Robert Lipsyte of The New York Times wrote an essay on Aug. 19, called “Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope?” He discussed how boys have become reluctant readers, significantly lagging behind girls for a multitude of reasons. The YA genre predominantly caters to girls, given the excess of mean girl and vampire bestsellers. Thus, boys might be under the impression that reading is not masculine, at least not compared to sports and video games. Not to mention, when boys do find an interest in reading, it’s either non-fiction or fiction with male protagonists, both of which might be hard to find for younger readers.
I can definitely relate to this essay. My 19-year-old brother hates reading, unless they’re existential novels like Fight Club or The Stranger. However, he much prefers to play guitar, video games, or Pokemon cards. And as a Literature major from UCSC, most of my classmates were women. Even the majority of people with book-related blogs are female, perhaps because the concept of a book club has been solidified as a feminine hobby, whereas men would rather join fantasy football leagues.
I also run into this problem at work. When I teach SAT prep classes, I always stress the importance of reading, and it’s usually the boys who are not so taken with the activity. I find this ironic, because while reading is depicted as feminine, writing has always been masculine. The literary canon is dominated by men, with powerhouses such as Shakespeare, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dickens, and Twain. It has taken centuries for women writers to even be considered worthy of reading, and I often feel that when men write best book lists, they throw in Austen and Wharton just to avoid claims of sexism.
Therefore, I tell my male students that there are so many books out there that they can enjoy. They can relate to Holden Caulfield’s angst in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and the tale of George and Lenny’s friendship in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. I give my classes a list of all my favorite masterpieces, but I highlight the authors by gender and ethnicity, so they can easily find a story that interests them. Of course, there are boy protagonists in popular fiction too, and I recommend series like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson to my elementary students.
I think it’s such a shame that not enough boys read, because it means that not enough men will read, and there’s nothing sexier than a guy with a good book in his hand. Men and women are all looking for someone with common interests, and the huge reading divide will leave many women disappointed–as I’m sure men are disappointed when women don’t take an interest in their hobbies.
Ultimately, though, society needs to stop classifying hobbies or fields of study exclusively by gender. Just like boys should be encouraged to read, girls should be encouraged to pursue careers in math and science. Boys can play with Barbies, and girls can skateboard and paintball. No one should be put down because they like something traditionally enjoyed by the opposite sex. If we continue to do so, we’re just widening the divide of understanding each other and perpetuating the ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ nonsense.
So do you see this disconnect between male and female readers? Are there any other reasons to explain this phenomenon? And you guys out there, let your voice be heard and stand up as a proud, not reluctant, reader!