Thursday, April 13, 2017

Real Boys Don't Cry

Book publishers cannot figure out why boys don’t read. An industry that is churning out books written by women for girls cannot understand why boys do not rush into these empathy-laden ouvrages. It cannot imagine why boys do not want to get in touch with their feminine side.

The hidden question here is, why don’t these books help girls to get in touch with something other than their feelings? At a time when most women want to participate in the world of business and professions the books on offer do nothing to prepare them for that world.

Robert Lipsyte wrote a whiny piece about the problem for the New York Times several years. Martin Cothran took up the issue recently on the Intellectual Takeout blog (via Maggie’s Farm.)

When Lipsyte addressed the problem he missed the point completely. What he saw as the solution was really the problem. He thought that reading was a good thing because it helped boys get in touch with their feelings. In truth, boys refuse to read such books because they recognize that being in touch with their feelings will make them weak and ineffectual. Remember when they refused to eat Michelle Obama’s famous lunches of grass and weeds.

Lipsyte explains:

If we’re to counter this tendency and encourage reading among boys who may collectively resist it, boys need to be approached individually with books about their fears, choices, possibilities and relationships — the kind of reading that will prick their dormant empathy, involve them with fictional characters and lead them into deeper engagement with their own lives. This is what turns boys into readers.

Heaven forfend, boys do not feel comfortable exploring emotions and feelings in fiction. Did it ever occur to these whiny weepy souls that there is a lot more to fiction than exploring emotions and feelings? And that perhaps people should be reading fiction for some other reason than to become more sensitive? Boys are surely more interested in historical fiction and nonfiction-- about fiction based on facts-- than they are in books about girlie boys.

Lipsyte continues:

On his Web site,, the teacher and author Jon Scieszka writes that boys “don’t feel comfortable exploring the emotions and feelings found in fiction. . . . Boys don’t have enough positive male role models for literacy. Because the majority of adults involved in kids’ reading are women, boys might not see reading as a masculine activity.”

Boys don’t read because so many books have been written for girls. Whatever happened to the Hardy Boys? 

Michael Cart, a past president of the Young Adult Library Services Association, agrees. “We need more good works of realistic fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, on- or ­offline, that invite boys to reflect on what kinds of men they want to become,” he told me. “In a commercially driven publishing environment, the emphasis is currently on young women.” And then some. At the 2007 A.L.A. conference, a Harper executive said at least three-­quarters of her target audience were girls, and they wanted to read about mean girls, gossip girls, frenemies and vampires.

Again, the world of young adult publishing is a pink ghetto. Its inhabitants do not understand why boys are not attracted to books that have predominantly female characters. This form of mind control has not been working:

The current surge in children’s literature has been fueled by talented young female novelists fresh from M.F.A. programs who in earlier times would have been writing midlist adult fiction. Their novels are bought by female editors, stocked by female librarians and taught by female teachers. It’s a cliché but mostly true that while teenage girls will read books about boys, teenage boys will rarely read books with predominately female characters.

So, boys are left with their video games and sports. And perhaps with the news. They prefer a world that corresponds more faithfully to the real world, the world outside of the salon or the kitchen or the boudoir.

Boys prefer video games and ESPN to book versions of them. These knockoffs also lack the tough, edgy story lines that allow boys a private place to reflect on the inner fears of failure and humiliation they try so hard to brush over. Editors who ask writers of books for boys to include girl characters — for commercial reasons — further blunt the edges.

Of course, one suspects that most of the books that would appeal to boys have already been removed from school reading lists because they are politically incorrect. How many children are still allowed to read about Huckleberry Finn? Do you think that anyone assigns A Clockwork Orange or The Catcher in the Rye?

The attempt to feminize the culture has run up against the burgeoning masculinity of teenage boys. Unfortunately, if the books being produced are luring girls into thinking that the real world is a pink ghetto, it is doing them a disservice too.


trigger warning said...

Interesing observation.

My escapist reading tends to thrillers, space opera, and police procedural genres. I have not read a genre book written by a woman in years. They just don't appeal to me. It's a matter of focus. I really could care less if DI Smithers wears an understated club tie with a spread collar.

As a result, I have observed that Amazon Prime is flogging women authors with a vengeance.

Ares Olympus said...

I think I recall J. K. Rowlings saying she had a male main character for Harry Potter because she thought it would sell better, and of course she also hid her own gender as well.

I got into SciFi and fantasy books during High school and college, although not as much as other kids I knew. I never got into Dune for instance, although I heard it was good. I don't think SciFi books will ever fall for PC.

The key thing I learned from fiction is that I was much more confidence giving advice to story characters than in real life. It always seemed obvious what the characters should do, and later I'd see something similar in my own life and say to myself "Oh, that's why they acted that way." Well, I suppose I learned that in life too, when people tell me of their predicaments. It is cool to have a sense of the interior of another person, and I think it does help reduce blame and projecting other people as the cause of my problems when I can imagine theirs.

So I learned about perspective-taking side of cognitive empathy maybe more than the feeling side. I did cry at the end of C.S Lewis's chronicles of Narnia. Somehow the idea of the entire world being destroyed didn't seem like a safe bet to me, even if Heaven was a better version of reality. Is it greedy to want to keep both? Maybe that's how I became an environmentalist?

And no matter how cool it might seem to become a Martian, I still think we should solve our problems on earth before we convince ourselves that we can just find a new planet to trash when we make a big enough mess of this one.

I do support genetic engineering, at least to make some bacteria that can thrive on Mars or Europa, at least after we can convince ourselves they are sterile. Still martian bacteria evolution fiction is surely even more boring than the new star wars movies. The first page might say "And then they slowly changed for a million years" before something exciting and new happened that no one expected.

Leo G said...

Ares, google Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies.

Yes Sci-Fi is now as mainstream as any other topic. Last years Hugo's actually did not present some of the awards, because these 2 groups had "infiltrated" the voting.

SJWship is everywhere.

Stuart, funny thing, was reading a link at InstaPundit this morning.

"Traditional gender roles increasingly popular with millennials, research finds"

Sam L. said...

The boys are saying they'd like something they'd like to read, that they'd enjoy, and what they're being given is SPINACH. Which they hate. Girls like spinach, apparently.

Walt said...

Animal & adventure stories. Jack London. Call of the Wild --easy to identify with Buck. ..Anecdote: a female friend wrote a series of books about a tough-guy cat detective for ages 8-12 and was frequently asked to do readings and q&a's at grade schools. After one particularly enjoyable session with smart 4th graders, where the boys were particularly enthusiastic, she complimented the teacher on what a great class it was, and the teacher responded with surprising and unimaginable venom: 'I HATE the boys!" IOW, that too is a factor.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Walt, that's what I read. Not all women authors are the same. Myself and my fellow "sad puppies" (half of us were female) just want fun books. Both reading them and writing them.

Celia Hayes said...

Well, yes, of course they don't read girly books. When I was a tween myself, I despised the girly books, which seemed to be all about some seeping pool of middle-school/high school misery, all angst and family problems and the possible attention of some high-school hero dweeb who seemed hardly worth the effort.
I wanted adventure, challenge, interesting and unusual people, great deeds and all that...

My daughter pointed out that there were so few good and interesting books for tween boys, now that the Harry Potter series was done - which is why she said that my revamping of the Lone Ranger (historically accurate and sans Johnny Depp with a dead bird on his head) ought to be aimed for that demographic. So, what Sarah said. (My book is called Lone Star Sons, BTW. I'm tasked with doing another of the same this year...)

Shaun F said...

I'm glad the Hardy Boys showed up in the article. There is plenty of classic sci-fi and fantasy out there - Tolkein, Asimov, John Wyndham and of course mystery - Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. But I'm a reader, so I tend to seek this out. Generally I don't find much contemporary writing of interest for the reasons illustrated.

Sam L. said...

I mentioned this at and was told about