Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Let Stories Be Stories

A new UK campaign makes me want to switch countries.  It’s called Let Books Be Books, which is a nice way to say “Just let people decide what they want to read without pressure from anyone else”.  Let Books Be Books is part of a larger group called Let Toys Be Toys, an organization that fights gender-stereotyped toy marketing.

This movement asks publishers to remove gender labels from books.  They don’t want to see any more pink-glitter covers with the words “For Girls Only” stamped on the front.  They’re tired of seeing book titles tell girls to steer clear of dragons and battle scenes. 

I support it based on the simple fact that when I think reading makes you a better person.  And when you limit your interests because someone else tells you that you should, you’re not living up to your potential.  What if you miss out on a story that could change your life? Every time a book is dedicated to a certain gender, I cringe and mourn the tragedy of a lost experience.

Gender-based marketing tends to reinforce a bullying culture.  Go ahead and Google “books for girls” or “books for boys” and see what you come up with.  It’s fascinating just to look at the differences in cover art, much less the titles and subject matter.  It makes me sad to think that boys might miss out on Eleanor & Park or Cinder and girls might never read Stormbreaker or The Hobbit, all because someone might say, “But that’s a girl book!”

Maybe one of the reasons men appear to be from Mars and women seem to come from Venus is because women only read books marked “Venus” and men only grab things labeled for “Mars”.  But who cares? Marketing is just a fancy way of telling people what they want.  Why not let the books speak for themselves by marketing them to the entire population? 

Imagine a world where everyone reads everything and it helps them understand the people around them better.  I’ve never thought about my writing as “for girls”, even though I haven’t written a male protagonist in about ten years. And as a reader, I will read just about anything that’s well-written.  So instead of writing a book that is only for a certain gender, why don’t we just create people readers want to hang out with? 

What do you think? Are publishers wrong to market books specifically by gender?

Michelle grew up reading a lot of books that, looking back, were definitely supposed to be for boys.  The only permanent damage has been a voracious reading appetite and a tendency to love action movies.  She blogs at Beyond the Trope on Mondays (this Wednesday post is an exception). 


  1. I don't necessarily agree that Gender-Based marketing reinforces bullying, mostly because ignorance and bigotry are what cause bullying and marketing is specifically about including the widest possible audience. From that perspective, it's in the creators' best interest to make widely-marketable products, unless they're specifically working with a niche market that statistically has a heavier audience of one genre over another. This isn't to say that these niche creators want to EXCLUDE the rest of the potential audience. In most cases, it's simply a recognition that what little resources they have available to them needs to be spent on maintaining their current audience since expanding that audience isn't always feasible. And depending on the product or audience, this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

    Now, like you, I think it's sad when people miss out on great products (of any kind) just because they're "only' for boys or girls. And this is more of a societal issue than a marketing issue. Since marketing promotes current trends rather than creating new trends (except in rare cases like fashion), it's going to take a societal shift, driven by alpha-consumers and parents (in the case of toys and books) for this change to become a reality. So for anyone reading this comment, help make that change!

    The flip side of this is that when people have a very focussed interest, it can be hard to find if all defining characteristics are removed for the sake of equality. And I'm not saying that equality should be sacrificed for the sake of money! I think there is GREAT value in what these programs are striving for. The biggest problem that could occur is that "sameness" may be the result of striving for "equality," and GENUINE equality EMBRACES our differences rather than ignoring them. And (going back to bullying) a refusal to embrace differences it what drives bullying. On a childhood level, that's not marketing, that's parenting.

    Government programs, marketing plans, equality-awarness groups: none of these can stop bullying as effectively as good parenting. In fact, I would be surprised if any of those programs have a success rate over 10%. And any of the programs that DO have a success rate over 10%, I'd almost be willing to bet money that they "worked" because of parents getting their kids involved in those programs, which is good parenting. :)

  2. I wouldn't say that gender-based marketing is the only thing that reinforces bullying -- yet it does have a hand in things. Perhaps I should have mentioned above that this particular concept came from an article in the Guardian, and I see now that I didn't explain it nearly as well as I could have :) I totally agree that in all reality, the burden of this problem falls on parents who encourage their kids to read whatever they want.

    So, maybe, marketing's goal should be to reach ALL parents, not just those who have boys or who have all girls. I tend to see it as a cycle of not-so-great things that just keep building on one another. Skipping gender-based marketing is just one of many solutions (aka building blocks to conscientious citizens).