Should books be sold as gender specific?

Should books be sold as gender specific?

“What’s a good book for ten-year old girl?”

When I was a brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, I’d hear variations of that question, with age and gender specificity varying.

That always gave me pause.

It certainly wasn’t enough information.

Think back to when you were ten-years old.

Picture everybody in your class.

Would you have all liked the same book?

I didn’t think so. 😉

That means I would ask another question…

“What does she like?”

Shopper: “I don’t know. It’s for my niece.”


It was always possible to suggest a book that pretty much any kid would like…or at least, that the odds would be good.

It struck me as…odd that someone would assume that all kids of one gender and age would like the same book…or at least, that those factors should narrow the choices sufficiently.

Regular readers know that I don’t tend to identify genders here (and other inherent characteristics). I’ll admit that it sometimes makes the writing more challenging, but I don’t identify mine, my Significant Other’s, my adult kid’s, or other people’s (unless they have already).

I chose to eliminate that information from the nominees for

Give a Kid a Kindle

It’s not that I think people should be ashamed of their genders: it’s that I want people to be known for their thoughts on the internet. That’s part of what’s magic about it. 😉

What about in bookstores, though?

Should books be marketed as for “girls” or for “boys”?

There is a group in England that is arguing that they shouldn’t…and it’s gaining quite a bit of support.

Let Books Be Books

It’s an offshoot of “Let Toys Be Toys”, which also argues that toys (be they G.I. Joe or Easy Bake Oven) shouldn’t be sold as “girls’ toys” or “boys’ toys”.

I have to say, from my experience, the issue is probably less with the kids themselves picking books.

I’m sure many a boy has picked up a Beverly Cleary or a girl gotten Choose Your Own Adventure books…even though the store might have marketed them as gender specific.

I think it is more the adults buying them that make choices based on those classifications.


The Guardian article by Alison Flood

about the campaign has some nice background.

Lest you think this is just an online petition (although there is one of those), some major retailers and publishers are following it, pledging not to market or label books as for girls or for boys.

I’m sure some people think this is a silly thing to do. After all, aren’t girls and boys different? Don’t they like different things? How is this any different from “chick lit” or “men’s adventure” (I’ve worked in a bookstore that had the latter section)?

For that matter, does something like this mean we shouldn’t label books as “romance” or “science fiction”, so we don’t prejudice the people buying them?

For me, there is a very big difference between labeling a book as “for boys” and labeling one as “mystery”.

It’s that “for” part.

It isn’t saying what the book is…it is saying who should read it.

I’ll decide what I want to read, thank you very much.

I don’t want to be judged by what I read…well, okay, sometimes I might like somebody to be a tiny bit impressed, but that’s about it. 😉

I’ve certainly seen that judgement. I read books that someone might think are not targeted at me. One easy example is kids’ books. If you saw me, you’d know I wasn’t a kid…at least chronologically. 😉

I’ve consumed a lot of kids’ media as an adult.

Oh, let me give you a great story with my Significant Other (I don’t think I’ve told this one on the blog before).

We hadn’t been together that long.

My SO came out and I was watching TV.

SO: “Are you watching cartoons?”

Me: “Yeah.”

There was a pause.

SO: “Japanese cartoons?”

Me (A little more reluctantly): “Yeah.”

SO: “In Japanese?”

Me (more reluctantly): “Yeah.”

SO: “Do you speak Japanese?”

Me (sort of pouting): “No.”


It was fine (my SO absolutely did not think less of me or hold it against me), but with each answer, I could feel myself sinking deeper and deeper into the geek zone.

Now, I am a proud geek, but there was something about this where it was…yes, I’ll say “embarrassing”.


Geeks like me, back then, we had seen what we read a lot disparaged by others.

I was always happy to claim somebody who was considered to be a classic writer for the geek community.

Charles Dickens wrote a ghost story (A Christmas Carol).

The Greeks had fantasy characters all over the place.

Jack London wrote science fiction, even a post-apocalyptic tale.

I wanted to show that good writers wrote science fiction and fantasy, too.

I guess I have to agree with the name of the campaign: “Let books be books”…not labels.

What do you think? Anything wrong with marketing books for specific genders? If that’s okay, would it be okay to have a section in a store for people of a particular race? Not one that was fiction by a race, or that race’s “interests”…but labeled as for that race. If one is okay and other one isn’t, I’d be curious to know why? Did you read books where people would think they were intended for another group? Did you do it openly, or did you hide it? Feel free to tell me and my readers by commenting on this post.

Nominate a child to be given a free Kindle at Give a Kid a Kindle.


This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

7 Responses to “Should books be sold as gender specific?”

  1. Jennifer Martin Says:

    “Let books be books.” I like that! I will read anything that looks interesting to me, and woe be unto anyone that tells me what to read.I grew up reading my Dad’s hunting and fishing magazines, and Mama’s Redbook, Saturday Evening Post, and Gardening books. Also read Dad’s mystery and thriller books, along with anything else he had. (Including the ones under the mattress!) Our house was full of books, and it was as diverse as going to a library. Now I have my own house full of books. (I’ve been known to read the cereal box at breakfast.) So, I think gender specific books are NOT A good thing.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Jennifer!

      It’s funny: I’m sure my parents were big readers (and I remember being read to), but I don’t picture my parents actually reading in front of me that much. I do remember getting books at the library, but there were certainly books in our house. 🙂

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        Both of my parents were voracious readers. The house was full of books. We had a set of encyclopedias, the “Book of Knowledge” and an unabridged dictionary! Both of them belonged to different book clubs. Dad subscribed to all the outdoors type magazines and Mom to the women’s magazines like “McCalls” and “Redbook”. We got two different newspapers delivered each day. My earliest reading memories are of my dad reading the “funnies” to me along with news articles. I can still see my dad sitting at the kitchen table late at night, a cup of coffee and a cigarette beside him, reading “Outdoor Life” and “Sports Afield.” Mom propped herself up in bed and read when Dad would be watching sports on our only black and white TV. I would sometimes join her and we would both read our separate books together but in different worlds.

  2. payce2 Says:

    Well, I guess this comment will give away my gender, but your post reminded me of an incident from my childhood. I practically lived at the library, probably going a couple times a week to check out the maximum allowed five books. Once I remember the librarian telling me I wouldn’t enjoy a certain book. The title: A Boy’s Sherlock Holmes.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, payce2!

      Oh, people are certainly entitled to reveal their own genders here…I just want it to be comfortable not to do that. 🙂

      Pertinent question: did you actually get to check out the book, and did you enjoy it? Do you think that has…warped you in any way? 😉

  3. dragonhelmuk Says:

    Hi Bufo,

    I completely agree with your stance, and like the sound of this campaign. Hope some libraries and school libraries will get involved soon too, although I suspect they are more conservative than the big stores which live in the 21st century.

    It will take generations to actually rid ourselves of gender stereotypes but we might as well start trying! Unfortunately (from what I remember of sociology!) children tend to separate themselves into groups and make in-group out-group discriminations much more than adults, meaning that if there is any sexism out there they are likely to find it!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, dragonhelmuk!

      Well, that’s an interesting question. I don’t recall seeing sections in libraries being labeled as gender specific…although I do think there might have been displays from time to time which could be interpreted that way. If the books didn’t come into the library labeled as “…for girls” or “…for boys”, I don’t think libraries would have much of an issue with “marketing” them as such. I could be wrong on that, though.

      Our now adult kid had a very different idea of “belonging groups” in high school. It wasn’t so much about inherent characteristics, as I recall, but about music preferences. 🙂 I’m sure our kid might dispute my recollection (and I wouldn’t defend it), but I would say that when I was in high school, there were some definite groups based on who (or where) you were at birth.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: