Few people these days would dispute that there are many ways to be a girl or a boy – and even more ways to be a woman or a man – Sex differences in behaviour are not, for the most part, universal entities. We are more able to accept the abundant individual differences found within each sex, and the fact that the behaviours of the sexes overlap to a great degree.
Most sex differences in behaviour are influenced by specific cultural responses; in Britain such responses are largely determined by regional, ethnic and class factors. Thus a boy who has stably categorised himself as male will positively value objects and acts consistent with his gender identity within his particular social group. Some boys grow up in social groups where male gender identity is not rigidly defined but can include some of the interests and activities traditionally seen as characteristic of the opposite sex. This ‘cross-sex’ typing is known to be associated with analytic thinking, creativity and high general intelligence. (The same is true for girls who experience cross-sex typing.)
The theme of male identity crops up throughout this issue of BfK which focuses on matters to do with boys and reading. BfK 106 discussed the growing concern about the number of male ‘reluctant’ readers as compared to female. We now follow up that discussion in this issue in a practical way with an introduction by Alison Smith of Priory School in Southsea to the books that have been successful with her boy students in Years 7, 8 and 9.
Interestingly, Smith’s suggestions are mirrored by the ‘Good Reads’ selected for this issue by young reviewers from Hitchin Boys’ School. In addition, Jacqueline Wilson, cited by Smith as a writer that boys at Priory School enjoy reading despite the heroines in her titles, has been nominated Britain’s fourth most popular modern children’s writer by the Treasure Islands poll (see page 7). Writer Anthony Masters discusses how he goes out to grab reluctant readers’ attention while also expressing scepticism about whether boys actually read all those Goosebumps titles they love to collect (see Authorgraph, page 12). Meanwhile Ben Bo (see New Talent) is a newcomer whose titles are also designed to engage reluctant boy readers.
In the 1970s, a part of the campaign against gender stereotyping in children’s books was to point out that, despite girls’ greater proficiency at learning to read, there were considerably fewer female central characters in children’s books as compared to male. If male central characters in children’s books were in the minority, we activists pondered sourly, would boys’ reading skills catch up?
Now that inequalities in terms of male/female character ratios have been largely rectified, and discussion is underway to address more subtle aspects of gender difference in reading, it should not be forgotten that many young people have ‘cross-sex’ typed rather than rigid notions of gender identity. Despite our anxiety about reading skills, we must beware of trying to force them back into strongly gender-typed categories.