this calibre and informativeness. It’s always a pleasure reading your posts and the conversations that follow. :)

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Jill March 6, 2013 at 6:18 PM

I missed the height of this discussion, and I didn’t read through all the comments, but I would like to add my thoughts. Okay, no, I have a question: Why do people, in general, suffer from such black and white thinking all the time?! When it comes to book preferences, you have so many different variables. You have generational preferences. You have gender preferences. You have age preferences. You have personality preferences. I mentioned generational preferences, but era preferences also exist. When Jane Austen published her books, she had a general audience of both male and female readers, while some of her contemporaries wrote either for men or women (in the speculative market, women of Austen’s day read the more psychological novels with moral messages, and men read the scary, gory, weird books). Now, Austen’s books are almost solely read by women. So what happened in between? I don’t know; I can only conjecture. Obviously, nothing changed much concerning certain genres (see my parenthetical statement).

When you combine all of these factors, it isn’t so easy to determine what a boy will want to read vs what a girl will want to read, unless the books are overtly masculine or feminine, and then they will only reach certain types of men or women. And, then, you might find that both men and women read mysteries, but that they prefer different sorts. I think of my youngest children–my daughter reads Boxcar Children, and my son prefers Scooby-Doo. Who knows? Those in publishing and marketing tend to keep a pulse on what their audiences want. In any case, I don’t think male preferences are really anything to get worked up about. I suppose the lady from above could mess with her little brother all she wants, tie him down and force him to read about the adventures of sparkly My Little Bronies, but what will she really accomplish by doing so? Nixing the world of diversity?

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