Although I’ve spent most of my time highlighting the under-representation of men in the world of children’s literature on this blog, I’ve occasionally focussed on instances where the imbalance runs the other way. This morning I found out about another of those instances; it seems that only one of the sixteen children’s and YA authors appearing at this year’s Swindon Youth Festival of Literature’s author line-up is a woman.
You might think that – after all the fuss I’ve made about the under-representation of men – I’d be happy to see men being over-represented in this instance. I am not. As my mother often told me, “two wrongs do not make a right”. As someone that has spent the last three years campaigning for more GENDER BALANCE in the world of children's literature, I’m no more happy to see women under-represented than I am to see men.
I’m not aware of any hard data for this, but a couple of authors have told me that there is also a strong pro-male imbalance in author school visit bookings. Apparently schools sometimes justify this imbalance by saying that they have a particular problem with reluctant boy readers and so they tend to book male authors to compensate for the lack of adult male reader-role-models among school staff. A similar justification might be given for the dominance of male authors in the Swindon Festival programme.
The problem here is that we are attempting to counter the knock on-effect of one gender-imbalance by creating a second imbalance, when it would be far better to tackle the problem at source. UCAS head Mary Curnock Cook has been calling for years for positive action to address the lack of male teachers within UK schools. Earlier this year she commented that there has been a “deafening policy silence” in response to such calls. There are plenty of great initiatives (like the one featured in this video) to encourage girls into male-typical careers – why are there so few initiatives to encourage boys to become primary teachers, librarians, nurses or even stay-at-home-dads?
If we want to close the gender gaps in children’s reading for pleasure and children’s literacy, we need to make far more effort to encourage gender balance across the whole world of children’s literature, regardless of which gender is under-represented.
So come on Swindon Festival, let’s have an author line-up that reflects your intended audience next year!