when we assume that there is such a thing as books for girls and books for boys, we are continuing a tired and sexist narrative that has only furthered the power inequity that already exists within our society. We are creating a new generation of mansplaining, of groupthink, of toxic masculinity. Of girls only liking one thing, and boys liking another. Of men and women being from different planets. Of readers being shaped more by their assigned gender than their actual interests.
We are furthering the stereotype that boys don’t like to read about girls because they see little value in what girls do.
We are furthering the stereotype that boys don’t like to read about feelings because they are somehow above all of that.
We are furthering the stereotype of what it means to be a boy which translates into what it means to be a man and not seeing the incredible harm in that.
So I am wondering if we for once and for all, can we all agree that there is no such thing as a girl or a boy book? That kids need to be exposed to characters that inspire them, no matter their gender. That kids need to be exposed to characters that will expand their worldviews and invite them into new worlds that they knew little of before, no matter their gender. That kids need to be exposed to great books, without us adults thinking that they will only read a certain type of book based on what we see in front of us.
One day when my husband dropped him off, he heard a little girl stand up to a naysayer and shout, “Boys can like beautiful things, too!”
But they can’t. Not without someone looking askance. To embrace anything feminine, if you’re not biologically female, causes discomfort and confusion, because throughout most of history and in most parts of the world, being a woman has been a disadvantage. Why would a boy, born into all the power of maleness, reach outside his privileged domain? It doesn’t compute.
To carve out a masculine identity requires whittling away everything that falls outside the norms of boyhood. At the earliest ages, it’s about external signifiers like favorite colors, TV shows, and clothes. But later, the paring knife cuts away intimate friendships, emotional range, and open communication.
There’s research connecting this shedding process to the development, in some adolescent boys, of depression, anxiety, and feelings of isolation. In her 2014 documentary The Mask You Live In, the filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom features the voices of dozens of teen boys describing their progression from childhoods rich with friendships to teen years defined by posturing and pressure to prove their manhood. Some of the boys, who present tough exteriors, admit to having suicidal thoughts. The film flashes news clips from the most notable mass shootings of that time—Virginia Tech, Aurora, Sandy Hook—each committed by a young man.