There have been a number of great conversations going on about gender in children’s and YA literature lately that I think should be shared as widely as possible.
First, Kelly Jensen (@catagator) did some impressive data compilation, looking at the representation of male and female authors on the New York Times Bestseller list. Part one shares the data, and part two goes into deeper, thoughtful analysis. As Kelly pointed out, part one led to an interesting conversation amongst E. Lockhart, Maureen Johnson, John Green, and many others. What I found interesting/troubling about the data and the discussion is this idea of “dominating.” You could either say that women dominate YA because there are so many more writers, editors, librarians, teachers, etc. involved in the YA world than there are men. But then this data shows that men dominate when it comes to prestige and, potentially, sales. For me, it is the disconnect between the two that is so troubling. Why does a women-centric world raise men so high above the women?
One theory floated was that hetero women librarians dug the cute male authors, an idea that was not well-received by many librarians. For what it’s worth, I did a quick count of Printz award winners (an honor bestowed by librarians), and came up with the following:
- Winners: 8 men, 6 women
- Honor books: 23 men, 31 women
Clearly Kelly’s data crunching and analysis should be just the start of a longer conversation about prominence in the field. Who is being reviewed? Who is writing reviews in mainstream publications? Who is keynoting conferences? What are the speaking fee discrepancies?
Next up, Sarah Rees Brennan and Malinda Lo took to The Toast to talk about sexism and self-promotion. Sarah spoke as a straight woman, and Malinda offered her perspective as an LGBT writer. The tales of abuse that Sarah shared were particularly harrowing. Women are attacked directly and specifically — not their work, them. Their lives. As I read I wondered if this is something more prominent in the SciFi and Fantasy worlds — historically male-dominated fields in terms of creators and consumers — or if it crosses genres?
Finally, Anne Ursu took on the preponderance of panels on boys and reading. At AASL this year there will be a panel on boys and fantasy that includes no women.
And I have to ask: Why? Why can’t female authors discuss their readers as well? And what kind of image does an all-male panel talking about boys and reading present? What are we saying to readers, boys and girls?
She makes a call for equality on panels — both in their content and their represenation, to which I say, “Hear, hear!” This piece reminded me in all the best ways of Maureen Johnson’s classic (to my mind anyway) post “Sell the Girls“.
While the numbers and stories are discouraging, I feel a sense of hope that all these conversations are bubbling to the surface at the same time. Perhaps it is just a coincidence, or maybe, just maybe, there’s a sea-change underway.