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At least once a year, probably more, a conversation starts about how boys aren’t reading, because there aren’t enough books which represent boys' interests. Let me put the complications of what kind of books represent boys interests phrasing away for a moment, as I think I’ve spent enough time deconstructing the idea of ‘boys books’ in earlier posts. The issue I want to focus on in this post is that participants in these conversations often neglect to consider the overall context of gender representation in which their conversations must take place. Their ignorance of this context, can resulting in an exclusionist focus that ignores the true shape of reality.

What is, ha, I want to say shocking, but that would be ridiculous, instead I’ll say what is troubling, is that male commentators on this issue (and let me make this absolutely clear, even though I’ve tried to qualify any reference of men in this post: I’m not talking about all men here, just men who engage in specific behaviour, this post will not apply to some men, but it will apply to others) often appear totally uninterested that there are many, many areas (large and small) where the female gender is not overwhelmingly represented. Every year the English male rugby team competes in the six nations tournament. Their matches are shown by the BBC, who control some of the main television channels in my country. The English women’s team took the Grand Slam this year as they did in 2010. They also won the Grand Slam three years running from 2006 - 2008. The Grand Slam has famously eluded the men's team since 2003. And the women’s six nation tournament is shown...where, exactly? Are male commentators so concerned about the exclusion of men from areas of literary representation rocking up to engage in conversations about the lack of representation for women? Are they fuck!

We know that when women see themselves represented in media sources, these representations are not championed by much of male society. In fact, when women are represented that representation is actively scorned, usually by men (discussions on The Orange Prize, or the encroaching feminising of sci-fi are good examples of this kind of disparagement). When women aren’t represented in media sources that lack of representation is ignored, or explained away by these same men. These men’s sole focus is on the small areas where women have made a space for their own gender and how this may exclude men, or boys. Men who engage in these conversations rarely consider that society has and continues to create vast plains of spaces for maleness, which it is even now desperately trying to keep free from female involvement.

When people start passionately proclaiming that there is a ‘boy problem’, or that boys may be underrepresented in a few areas, it is hard for many ladies to keep from rolling their eyes. It is hard for some of us to keep from questioning why men, and society in general, talk so little about the many, many, many areas where women are underrepresented, or poorly represented, or just fucking pushed to the side.

Men who engage in conversations about boys and reading will often conveniently ignore the widespread lack of representation for girls and women, then refocus the conversation on one of the few areas where boys may, may, lack representation. Add that tunnel vision approach to the way these conversation quickly spin off into women blaming and you reach a situation where some ladies need to open their mouths, because if they don’t their heads will explode. I imagine that is why Maureen Johnson felt she needed to tweet, wondering why we don’t ever talk about the WMBA, even though it caused some people to question the relevance of her contribution to the conversation. The calls come that ‘It’s not time for talking about women’s issues now, it’s time to talk about the men.’ and it feels like, well, when isn’t it time to talk about the men? Men control the dialogue on representational inequality. They decide what we’re talking about and not talking about, but unfortunately the direction of their focus is not determined by looking at what real inequalities of representation exist, but by deciding what they want to talk about. These are not conversations about gender inequality, they are conversations about men. Again.

When women want to talk about the sexual and gender inequalities perpetuated in so many areas, or take a look at how many areas of power are dominated by men, it is typical to find lots of men in the comments sections mansplaining. “What is happening is not sexist, dude, it’s just not!” Alternatively these men remain silent on these subjects, instead of offering support. It is not like we can expect these men to step outside their gender box and stand as allies when there are dudeboys to be talked about at length, forever. They simply do not have the time and it is implied that women must be ‘strong’ enough to continually create their own spaces of representation. They must continually counter slander again and again if they want to prove the worth of these spaces.

Dudes I get it, I think all the feminist and female positive women got it long ago. Ladies have to make it on their own, carve their own space for these arguments. We cannot and should not rely on the opposite gender to do so for us. If a guy asked ‘Why is there no Orange Prize for the mens?’ (y’know after cursing and rehashing years of literary inequality under my breath) I’d refer him to the official Orange position. If men want something gender specific, then they need to make it their own damn selves, and the same applies to women. I’m not asking these men to do the job for us, I’m just asking that they not make the same repetitive points over and over until I feel so damn tired that I sequester myself away from the world with books and booze, vaguely hoping that a giant tidal wave is on its way. And maybe, if it’s not too much trouble, they could listen to what women are saying instead of imposing their own agenda in our spaces.

If I put these thoughts to the kind of men who fill blog posts with derailing comments men and maybe they’d start thinking "Damn, this isn’t equality*. You’re saying it’s not acceptable for men to talk about the way the world fucks guys over in spaces given over to feminism. But then you say it’s fine to talk about how society fucks women over in spaces where the original conversation is about male equality. How the fuck does that work?” Let me explain: ours is not an equal society. Although women really are equal to men and strive for recognition of this equality, they often experience dramatically unequal treatment. Anyone throwing round ‘reverse sexism’ arguments should take a minute to ask the women around them about women’s representation. Can these women watch a sports team representing their gender without having to buy a special tv package? Can they watch a female team play their favourite sport at all? How many consecutive years have women won their favourite non-gender specific awards? How many female politicians are there in the party they support? When did they last see an Oscar nominated film that was all about the ladies**? How many all female indie bands have they heard about in the last twelve months? To sum up: Areas where women are represented more than men are rare.

In an ideal reality, we would see spaces created for discussion about a few very real inequalities that may exist for men and we would happily note the worth of these spaces, these discussions. However, because we live in less than ideal circumstances where similar discussions about the many very real inequalities that face women are systematically derailed and shut down in a mess of anti-productivity, it is hard for many women not to laugh in the face of these discussions. Women are being asked to care deeply about issues of inequality that affect men (and let us acknowledge that often we do not even agree that the issue at hand is correct) when many men could give a short, unsatisfactory fuck about issues of inequality relating to women, many of which have existed for decades.

That, thank goodness, is the end of me pounding out a series of posts about the rhetorical inequality at the heart of arguments on boys and young adult fiction. Gendered argument inequality extends past the specific points I’ve deconstructed, and responses to arguments are often based on sexist simplification, or gendered rhetorical inequality as well. For resources about that aspect of rhetorical arguments you can visit our Education Manifesto.

As much as I’ve tried to keep it tamped down this series is built on anger and I could write a lot more posts built on angry foundations. I’m not sure what use these posts are, but they do make me feel at least a little better – tired, but calmer, like all the words mobbing my brain are out of my head. Next Wednesday no angry shouting I promise. Next Wednesday, lady spies and happiness.

Let me Catch You Up: Ladies, Gentlemen, Somebody Ring the Alarm, Girls Omni-Reading,Girls, Like They're Boys, The Pointy Finger of Blame: Girls, Needs and Boys Not Reading

*Link courtesy of Ana
** Link courtesy of Renay

Date: 2011-04-20 08:48 am (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
I think they made us all feel calmer and more sane. Seriously, the more I read the more I realise that finding people being smart and sensible about this topic is a rare thing. If not for your voice and others I might have gone bonkers by now. So THANK YOU <3

Date: 2011-04-21 12:12 am (UTC)
renay: Text: I love being awesome! (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
I loved this whole series. I really think it needs to go in our 101 discussion post. ♥

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