Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday Musings - Gender and Reading - Gendered Reading

By Copyright by Fritz W. Guerin, St. Louis. [Public domain]
Gender seems to be perpetually in the air in the world of librarianship and children's literature.  I have been in this field for a while now and have worked in some different settings, but my setting of well over 10 years now has been in a school.

Over the past month or so I have been paying more attention than usual to our collection, gender and circulation.  I first started off simply with a post-it and two columns.  Each time a student would check out a book, I would mark off the column with the gender identification.  Every day the results would be similar.  The boys and girls in my school check out a similar amount of books.

I then decided to utilize the catalog software. (Anyone who knows me knows that I *love* running statistics!) I started off looking at the top ten patrons (those with the highest number of check outs) for the month, then I ran it back to the last 9 months of the school year.  The results?  Out of the top 10 patrons, 7 of them are boys.  Open the stats up to the top 50 patrons and the gender mix gets closer - 26 girls and 24 boys make up our top 50.

I have many thoughts about the why of this.  We have 4 librarians shepherding our students through their years at school.  Our early childhood librarian is a man, so one of the students first looks at what a reader looks like is Jesse.  We are very mindful about the books we share with our students, and we try incredibly hard to make sure there is a variety with characters who are diverse in all sorts of ways.  When we find stereotypes, we talk about them with the students.  We don't go in for the "Girl's Read" "Guys Read" variety of booklists or book talks.  In fact, two of my favorite anecdotes about assumptions helped make me more aware of my own gender bias after being steeped in this girls vs boys culture my whole life.  We have a boy who is a super reader, and he mostly (to my knowledge) was a reader of graphic novels.  He pretty much read everything we had for his age group by the time he was done with 4th grade.  At the end of the year, I ask the students to reflect and I ask them their favorite title.  His favorite title of all time?  The Penderwicks by Birdsall.  We also had a group of middle school boys who quietly came into the library and methodically checked out every single Clique book.  They didn't hide them, read them out in the open, and felt no shame along the way.

It's really up to the adults in the room to set the tone and fight against the pink and blue tide.  Create a reading culture, make sure you are not perpetuating the stereotype by handing boys sports books and girls friendship books.  Highlight books that get outside of the gender box.  Remember, there are no such thing as boy books and girl books, no matter what some marketing departments might say.

2 comments:

Ms. Yingling said...

I struggle with this daily as well, but have come down on the side that it is harder for boys to find books they like. We do talk about "boy books" vs. "girl books", but always come down to what the individual student wants to read. I've had boys read the Lauren Myracle Ten series, and girls who like Carl Deuker, but when students are asked what their specific requirements are, they frequently conform to gender lines. such a tough issue- as long as we talk about it and encourage diverse reading, I think we do our best job to get all students books they will enjoy.

Stacy Dillon said...

Do you think it's harder for boys to find the books they like, or do you think it's harder for them to accept books that don't look like something they've been told a boy likes (pink cover etc)? It is tough, that is for sure. We are all immersed in this culture that has been dividing us up along gender lines in every sort of way imaginable. Thanks for commenting!