Gender, Gender, Everywhere

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock recently, you’ll know that here at Hot Key Towers we’ve been wildly celebrating the fantastic news that Sally Gardner’s MAGGOT MOON has just won the Costa Children’s Book Award. There’s obviously been lots of press about the awards recently, and one of the key things people have been talking about is that for the first time ever, all of the winners are women.

This got me thinking a bit. Would we all have been quite so surprised (even if it is nice surprise) if all the winners had been men? Why is an award’s list dominated by women so newsworthy? There is a general assumption  that Children’s and YA fiction authors tend to be female, but a) I’m not sure that’s really true, and b) if you were to look at the statistics relating to the gender of prize-winning Children’s and YA authors you certainly wouldn’t think so.

A lot of the credit for this blog should go to this Lady Business blog – they’ve done an amazing round-up of all the stats surrounding the main Children’s and YA prizes, and looked at the proportion of male, female and male & female protagonists in prize-winning books, and the proportion of male and female authors who won.

Surprisingly for an industry apparently ‘dominated’ by women, female authors won 56% of the awards looked at, compared to male author’s winning 42% of the time. If women really do dominate Children’s and YA fiction, wouldn’t we expect them to be winning significantly more awards for it?

Male vs Female Authors

When it comes to prize-winning protagonists, the boys clearly lead. 49% of prize-winning books have a male protagonist, compared to female protagonists (36%) and male & female protagonists (15%).

Male vs Female Protagonists

This is a bit alarming to me, but – Strident Feminist and graduate of an MA in Gender Studies though I may be – ultimately I suppose, I have to ask myself whether these gender divides really matter to the people that matter – i.e. the children and young adults reading the books. People are always saying ‘ooh boys won’t read books with female protagonists’ – but can you really say the success of something like THE HUNGER GAMES is down to only girls buying it? Similarly, Hermione Granger was recently voted ‘Best Film Role Model’ (OK, OK, it’s for FILMS but it’s based on a book people) in a poll voted for by children and teens – Harry himself didn’t even make it into the top ten.

Hunger Games

So what do you think? Should we be trying to increase the presence of girls (and women) in prize-winning fiction (heck, fiction more generally) or does it not matter? Also were your favourite characters growing up usually boys or girls – and did you care? Let us know!

All credit to Sara O’Connor, the Lady Business blog and this very interesting article in Publishers’ Weekly for sparking off this debate in my head!

2 responses to “Gender, Gender, Everywhere

  1. I hadn’t thought about it but my two favourite characters growing up were Dahl’s Matilda and Lyra from His Dark Materials. So female characters written by men was apparently the key to my early reading!

  2. Very interesting. I have to admit, my favorite books growing up were The Hardy Boys, and for whatever reason Nancy Drew didn’t pique my interest nearly as much (though I did read several of them and feel I gave them a sold try). Perhaps it was because there were more fist-fights in The Hardy Boys and that’s the kind of mystery-solving I was looking for.

    I read a lot more now than I ever did as a kid. The public library in my city let’s me keep track of the books I’ve borrowed and I just took a second to look back at the last 50 books I read: about 70% (if not a little more) of them were stories with male protagonists. That said, most had very strong supporting characters that were female – but the main characters were male.

    I don’t consciously pick books with male protagonists, so I can’t help but wonder why it is that I seem to be drawn to such books. If I’m being honest, when I get a book out of the library about 80% of my decision is based on how much I like the cover. Sad, right? I know! I even try not to do that, but I just can’t help it. I am a bit more cautious when I actually buy a book.

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