That would be “Bitchy Literary Criticism”. John & I were having a conversation about good books and the concept of “strong female characters”, as a reason I might want to explore the Sabriel series. My response was that I had been recommended Miyazaki’s manga/movies for the same reason, that the author writes “strong female characters”, and that I had not found this to be the case. After a brief scuffle when I confused Miyazaki for Murasaki, we began to discuss what this phrase might mean.
In the midst of the conversation, and for sometime after, I felt like the typical feminist stereotype: bitter, argumentative, and seeing specters of the patriarchy where there were none. Hence “Bit Lit Crit”. But I honestly do see them: I see a major difference between books intended for boys and books intended for girls (the same is true of movies). Books that are intended for children of ostensibly neutral gender often are the same as books intended for boys. Being a reading male is the “norm”, leaving girls who like books left with “girl books” or imagining themselves as the main (male) character of “boy books”.
The general format for a “girl book” involves the main character breaking away from the role her parents try impose upon her and “finding herself” in the arms of the first man she encounters. Sometimes it’s not the first man, it’s the one who saves her from the first man. Safely now the property of someone besides her parents, she lives happily, if not fulfillingly, ever after.
The general format for a “boy book” involves the main character breaking away from the role his parents try to impose upon him and finding himself by discovering what he really wants from life and achieving it. There is often a show down, and content with his individuality, he lives happily ever after.
Books with female main characters often feature a love story very prominently, as if a female character is never complete without a companion. Books with male main characters often feature a fight, as if a male character cannot prove his strength without besting someone else.
There are, obviously, exceptions to these rules, but I have found that these are the major themes underlying determining who the audience is for a particular children’s or young adult book. And again, the “boy book” is often the “universal book”—a book that is enjoyed by members of both genders.
I love reading, I always have, and when I was growing up I (and my closest older sister) read mostly “universal/boy” books. Occasionally I would accidentally pick up a “girl book” and realize that I had no interest in it. Years later, I’m still reading “universal/boy” books, but do occasionally come across one that breaks the mold. Those shine brightly in the starry canopy of books I’ve read. But they’re too brief and too few.