[Although the article that I reference in this post is from 2013, I think that the issues in it are still very relevant.]
In the article What Does it Mean that Most Children’s Books Are Still About White Boys?, Soraya Chemaly brings light to unequal presence of gender in children’s books. The intriguing statistics mentioned in the article point to a startling lack of female protagonists. It’s commonly discussed that boys are lacking books to read, or at least books that appeal to them. This article flips that perspective and shows that the problem might be boys’ lack of acceptance of female characters. Not that they necessarily inherently dislike reading about females, but society teaches them that they should. Chemaly says, “Children’s ability to cross-gender empathize is a one-way street—girls have to do it and boys learn not to.” She references an instance when her daughter had to explain what sexism was to a male classmate in third grade. Her daughter’s classmate didn’t want to read a book because the cover featured a woman. She responded, “You should read girl books, too. Not reading them just because they’re about girls is sexist.” Chemaly’s daughter’s response rings clear and true. If this is how boys are learning how to judge books, there’s a deep problem with what they are being taught.
This is especially important to think about when marketing children’s books. Is it the marketing team’s job to make a book appeal to both boys and girls? Or is this a societal issue that needs to be fixed on a fundamental level? This should be everyone’s burden to take on. It’s not as simple as publishing more books about girls, although that would be helpful. As a society, there needs to be a point where parents teach children that they can read about either gender and find it enjoyable (specifically for boys reading about girls). On the marketing side, it’s challenging because the audience is often required to be limited. It’s hard to say that a book featuring a princess in a sparkly dress should be marketed towards boys because boys are not included in the all-important target audience. Fiscally, it is a waste of time to market a book to those who will probably not read it. Therefore, this issue would be better handled by parents, educators, and librarians. If it becomes a more acceptable societal norm that both boys and girls somewhat equally enjoy stories about princesses in sparkly dresses, it would be easier to say that boys are a part of the target audience for those books.
The issue of gender presence in books gets even trickier with feminist texts for children and teens. Obviously, with a society filled with books about white male characters, there’s a need for strong females in children’s literature. But how do you teach boys about feminism when society is so firmly grounded in a masculine, patriarchal society? It’s important to think about, as a parent or teacher especially, because a fundamental knowledge of feminism early on could lead to greater cross-gender understanding in the future. By giving boys a book to read with a strong female protagonist, it’s teaching them that women are just as capable as men are. Maybe a straightforward book that defines feminism would even be beneficial to young boys (and girls). More feminist texts should be published in addition to teaching boys why it’s important to learn about. The first step to gaining gender equality is to start with the younger generations. Children’s books aren’t just entertaining texts, but learning tools for morals and values for the future.