Thursday, April 24, 2014

Why this article annoys the snot out of me...

This article has been doing the rounds - Jonathan Emmett on why women are responsible for everything wrong with the world why a publishing workforce dominated by women means boys don't like books. I almost want to cross out the second bit because it is as ludicrous as the first.

It may just be me, but I always like some statistics to back up such publicly asserted statements. Is 'boys lagging behind girls in reading' just a recent issue? Have women always dominated publishing? Some facts please. Do women even dominate publishing now? I have two publishers - one of them is run by a man, the other one has women at the helm here in New Zealand and a man at the helm in Australia - and that's only editorially speaking. A man has overall responsibility for the second company here in New Zealand. Do women buy too many non-piratey books for their sons? Are there no male writers writing for boys? (Charlie Higson, James Patterson, John Flanagan, David Hill, Brian Falkner, Peter Millet, Anthony Horowitz, Paul Stewart, Eoin Colfer, Rick Riordan, John Green, Phillip Pullman, Kyle Mewburn, Michael Grant, Patrick Ness, Terry Pratchett, Ken Catran, Michael Morpurgo, Mal Peet etc...etc...etc... and that's just a fraction of the living blokes who write on topics like war, zombies, spies, and ... oh yes ... pirates).   Everything might be based in truth but it just comes across as blunt, inflammatory kind of commentary that can't really help in the end. To me it just seems designed to annoy people. And bingo, I am annoyed. Lordy the trolls are now writing the articles.

Boys might ask for book advice from their dads but I can tell you right now plenty of dads grew up not giving a toss about books either and couldn't recommend a title if they tried, and their dads before them. This isn't a new thing. And is it just what books are handed to them or is it the fact that in some households there are no books at all, and other male role models aren't seen to be reading, and books aren't 'cool'. Maybe there are too many sport trainings, or too much playstation? See I can be just as anecdotal as you. But really, can we get some scientific thinking and statistics please?? And if it's a problem that's worsening can we then suggest some practical solutions that might work rather than just pointing a finger and saying the women did it?

And Mums (and nans) have been raising sons since...oh, I don't know...since sons were invented. For all the boys who have read in the past it's often because their mums and nans bought them books. And all you can say Mr Emmett is that we don't give our sons sufficient books about pirates?? I tried to raise my son as a reading boy. I gave my son books about pirates, and zombies and boy spies and war to try and spark an interest in reading. He's never been a fan and no amount of blokey books seems to have changed his mind. It's not for want of trying Mr Emmett.

And while my son isn't keen I know many boys his age who are. And many women who work with books who bend over backwards to find the right thing to tempt a boy to read. And I think maybe the pendulum has swung too far and we have unknowingly, subconsciously taught boys that anything not zombie, sporting, or piratical is 'unmanly' and might give them girl cooties. But I don't have sufficient statistics to back this up. All I know is that growing up I read war comics (still available now in handy dandy omnibus editions), and The Lord of the Rings (one of my all time favourite books), and Treasure Island. It didn't bother me that these weren't books about fairies or romance or whatever other things you think dominate female publishers' minds.

Whatever truths your article contained Mr Emmett were subsumed by your confidence that women are to blame for boys lagging behind in reading. And it annoyed the snot out of me (shoot, I'm a woman - we don't like bogeys - my mistake). Thankfully I am not alone in my views.


Mandy Hager said...

Well said Melinda! It's a ludicrous claim.

The King's Library said...

Hear hear. I work with blokes - some read, some don't. I work with boys - same there, I have a son who occasionally reads a book but when he feels like it and usually it is a book I bought him! But just imagine if in my boys school I only bought books written by male authors. No Fleur Beale, Mandy Hager, Susan Price, Sarah Douglass, Ann McCaffrery, Veronica Roth, Suzanne Collins, Cassandra Clare etc etc etc. Ridiculous! Everyone, including boys, should be able to read about whatever they want, including pirate books but also romance, dystopia or whatever they get their hands on. I often have boys telling me that "oh I've had this book for ages, someone gave it to me, its great, you should read it miss" then should I not read that because a boy is giving it to me and they can't possibly know my taste! (Insert outraged hurumph!)

Sue Esterman said...

Excellent response Melinda - perhaps the press will pick it up and slam the author of the article with it! here's hoping!!

Jonathan Emmett said...

Hi Melinda.

Sorry that the Times article annoyed the snot out of you. I didn't write it. It was written by two Times reporters in response to this blog post about children's book reviewing which I did write:

You've made a number of unfounded assumptions about my views, some of which are addressed in this post:

I've offered "some practical solutions that might work" under the section headed "Solutions" which starts on page 21 of this essay:

"And all you can say Mr Emmett is that we don't give our sons sufficient books about pirates?"
If you take the time to look at the rest of the essays and blog posts on, I hope you'll recognise that my argument is somewhat more complex and nuanced than that.