Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Women of Wednesday--Let's Talk!

Andy has graciously allowed me to post during her week. I read a New York Times opinion piece that I must comment on. It's "The Boys Have Fallen Behind" by Nicholas D. Kristof. You really should read it before you continue with this post. So, click here and I'll wait.

Okay, you're back. So what did you think of this?
Some educators say that one remedy may be to encourage lowbrow, adventure or even gross-out books that disproportionately appeal to boys. (I confess that I was a huge fan of the Hardy Boys, and then used them to entice my own kids into becoming avid readers as well.)

Indeed, the more books make parents flinch, the more they seem to suck boys in. A Web site,, offers useful lists of books to coax boys into reading, and they are helpfully sorted into categories like "ghosts," "boxers, wrestlers, ultimate fighters," and "at least one explosion."
I'll tell you what it means to me--it means publishers who already give short shrift to girls' nonfiction interests, are going to be paying even less attention to their interests now that the boys have fallen behind.

I once proposed a book on hair--history, care, all aspects of it--and was told that there wasn't an audience for it--boys wouldn't read it. Have you seen many nonfiction series books on fashion for young girls? Have you seen any? Or series on dancing? How about fairies? It's so easy for people to dismiss this as stereotypical "dumb girl stuff," but guess what, girls like it. We dismiss "gross-out" books too, but we will rush to publish them to attract the boy reader. Is this fair? Am I wrong?

"Girls will read anything" we're told. So, we reward them by slapping them in the face? You're not a boy, so your interests don't count! Nearly every school/library publisher has series on topics that are primarily of interest to boys--vehicles, extreme anything, military. Not to pick on any one publisher, but just look at this page. Where's the corresponding page for girls?

I agree we should support reading amongst both girls and boys, but let's not benefit one half of our population at the expense of the other half. I'll just close with this from the last paragraph of "The Boys Have Fallen Behind" (emphasis mine):
At a time when men are still hugely overrepresented in Congress, on executive boards, and in the corridors of power, does it matter that boys are struggling in schools? Of course it does: our future depends on making the best use of human capital we can, whether it belongs to girls or boys. If that means nurturing boys with explosions, that’s a price worth paying.
And while we're busy nurturing the boys, the girls will be getting all they need to get them into Congress and the boardrooms? Highly unlikely--it's a man's world, afterall.



Andy said...

Sadly, I think most people are so used to girls being short-changed it doesn't even cross their minds that there's anything amiss. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Diane. There's lots to think about here!

Mur said...

Two points:

1) From the article: "Mr. Whitmire argues that the basic problem is an increased emphasis on verbal skills, often taught in sedate ways that bore boys." To that I say, so what? Why does education have to be entertainment? I'm sure Thomas Jefferson and George Washington didn't expect to be entertained at school yet they managed to become verbally adept while each becoming a "man's man."

2) Publishing should take a look at Disney. They know a thing or two about making money and pleasing their customers. It's no surprise that pirates and princesses have become franchises of sorts.