Earlier this week, author Maureen Johnson tweeted, “I do wish I had a dime for every email I get that says, ‘Please put a non-girly cover on your book so I can read it. – signed, A Guy.” She then challenged her twitter followers to “Redesign book covers by Literary Dudes,” telling them to “Imagine [the books] have been reclassified as by and for women.”
The results put bouquets of flowers and heart-shaped hands on the covers of books written by male authors and changed several of the authors’ names to ones commonly associated with women (i.e., Jonathan became Jane Franzen).
This challenge highlights the problem of gender-based marketing in books. The publishing industry, however, only reflects and reinforces the real source of the problem: consumers. We are the ones who accept that a bouquet of flowers is feminine and therefore tied to Jane, not Jonathan. We are the ones who assign a value to it.
Do we ever stop to wonder what’s so feminine about a bouquet of flowers? For the record, despite his Y chromosome, my husband enjoys cut flowers more than I do.
Even if flowers were somehow feminine, why would a guy avoid such an image on a cover? Why would he perceive a book with such a cover to be unworthy of his attention?
The problem starts at home, reinforced by the books we read to our children. Many parents perceive children’s books as being either “for boys” or “for girls,” which is particularly problematic because the books we read as children help shape who we become as adults.
The answer, however, isn’t to remove pink from the illustrations of so-called “girly” books. Fancy Nancy, a precocious child with a love of vocabulary and all things fancy, shouldn’t become “Alphabet and Action Adam” to encourage boys to read it. Rather, boys should read Fancy Nancy just the way she is, frills and all. Pink is for everyone (I think Pinkalicious said that).
My five-year-old twin daughters enjoy Fancy Nancy as much as Batman. In preschool, M.’s male peers call her “one of the boys” because she plays superheroes with them. She accepts it as a compliment, and I wonder whether any of the boys would think it’s a compliment to be called “one of the girls.” As far as I know, few boys participate in the games commonly associated with girls — perhaps they need to read more Fancy Nancy.
If boys had better access to Fancy Nancy and similar books at home, maybe they wouldn’t grow up to avoid books with flowers or young women on the cover. Maybe they wouldn’t grow up with the perception that anything associated with women is of lower quality. Maybe they would grow up to respect women more.
Unfortunately, it boils down to adults: We can’t expect parents to read books with flowers on the cover to their sons if they won’t even read those books themselves.