I was at school before the half-term holiday and a particular boy came to me with his reading book.
“It’s a new one,” he said as I started to write in the records.
“Oh,” I remarked. I was waiting for him to give me more information; he is a bright and questioning child. However, what he said next did surprise me somewhat.
“I changed it,” he sneered ever so slightly before he continued. He now had my total attention. I put the pen down on the desk and looked at him.
“Did you finish it?”
“No!” His reply was firm, with an edge of indignation to it.
“Why not?” I asked gently.
“It was a girly book.” He said in a matter-of-a fact tone. “I didn’t like it, so I changed it.” This 9 year old boy sat on the side of his chair with one leg dangling while the other was tucked beneath him. “I prefer different books. Not girly ones.” Each time he referred to the type of book he was trying to avoid it seemed as if he had something bitter in his mouth that he was trying to, unsuccessfully, spit out.
“Ahhh.” I hesitated as to whether or not to take this any further, but – being me – I took the opportunity to look at this matter from all angles. “What makes it girly?” I asked.
“I dunno,” was the only response I got from this usually articulate child. “It just is. Everybody knows that.” As we discussed his book choices further we concluded that the rejected book was not just for girls (it did not have a pink cover, ribbons, fluffy dogs or diamonds on the cover) but something about it – not just the storyline or characters, made it an uncomfortable choice for him to read, especially in front of his friends.
Applying this theory of gendered literature further I realised that for the first few years of a child’s life books are ... just books. Then they start to separate into boys' books and girls' books. This division continues in a bell jar effect until adulthood when books are usually regarded as literature (non-gendered) or not.
It’s the really young and the more mature readers that seem not to care about gendered differences in books. In between everything seems to be either chick-lit or dick-lit.
This encounter of disgust and alienation from a specific book made me wonder if almost everything from the cradle to the grave is gendered?