Monday, November 10, 2014

Sorry Stereotypes in YA Fiction

Hi all! This is a column I wrote last month for my school's newspaper. I hope it makes you think!

A beautiful teenage girl is looking off into the distance.  She might be floating in water or wearing a ballgown. Her eyes are bright and her cheekbones prominent.  Remind you of anything?  Maybe just about every Young Adult book cover ever?  Wait.  Let me amend that.  The cover of every YA book written by a woman.  
When I was in elementary school, checking out every sci-fi book in the library, I used to ask the librarian about “the creepy girls on the covers.”  I couldn’t understand why there had to be basically the same image on every book.  Lately I’ve been thinking again about the role gender plays in books and their covers.  Books written by women, or with female main characters, tend to be deemed “girl books” or “chick lit.”  Books written by men, with male main characters, are less likely to be so easily labeled, but if they’re violent or especially adventuresome, these too become “boy books.”  

Are there really such things as books that can only be enjoyed by one gender?  Of course not.  Anyone can read a “boy book” or “girl book” and love it, regardless of whether they’re the gender of the main character.  Most books don’t have much in them that’s inherently geared towards one type of person.  Why would they?  Author want their ideas to be accessible to all readers.  So where does this sense of books specifically for certain genders come from?  The covers.  Especially in the science fiction or supernatural genres, YA book covers rarely seem to break out of the mold of gender stereotyping and tired cover design that publishers often slap on books.  Covers of books with female authors inevitably feature the aforementioned ethereal girl and a cute, feminine font.  Books authored by a man tend to escape stereotypical covers and receive a more simplistic design, often involving a nature scene or some kind of slicing, dramatic lettering.  An experiment proposed by author Maureen Johnson on her Twitter involved “coverflipping” popular teen books–imagining that the book’s author was the opposite gender or genderqueer, and changing the covers accordingly.  As expected, the now-female authors covers are more “girly” and less intelligent, while covers of male authored books become more simplified and graphic.  The thing is, book covers don’t always mirror the theme of a book (although maybe they should).  Gendered book covers don’t mean much about the actual plot– just a reflection of the insulting way publishers view teenage demographics and a sorry example of stereotypes that are still perpetuated today.  
*Check out a few coverflipping examples, above, or google "coverflip challenge" to find out more.*
Covers are the main way that we get an impression of a book, whether we’re buying it or just checking it out of the library.  And oftentimes book covers decide for the prospective reader whether they can read the book–whether their gender is “supposed to” or not.  But we know male and female authors to be capable of writing books that are beloved by all genders–it’s happened before (TFIOS, anyone?)–so why aren’t book covers more inclusive to all readers?  We deserve books that don’t exclude certain people from enjoying them.  Gender varies from person to person, but books should be for everyone.  


  1. I completely agree with you! I had experiences when I was freaking out a bit because of a cover and people would automatically say I am shallow or that books don't matter to me but what they don't understand is how big of a message can a cover leave

  2. I was reading your blog with a hope that finally I got the perfect blog which I was finding for long time. But it made me sad when I saw your last writing was posted almost a year ago. Don't you have a plan to write anymore in the blog?
    Mashaekh Hassan.
    A 16 years old boy from Bangladesh. Hope to get more reviews from you and I also want you to visit my blog and tell me how it was. -