Friday, January 20, 2006

Paternal Patronage

I often get complaints that there aren't enough books for boys in the teen section. To a certain extent, this is a consequence of girls reading more than boys (and ends up being a contributing factor to that as well), but that isn't the only reason, or even the main one. If it was, the young readers section would look remarkably similar - but it doesn't. The teen section has more books for girls because parents are more protective of their daughters, not just because their daughters read more.

Parents care about what's inside the books their kids read, as they should. They'll sometimes ask "Is it too violent?" when they are helping their sons pick out books, but rarely once they are past elementary school. They'll often ask "Does it know..." or some variation thereof when overseeing their daughter's choices, and they ask this more and more often as their daughter grows older. When I suggest an adult novel for a boy, they'll ask "what's it about?" When I suggest one for a girl they'll ask "is it appropriate?" Parents ask these questions, then complain about the lack of choices for boys in the teen section, and can't ever manage to connect the dots.

I can't keep track of the number of times I've had to reassure parents that no, the book their daughter picked up does not have any actual sex scenes in it - that would bump it up into adult fiction. It's rarely clear if it's the actual act they are worried about, or sexual desire in general, or something else. They almost always dance around the question, and I'm never quite sure what to say. "Do Libba Bray's novels have seduction in them? " Well, of a sort, but there's no actual sex. There's barely even a kiss. "Does Tithe, you know, have that kind of stuff in it?" One of the best parts about Holly Black's books are that they are honest about girl's sexual desire, but not much actually happens.

What gets me isn't that parents are worried about this, it's how worried they are about it, and what they seem to be really worried about. The daughters in question aren't always dressed as modestly as their parents seem to think their minds should be. We don't get complaints about the copies of Bop or Teen People or Cosmo Girl that are in their daughter's hands (or that we don't have any magazines just for teenage boys). They don't even seem particularly worried if the books their daughter is reading are always about romantic relationships.

Parents say that it's sex itself they are worried about. It seems to me they are simply afraid to admit that their daughters have sexual desires. Even worse, they have an easier time accepting their daughter's decision to pander to the sexual desires of others than they do acknowledging the fact that their daughters have desires of their own.

No comments: