'Gove's new curriculum: Dangerous Book for Boys', so read a headline on the front of The Sunday Times a couple of weeks ago. Nice sound bite, but the underlying sexism of the Secretary of Education's remark made me shudder. I leaf on through the paper to find a fresh faced young man in shorts - Gareth Malone - who has a new TV series designed to get boys to read. No mention of getting girls to read, but a quick perusal of the article shows that won't be necessary because girls like nothing more than to be sitting down reading a book, while boys are 'restless and won't want to sit down as much as girls,' according to Professor Stephen Scott of King's College, London. Now, I'm all for schemes for getting children to read, and read more, but was struck by the irony that Michael Rosen, when he was Children's Laureate, also had a series on BBC 4, called Just Read, where he transformed the reading culture of a school in Cardiff and sparked the Just Read Campaign, but it would never have occurred to Michael to work with just the boys. For him, it was, and is, supremely important for ALL children to read, regardless of gender.
I find this renewed emphasis on gender alarming. It seems to be a reaction to a perceived gap in attainment. Boys are falling behind and this is a reason for a full blown moral panic. No-one thinks to congratulate girls for their levels of attainment, for actually gaining parity and pulling ahead for the first time in history. The thinking seems to be, girls are OK because they like sitting down and learning stuff, but boys have to be taught differently because they are restless creatures who can't sit down, etc. etc. - was this true of Michel Gove himself, one wonders? Or of David Cameron and George Osborne and the rest of their cohort at Eton? Or the Miliband brothers at Haverstock Comprehensive School? Hmm, probably not. I bet they were all busy learning their lessons and sitting still as still.
The thing is, I don't like genderisation. Never have. I don't like it in education and I don't like it in books. I don't like the classification of books into girls' books and boys' books. It seems to me to be every bit as pernicious as age ranging. It also means I get classified as a writer, which I don't like, either. Over the last few years, I've noted a marked increase in questions like: 'Why do you always write books for girls?' The answer is: I don't. Even if the main character is a girl, it doesn't mean that the book is specifically for girls. I write for everyone, anyone. I don't discriminate along the lines of age or gender. I'm like Philip Pullman's storyteller in the market place. There for whoever wants to stop and listen. The riposte is often: 'Why do you have girls on the cover, then?' Again, why not? 'Because boys won't read it, stupid!' Really? There's a girl on the cover of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and sales figures would suggest that men are reading that book.
I've got news - from the same newspaper. Men and women are not wired differently. Their brains are the same. All these supposed 'differences' are created by social conditioning and environment. There is no Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus divide. So no more girls are from Planet Pink, Boys from Planet Zarg. Genderisation in literature coarsens the appetite while restricting the fare on offer. Maybe it's time for Children's Books to ditch genderisation and grow up.