Sexism in young adult novels

I have this friend who is an intelligent human being.  But when discussing the issue of gender stereotypes, his acumen seems to wane.  His take on gender roles: they don’t exist.

On one hand, this is a refreshing outlook on life.  He doesn’t treat women contrarily to men, because he doesn’t see them differently.  But on the other hand, he believes this is how the rest of the world operates, and he thinks me inane when I bring it up.

Here’s a snippet from a recent conversation of ours (editorialized, I’m sure):

Him: I never read The Hunger Games.

Me: Cause it’s for girls?

Him: No, why would you say that?

Me: Because boys don’t read books written for girls.

Him: What???

Me: Or written by girls.

Him: Absurd.

Me: What was the last book you read written by a woman?

Him: I don’t remember.

Me: Uh huh.

Him: I don’t remember because I don’t pay attention to the gender of the author.

Me: Have you ever read a book with a bubble gum pink cover on it?

Him: No.

Me: Cause the pink cover is there to appeal strictly to women.  Women aren’t turned off by a black or blue cover. But a pink cover makes a man run in the other direction.

Him: Whatever. How many books with pink covers do you own?

Me: Uh – they make me run in the other direction too.

So. This is the debate.  Do men read books that are directly marketed to women?  With pink covers or a drawing of a lithe, fashionable woman holding a wine glass on the front?

Why would they? Clearly, it’s not marketed to them. Just as I am not drawn to Sports Illustrated magazine – while the articles in that publication might be very stimulating, I’ll never know, because I’m not inclined to pick up a magazine with a sweaty man in a football uniform gracing the front.

However, I don’t hesitate to read books written by men. Alexandre Dumas is one of my favorite authors of all time.  But so is Jane Austen.  John Green, I think, is one of the most brilliant writers of our generation. But I also feel that way about Suzanne Collins and Kristin Cashore. And – interestingly – the covers of their very popular books are NOT gender specific:

A recent article published in The Guardian poses this thought-provoking question:  are we encouraging sexism among young adult readers?

Interesting tidbit from this article:

Almost from birth, readers are coralled [sic] into the pink and blue worlds of sparkle for girls and adventure for boys. But, as American YA author Libba Bray points out, books have no gender – titles for young adults, she argues, should have gender neutral covers. “We have to move the needle,” she says. “If you categorise [sic] books as for boys or for girls, the message is that boys don’t need to be concerned about the female experience. And vice versa.”

Wildfire cover finalI am completely guilty of this.  The cover for my young adult novel, Wildfire, features a young girl in a whirlwind of red hair.  It’s not pink. But it certainly doesn’t say, “Dude, read me now.” This is exactly what I asked of my cover designer.  I had the vision in my head long before the release date.  And she delivered exactly what I wanted.

And my readership – in my mind – is also comprised of teenage girls.

But why?

At least a handful of men have read my book.  Most of them are related to me, or linked to me in some way, and they read the book out of support for me.  Which is fantastic and I love them for it. And I certainly want my own boys to grow up and read my books someday.

And why couldn’t they?

The themes addressed within the book (racism, classism, domestic abuse) are pretty universal across genders.  In fact, when I think about it, the main character could be a boy.  And I certainly think it would work that way. But the marketing does not appeal to the male demographic.

Gendered book marketing has particular impact upon boys. Girls, as Brooklyn-based author Gayle Forman explained at Reading Matters 2013, will read across gender. But boys are often self-conscious about reading books that might be considered to be “girly”. “Why is it acceptable for a girl to enter a boy world, but not the opposite?” Forman asked.

Interesting debate, but something that goes deeper than books, I think. As usual, the book world is just illustrating what is going on in society as a whole.

But it makes me want to experiment. I wonder, if I changed the cover of Wildfire, changed the lead character to a boy, and changed nothing else, would it sell as well as the original? Or better?  Interesting thought.  Look for Wildfire part Deux, possibly coming soon to

Leave a comment


  1. Fantastic post! And very interesting.

    I think books are are primarily cross-gender are books that don’t necessarily delve so much into emotion or inner dialogue or intense relationships. I don’t believe that those type of books appeal to *most* men. There might be more appeal if the emotion or inner dialogue or intense relationships were things that they could relate to because it is a man bringing it to the table or a situation that a man might find himself in.

    I think emotions and inner dialogue and all that good jazz is primarily how women think and communicate; it is “their” language so to speak. So a book, written by a man or a woman, with those elements will appeal to women. Whereas many men would need more of a personal hook to become invested in reading a book that doesn’t appeal to their primary “language.”

  2. Great post! Nobody will ever win the battle of the sexes. There is too much fraternizing with the enemy 🙂

    • You speak the truth!

      And it’s our differences that make it fun, right? Perhaps we should stop trying to equalize and just enjoy the diversity.

      Something to think about…..thanks for that!


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