Now imagine someone had told me that book wasn't meant for me. "That's a book for men," they might have said. "You won't like it."
I like to think I would have told them to stick their gender preconceptions somewhere uncomfortable and read the book regardless. But what if I'd been less confident in my tastes and more swayed by the opinions of others? What if the person who said it to me was someone I should respect and listen to? What then? I might have put the book down and read something else...something safe and expected. And I would have missed out on the fabulous story and great writing. I would have missed that experience.
Now onto a less hypothetical situation. I had an enquiry about a school visit recently. It didn't come directly from a school but via a third party (who shall remain anonymous) and they wanted to know if I was free to visit a school. 'Sure,' I said, and gave some possible dates. A few days passed and I heard back from the very embarrassed third party: the school didn't want me. They wanted an author who was more suitable for boys.
I don't consider either myself or my writing to be unsuitable for boys. The Stunt Bunny series (featuring a female rabbit and her female owner) are popular with boys and girls. My events are (all modesty aside) a smash hit with boys and girls - they love hearing about my (girl) rabbits and the inspiration behind the Completely Cassidy books (my Powerpoint involves photos of my female dog and my daughter). My events are interactive - the kids get up and help me to tell the stories behind my books: they hula-hoop and plate spin and pretend to be rabbits and spiders and out-of-breath authors. And let me tell you, the boys are just as keen as the girls. Blimey, are they keen.
Occasionally, I get asked (usually by a boy) whether I will write a book with a male main character so that they can read it. I always feel sorry for the asker of this question, mostly because they are about to get something they probably didn't expect: a fiery lecture about how books are simply BOOKS, not gender-specific. I try to rein it in a bit - it's not the asker's fault, after all. Kids have always been taught that there are books for girls and books for boys. Thankfully, this is changing but it's definitely still a thing. I know girls will read books with boy MCs more readily than boys will read about girls but I think it's more because people tell boys they won't like books that feature girls. Several authors have told me stories about experiences similar to mine with the school booking (and there were worse stories too) so I know it's not an isolated experience. And I'm not bleating about a lost booking or missed income - I'm sad for the kids at that school. I'm worried that they are missing out on lots of fabulous books because some of the adults around them still think there are books for boys and books for girls. If books allow us to slip into someone else's shoes for a short time, what kind of message does that send - that it's OK for girls to pretend to be boys but heaven forfend boys should pretend to be girls?
When the fabulous Mary Hoffman heard what had happened to me, she said in my situation she would get a t-shirt made up that read 'Unsuitable for Boys'. So I've done exactly that and look forward to wearing it at every available opportunity. And then people will ask me about it. I can't wait to tell them what it means.