Reading and the Gender Divide: Boys, Girls, and the Stereotypes Placed on Reading

Research suggesting that girls read more than boys, in part because classrooms generally include more books with female themes and protagonists, has long been filtered through the field of education. The idea of encouraging more boys to read has prompted both further research and popular websites like Jon Scieszka’s Guys Read. However, two columnists have recently argued that maybe boys enjoy reading books with female themes and heroes more than others give them credit for.

In her blog, “He Won’t Read Books About Girls,” bookstore owner Elizabeth Bluemle discusses how many boys are steered away from stories they may actually enjoy—whether it be by parent influence, peer pressure, or simply the picture of a girl on the cover of a book. Citing the story of a young boy reading Little Women in the school library she once worked at, Bluemle suggests that “a great story with fantastic characters will speak to readers across gender lines.”

Parent and scholar Hilary Rappaport echoes this idea in her article, “On the Rights of Reading and Girls and Boys,” when she notes that her philosophy in raising her sons to be readers centered more on sharing “as many wonderful stories as possible” with them, regardless of the characters' gender. Wanting to make sure they were exposed to many different books, she even set aside a summer of reading only books with great girl characters—ending in their enjoyment of many of the same books she loved.

In both articles, an underlying point is clear: Great books are simply great books, and readers will enjoy them whether they feature a boy, a girl, or an animal as the protagonist. Teachers and parents can take note and should keep exposing their kids to the best literature available—no matter what list it’s on or who’s on the cover.