Last week, The Atlantic published an article called Why Do Female Authors Dominate Young-Adult Fiction? The article itself isn't problematic, at least to me. But the title really bugs me. Even if it was just a ploy to get more readers, it's a sentiment I've heard before, over and over and over. Female authors dominate YA. They are taking control, and this must be discussed! Why don't more men write YA? Why don't more boys read YA? This is a flaw in the genre, and it must be fixed!
I'm a woman, and I want to write YA. It's the genre I read when I was a teenager, and it's still one of my favorite genres now (the other being straight-up fantasy). I gravitate towards it for many reasons -- the huge variety, the way that it blurs and combines genres -- but the main reason, I think, is that it's a girls' world. If I pick up any book on the YA shelves, there's a high chance that female characters will play a significant role in the story. They will, most likely, be the protagonist. Although there are plenty of really problematic YA novels, it's unlikely that the female characters will be prizes for the main male characters or collections of negative stereotypes. They are (usually) the center of their own stories. They go on adventures. They struggle with life. They feel things and they learn things.
And, sure, they occasionally enter into really problematic relationships, and that frustrates me and upsets me greatly. But that's a topic for another day.
Compare all this to the statistics mentioned in the Atlantic article. According to the article, in the realms of literary fiction, less than 25% of books are written by women. The books that are reviewed in major publications, the books that win literary accolades and are considered the "great" books of our age, are mostly written by men. Literature, with a capital L, is a man's domain. Women get shoved into the "chick lit" section instead. And in adult genre fiction... well, there are no statistics available in the article, but a similar NPR survey of "best sci-fi and fantasy" novels had its first female author in 20th position... and that author has been dead for 150 years. The entire list of 100 books only features 15 by women... and only 5 in the top 50.
But no one really cares about teenage girl fiction. It's not a prestigious field. I mean, teenage girls... silly things with no taste, right? So as the genre developed over the last couple of decades, female authors, and female readers, gravitated towards it. It's read not only by teenagers but by adult women, because this is a genre where female writers and female characters are prominent, in fantasy, science-fiction, contemporary, mystery, paranormal, any story type you like. And as it's not "serious literature," they're free to "dominate" the genre (or make up 63% of favorite books, according to NPR... which isn't really domination at all).
But of course, as the genre becomes more and more popular and more and more lucrative, more and more people question why things are this way. Not why a huge chunk of new female authors choose to write in this genre and not others. But why so many women write this genre, instead of men. Where is the space for male authors? Where are the books for male readers?
The answer, of course, is simple: the rest of the bookstore. Female authors and readers gravitated to YA, and made it such an enjoyable, thriving genre, partly because the rest of the bookstore has little space for their presence, voice or interests. And the solution to this problem isn't opening up more space in YA for male writers and readers. It's opening up the rest of the bookstore to women too.