Monday, February 25, 2013

Thoughts | Books for boys, books for girls

I don't remember where I first read about The Monstrumologist, but I clearly remember the major critique the reviewer had against the book: its complete and total lack of female characters. The general details of the book faded from my memory, but that one notion that a book could have absolutely no relevant female characters intrigued me somewhat. And so I kept that idea in mind as I finally delved down to read the book as a sort of mind-wiping distraction.

It's a relatively good assessment of the book, and an accurate indicator of its target audience. The Monstrumologist is a boy's book through and through, whether because of its clear tendency towards all things gory, or because of its masculine approach to hunting monsters, or even simply because of that one factoid someone mentioned years ago: there is not a single female character throughout The Monstrumologist. No romantic interest, no token female... nothing. And it's not even that the cast of characters is necessarily so small. It's just that every single character happens to be male, and happens to behave in what we traditionally label as a masculine behavior.

Then I got to wondering: how much should this actually influence the book itself? Is the book necessarily weaker for the fact that it has no female characters? I think it isn't. The characters are all of a certain cut. There's the insane monster hunter, the out-of-touch doctor, the revenge-thirsty teenager, the skeptic policeman... The characters themselves are fairly routine, and truthfully, adjusting the gender of one of them would have been significantly worse than the fact that there were no women overall. True, this indicates some kind of weakness in Yancey's ability to write well-rounded characters as a whole, but there's nothing inherently sexist about it. I didn't get the vibe that Yancey didn't want to write about girls for some defined reason, rather that he had a specific "boy's tale" in mind. Is that so terribly wrong?

I'm split. On the one hand, I know that young men read significantly less than young women, and that books are very rarely marketed exclusively for guys. On the other hand... how can a book so completely lack characters of the opposite gender? But now I'm realizing that this isn't just in "boys books". Often, the only male characters in books for young women is the romantic interest. How is that better? When you start looking at it, young adult books are often split along gender lines. It's... strange. And extremely problematic.

I've had months to think about this, and really... I've reached no conclusions. It bothers me that a book could be so utterly limited in its characterizations, but if those are the characterizations that make the book better, I really can't fault the author. The Monstrumologist overall isn't much more than mediocre (for reasons well beyond gender imbalances), but its clear boy-focus is inherently tied to its story. Something else probably would have rang false. So... thoughts?

2 comments:

  1. What's wrong with a book having no female characters? I'm a girl and I am in no way offended that there are books without any women in it.

    In fact, I think they make a fresh change to the standard story lines. I haven't read The Monstrumologist, so I cannot comment on how well it has been written, but I'm sure that it certainly wouldn't be the same book if there were female characters forcefully added to it just so others wouldn't be offended.

    In fact, I am beyond bored with the forced romances that are placed in today's books. There's angst everywhere, many arguments between the two lovers, perhaps even a separation, before they realize that they were meant for each other and fall into each others arms on a falling sunset. - Lame. Sick of it. Predictable.

    I think that books should be allowed to be different and that readers need to start reading them with an open mind. The true purpose of a book isn't to please a reader, it's to send a message to the reader - regardless of what the message is. Many people today feel offended when they read a book that isn't up to their 'standards', as if they were professional critics who specialize in precisely that genre and have an avid understanding of both character development and narration. They don't.

    If we allow books to develop into works that are created only to please an audience and make money, then they will be no different than any other television show or reality series.

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  2. I agree with your last paragraph. Ultimately, who does a writer write for? Do you tell a story the way you feel it should be told or try to write a story where no one is offended? Sexism still exists, but it bothers me that some see it (or seek it) where it doesn't necessarily exist.

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