Gender in YA

Despite the criticism of weak female characters in recent books like Twilight, young adult literature features an abundance of strong girl characters written by women. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I’m drawn to the genre (is it a genre? a medium, maybe?). Besides maybe pop music, most other forms of popular culture are still dominated by men, especially as content creators. A New York Times piece from December pointed out that only 10% of movies released in 2009 were directed by women, while the Hollywood Writer’s Report reports that men outnumber women 2 to 1 in television writing and nearly 3 to 1 in film writing. Even in “adult” literature, Publisher’s Weekly caused a stir last year by not including a single female author on their best books list.

So I think it’s great that YA literature is a place people, and teens especially, can find a host of female protagonists and books created by successful women. But I was curious to see what the numbers looked like — perhaps my perception of the landscape was skewed by my particular reading choices. It was difficult to find a manageable dataset — I originally wanted to look at all YA books published in 2009 — but I settled on the list of fiction nominations for the ALA’s 2010 Best Books for Young Adults. This worked out to 185 books that I marked with the gender of the main character and the gender of the author. Here are the stats from the list:

  • 69% written by women, 30% written by men, 1% co-authored by men and women
  • 10% had both female and male protagonists (almost evenly split between male and female authors)
  • 54% had female protagonists (almost 90% of which were written by female authors)
  • 32% had male protagonists (56% of which were written by male authors)
  • There were 7 books where I was unable to determine the protagonist’s gender

It’s pretty clear that the majority of the well-regarded books from 2009 were written by women and feature a female point-of-view. While this is great for women and providing role models for teen girls, it does raise a few issues. One is that it excludes boys and the male perspective. Yes, this is a problem with YA literature, and we need continue to support the strong books that do get published and get them into the hands of readers. (See Guys Lit Wire and Guys Read). Another issue, which was brought up in the recent Huffington Post article, is that this female-dominated environment breeds a culture of niceness that could ultimately stagnate its growth. I don’t really think this is the case and other bloggers have already made great rebuttals to the argument.

What are your thoughts on gender in YA?

1 thought on “Gender in YA”

  1. Without reading all the aritcles you’ve linked to (because i’m supposed to be cleaning) one of the problems I have with “numbers by gender” is (and I acknowledge I’m speaking very broadly here) is women are damned either way. The response to H’wood & PW tend to be creator related so “if women were doing it right they’d be on the list” where for YA, its reader focused so its not “hey women are doing it right” but “oh no think of the male reader.”

    So, sigh, even when women do succeed — it’s subject to criticism!! Women cannot win for trying.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *