Jo Talks Books: On The Gender Divide In Reading

Hey everyone! As I told you guys in my last discussion post, my second post of May is going to be about the gender divide in reading, continuing the gender and gender issues theme of this month. I suppose I had realised before I started blogging that I knew more girls who were big readers than boys, but it has become even more apparent to me now that I’ve started blogging (where nearly all of the book bloggers I know are female) that there is a gender divide in reading. Even with authors (especially Young Adult ones), I know of far more female authors than I do male authors. So why is this? Well there are several reasons that have been discussed in various articles on the subject, which I am going to discuss in my post today.

There is actually a biological factor at play according to some of the studies that I have read.Boys find it more difficult to learn to read than girls do because of the differences in the male-female brain wiring. Females process reading in multiple places on both halves of the brain, whereas males only process reading on one half of the brain which actually makes it more difficult for them to learn to read. Reading also requires a lot of concentration and from my experience when I was in school, none of the boys I went to school with have the concentration to just sit and read. In fact, most of them considered me incredibly nerdy because I liked to read so much. Biologically speaking, the differences in the male and female brains mean that women are more emotion focused because they have a larger limbic system than men which means they are more in touch with their emotions whereas men are more logic focused. Researchers believe that this can explain the difference between men and women when it comes to reading, women enjoy reading for pleasure more because a good book makes you feel which appeals to our emotions, whereas men (according to studies) prefer non-fiction as they want to read things that they see as “useful” due to their more logic-focused nature.

I think there’s kind of a vicious cycle when it comes to boys reading, particularly Young Adult, because publishers are told that girls read more and so more books for girls (I say this in that they’re marketed for girls rather than necessarily just girls reading them) are published and therefore there is less for boys to read, because I feel like guys don’t want to read typically girly books whereas I don’t think there’s the same problem with girls reading “guy books”, although I can only really speak for myself here, personally I read quite a lot of books would probably be considered guy books (stuff like Percy Jackson, Skulduggery Pleasant etc). I also think that the overabundance of romance in Young Adult Fiction in particular is probably pretty off-putting to guys (though again, to be honest, I hate the overabundance of romance in YA fiction as well). Marketing I think is a big problem in getting boys to read, because I think if a story is good, anyone will be able to read and enjoy it, but if the cover of a book looks girly, I think it will be less likely to appeal to guys.

I think reading is viewed as a stereotypically feminine activity and that this may put guys off because they don’t want to be seen as feminine. Now of course I think that’s totally wrong, because reading shouldn’t be gendered. My view is that people who don’t like reading just haven’t found the right book for them yet and that reading is not a gendered thing, reading is for everyone. But I feel like that might be a reason that some guys get put off reading, because they see it as “girly” and they don’t want to be made fun of. Guys are encouraged and even expected to be active and sporty whereas girls are encouraged to be more docile and whilst this obviously doesn’t apply to every guy and every girl, it would be crazy to say that societal expectations have no impact on us, because whether we want to admit it or not, they do. Reading is not seen as “manly”, therefore fewer boys read, which means fewer books are marketed to boys, which means that boys have less choice of reading material and so therefore the circle starts again with fewer books reading. It’s the vicious circle! These social expectations, I reckon mean that boys who do like to read are not as vocal about it as the girls who like to read, so it seems like even less boys read. Reading needs to be encouraged as something for both genders and not just seen as something feminine.

I’d also say that school plays a big role in making people reluctant to read, which sounds weird, because you would think that somewhere which is geared towards education and learning would encourage people to read more, but we don’t get choose what we read at school. We are assigned books and expected to read them and be graded on what we’ve read but the books that we are assigned at school don’t appeal to everyone. Personally I wasn’t put off reading, because I was an avid bookworm all through my school years, but for kids who aren’t keen on reading (and I’m talking generally now, not just gender specific), the classic books that we are mostly assigned in school are not what they need to get them interested in reading. If we were allowed to choose what we wanted to read in school and given more contemporary books that tend to be more appealing to young people, then they may be less reluctant to read. Girls and boys also have different interests when it comes to reading and I think this should be reflected in schools, if boys were encouraged to read and allowed to read the books they are interested in, in school then perhaps the gender gap would be lesser (though there are some researchers who say that the gender gap in reading is not as large as it is perceived to be).

Obviously though, it is not true that all men are reluctant readers, same as it’s not true that all women are avid bookworms. There are avid male bookworms and there are reluctant female readers, it just seems as if the balance is skewed one way rather than the other. If there weren’t avid male readers though, there would be no male writers, since to be a writer, you are usually an reader first. It also seems as if the gender gap in reading is more pronounced at a younger age and most researchers seem to agree that this gap levels out in adulthood. In my family in fact, my dad was the one who got me into reading in the first place, he used to read the books that he read when he was younger to me when I was a kid. I think if you’re encouraged to read as a kid, whether you are a boy or a girl, then you’re probably more likely to love reading, although that’s not to say you can’t discover a love of reading when you’re an adult, it’s just that given that I’m only 19, most of the bookworms I know were avid child readers!

Overall, I reckon that the biggest cause of reluctant male readers is the same as the cause of reluctance of any gender in anything, the huge gender stereotyping that occurs in society. It’s very deep rooted and we often don’t realise that it’s happening, but gender stereotypes have a huge effect on us. In order to encourage more boys into reading, we need to stop gendering it. Reading can’t just be seen as a feminine thing. We should have more books that boys would be interested in yes, but we should also just allow everyone to read what they want, guys can read books marketed towards girls, girls can read books that are marketed towards guys. Kids should be able to have a say in what they read at school, whether they want to read classics, or romance or young adult fiction, or comic books, or manga, or non fiction, any reading is good reading and gender stereotypes have no place in reading. We should encourage kids to read period and by allowing them to read what they are interested in, hopefully less kids (boys in particular) will be reluctant to read.

So over to you. Have you ever noticed a difference in the reading habits of your male friends compared to your female friends? Do you think it’s true that girls read more than boys? What do you think causes a gender divide in reading if there is one? Let me know, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

I will have my final discussion post of the month for you, probably next week, again continuing with the gender theme, talking about whether there’s a double standard between male and female characters in YA. In the meantime however, I will have a new post for you guys soon, probably my next Top Ten Tuesday will be my next post, but since it’s the summer and I’m at home, I will hopefully have more regular posts for you than usual so stay tuned!

 

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9 thoughts on “Jo Talks Books: On The Gender Divide In Reading

  1. chapteradventures May 21, 2016 / 11:28 pm

    Incredibly interesting topic. As you said, I’ve just noticed how much of the online bookish community is formed by girls, and it’s so evident when you point it out. When I was a kid, everyone loved Harry Potter, both boys and girls. I remember the Goosebumps series also being a thing among many classmates, no gender was more interested than the other. Then the second hyped book that reached my school was Twilight, which was clearly marketed towards girls, so it was mainly girls who were reading it. I think that marked a before and after for the reading at my school, not to say the world.

    These are just my assumptions, but I guess books started being marketed towards girls more because it evidently brought a lot of revenues to the publishing companies (and later to the film industry). As gender stereotypes work in our society, sadly, reading started been seen as a girl thing, and thus rejected by boys. It saddens me to think this is true, how being a girl and doing things associated with it (erroneously of course, the gendering of things baffles me to no end) could be seen as something of ridicule and negative. I would love to see the numbers to your post, like a real study, you know?

    I’m just rambling here, I’m sorry! Great post, thanks for making me think!

    • iloveheartlandx May 22, 2016 / 10:25 am

      Thank you! I only really realized it when I started taking part in Top Ten Tuesdays and saw that all the blogs I visited were run by girls. I totally agree, when I was a kid, I don’t remember there being a marked difference between the reading habits of me and my male classmates but as a teenager, there have definitely been more hyped books directed towards girls (and you’re probably right that Twilight was the start of that trend). I know it makes me sad too, I really don’t see how gender has anything to do with reading and I hate the way that nearly everything in our society ends up being gendered. Don’t worry about it, I love it when I get long comments on posts like these, making people think is what I’m trying to do!

  2. Got My Book May 22, 2016 / 2:06 am

    I don’t disagree with your conclusions. However, in my family it’s my Dad & brothers who all read. My Mom & sisters don’t really read; so I have to talk books with the guys. Thankfully they’ll read anything, including girly books, so I can recommend all my favorites.

    • iloveheartlandx May 22, 2016 / 10:16 am

      Oh yeah, like I said, in my family, it’s my dad who reads (the only reason he doesn’t read more now is because he works), my mum rarely reads at all and my sister reads but much less than I do. That’s great that your brothers like the same books that you do!

      • Got My Book May 22, 2016 / 2:03 pm

        They don’t always like them, but they are willing to try 🙂

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