The gross stereotypes which turn my pupils off reading...

Francis Gilbert's picture
I'm teaching Robert Westall's The Machine Gunners at the moment with my Year 8 class. When I started reading the book with the class I was surprised by the reaction that the girls gave the book. Basically, they said that they could never like it because it was a "boy's book", full of guns, adventure and action. When I first started teaching twenty years ago, girls didn't respond like this; there was much less stereotyping about what girls and boys should read then. But if you look now at the books that girls are being directed to read, you see that there's chronic stereotyping going on. Look at this list issued by Amazon which purports to be a teenage fiction list for girls: the covers are all stereotypically "girly", pink, princessy and "romance-driven". Interestingly, the books that are suggested for boys are a bit less stereotyped if you look here. However, there is much boys' fiction which clearly aims to play to certain stereotypes about boys. Look at this list here.

 I don't think this sort of packaging does anyone any good: it puts boys off what can be good books, and it makes girls feel they have to read books with these sorts of covers. The girls in my class are now really enjoying The Machine Gunners but they've had to put aside their prejudices before getting into it.
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Jenny Landreth's picture
Tue, 05/07/2011 - 12:31

I agree, it's a real problem, particularly if you have a girl, like I do, who actively dislikes all the pink nonsense, and a boy, also like mine, not into guns or spies. Either I have weird kids or actually, this is lazy marketing and purchasing. The girl list you direct us to is interesting (it's a list by a private individual, btw, not Amazon itself) as at least it does include a couple of books (Holes, Boy in Striped Pyjamas) that lots of boys have read and loved. And I Capture The Castle is a great read! There are rumblings around about the ubiquity of pink as a marketing identifier for girls, and probably a few pressure groups, but they may well be playing to the gallery. I'm as concerned with the book on that list called 'Diary of a Chav'. I wouldn't want either of my obviously weird kids thinking it's OK to call someone a chav. Can we call on publishers to be more gender neutral? That relies on parents directing, investigating and actively encouraging. And why would they change a formula that obviously works for them? Is the question: is it more important to get boys reading, at any cost, than to stereotype both girls and boys?

Francis Gilbert's picture
Tue, 05/07/2011 - 15:29

This is very interesting Jenny. Do publishers actually have a duty to promote books in a "non-stereotypical" way? I can see them coming back with the answer that they're just responding to the market. It's a big cultural issue which affects boys and girls reading a great deal. Yes, I Capture The Castle is very good and should be read by both boys and girls. A few years ago, I scored some good GCSE results in Lit by teaching Wuthering Heights; some of the boys got A*s -- and WH is generally regarded -- and marketed as -- a "girl's" book.

John x's picture
Fri, 17/08/2012 - 10:42

Hi there,

I don't suppose you have a SOW or any resources for Machine Gunners? It's an oldie, but a goodie!

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 06/07/2011 - 13:01

I've bought books for my granddaughters at Christmas and their birthdays for several years now. Apart from one time when I bought something about fairies I've avoided all the pink and sparkly rubbish about princesses, sleepovers, High School Musical, Hannah Montana and so on. I once complained to M&S over their display of books and games for children. They explained it was marketing based on customer feedback. The baby/toddler section was fine but when the children reached 5+ there was a definite segregation. The girls' section was uniformly pink or lilac, with lots of glittery, spangly, books/kits about make-up, being "girly" and appearance. The boys' section, mainly khaki and green, had fewer books (about nature, the world, football, science experiments, dinosaurs and so on) and more boys' type kits (something like build a tyrannosaurus). Much more exciting although the message for boys was loud and clear: anything other than factual reading is for cissies.

The campaign against everything "pink" is here:

PS Loved The Machine Gunners, didn't finish I Capture The Castle but might give it another go as it's been recommended by two people. An excellent book for children of both sexes aged about 9/10 is The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tyler. If you don't know the surprise ending, I won't spoil it! Also loved: Stig of The Dump, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, The Silver Sword, Warhorse, Anne of Green Gables, Eagle of the Ninth, Treasure Island...

Fiona Lane's picture
Wed, 06/07/2011 - 15:01

It's a worrying trend which I think will have negative impacts on girls. They are told they they should like all things "girly" and pink and heroines who are saved by boys/marriage/Prince Charming/Simon Cowell (delete as appropriate). Twenty years ago, when training as a teacher, I was told to make girls question such stereotypes and make them realise that they had a working life ahead of them and qualifications and career prospects mattered, whether swept off their feet and married or not! I don't think anything has changed. I still come across teenagers who judge themselves only in terms of attractiveness to boys. The teenage pregnancy rate has not fallen and there are still far too many girls who are conditioned to have no ambition.

PS. I once taught "The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tyler" to a class of 30 girls. They didn't get it! Ho hum.

Fiona Lane's picture
Sat, 09/07/2011 - 13:49

Perhaps even more worrying are the games, all with a rating of 18, which are increasingly popular with boys in years 7 to 9 ( albeit hearsay and anecdotal evidence of mine), such as grand auto theft. Not only can they "visit" lap dancing clubs, but also "pick up" prostitutes with the option of beating them up afterwards. While these games have an age restriction, it is clearly being flouted. I wonder whether parents are aware of the content of these games, and if they are I worry that they think the content is appropriate. That decent literature competes with this with young boys says a great deal about our society.

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