Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Problem with Pink

Bags or shoes? Well? Which one do you prefer? And should you feel demeaned by the question?

Meg Rosoff has been sounding off on her blog about the Queen of Teen award - admittedly in a qualified fashion. Yes, she says, many of the books featured in the award are excellent and worthy and it’s great that there is an award honouring them. But why, she asks, must the award's website be so pink and glittery and determinedly trivial. She’s particularly upset by the Bags or Shoes question which was part of a questionnaire answered by last year’s winner Louise Rennison. ‘Why is so much marketing to girls swaddled in sparkly pink and demeaning language?’ she asks.

The comments that follow are well worth reading. Emily Gale makes the point that pink glittery covers are a marketing decision, the books themselves often turn out to be hard-hitting and feistier than one would expect. Anthony McGowan thinks that romances - including Jane Austen’s - shrivel the soul of the reader because they suggest that girls are only fulfilled by snogging/marriage - he suggests that Robert Muchamore is more of a feminist than most teen chicklit writers. The Queen of Teen contest organisers say the pink packaging is a shortcut to instantly engage their target readership - and it works, viz the 10,000 votes received last year.

So, how demeaning is that Bags or Shoes question? In a culture which makes a fuss over the Prime Minister’s answer to the searching question ‘What is your favourite biscuit?’ I can’t get too worked up about it. Surely what matters is the answer, not the question. Authors are free to talk about their walking boots, their laptop bags, their running shoes – they might even discuss the symbolically womb-like space of the bag, against the phallic quality of the high heel (Feminist art theory again….)

My daughter is 13 and slap bang in the middle of the Queen of Teen demographic. What does she think of pink covers and marketing, I asked. Does she feel they demean young readers? Well, she said, when you see a pink cover you do think it’s probably a book aimed at girls, you expect a romantic comedy. But you don’t just pick a book because it’s pink and glitzy. You read the title, you read the blurb. You look at the image on the cover.
‘Pink books aren’t a problem for girls,’ she said. ‘They just mean we have more choice. we know that all sorts of books have pink covers. They’re only a problem for boys - because they mean boys have less choice than girls.’


  1. Interesting topic. Even though I like the color pink, I've often avoided it because it seems to imply girliness. They used to laugh at me at the library when I wouldn't use the pink paper that came in our multicolor package for printing awards. I said it wouldn't be fair to use it because we weren't going to put a boy's name on the pink paper so it was wrong to assume that a girl wouldn't mind the pink paper for her award. Probably I overthought this, but pink is a loaded color.

  2. Keren, you've beaten me to it on the blog post - and I'm glad you have, because your daughters thoughts on the matter are really interesting and I'm still mulling over my thoughts on this...it feels loaded for me because I'm the owner of a VERY pink cover, which as you know has lead lots of people to believe that the contents are fluffier than they actually are. It's nice when the book has pleasantly surprised people, but it makes me wonder a couple of things: how many people wouldn't touch it with a barge-pole because of the cover? but also, did the pink cover help loads more copies get shifted in the first place? I've never been pink/girly; on the other hand I do like a bit of glitter and Jane Austen, and I won't apologise for that, as if romance or glamour are innately BAD things. I really like your point about it being HOW the authors answer the bag/shoes question that could be key.

  3. Your very last point says it all for me, Keren: There'll never be a King of Teen award.

    I know teenage boys who read are supposed to be rarer than a girl at a football match, but is it any wonder when books for their age group are so relentlessly pink?

    I'm going to wear my pink socks today in defiance.

  4. Both husband and son (rugby playing blokes of blokiness) will wear pink but neither of them would read a book with a pink cover. Then again, neither would I until I read Fiona Dunbar's Silk Sisters trilogy. I confess, I was a pink snob - shall make a point of buying Emily's book and of saying loudly in Waterstones - "Don't let the cover put you off".

    This kind of follows on from your point Keren - it's not so much the question but the answer that matters. It's not so much the cover but the inside.....

    I think we should reclaim pink! Pink Power. Pink is not for Wimps. Pink doesn't Stink if you Think.

  5. ‘Pink books aren’t a problem for girls,’ she said. ‘They just mean we have more choice. we know that all sorts of books have pink covers. They’re only a problem for boys - because they mean boys have less choice than girls.'

    No, they have exactly the same choice as girls. Pink isn't kryptonite. Boys are perfectly capable of reading books with pink covers (just as girls are capable of reading books with blue covers). The issue is that they won't because society has convinced boys/men that anything targeted towards girls/women isn't worthy of their time. That's not the fault of book covers, is it?

    And if we're sticking with books, it's not just covers and it's not just boys. Look at the Regeneration Trilogy. "Pat" instead of Patricia Barker. Because men wouldn't read a war book written by a woman. Presumably they were worried all the fighting would be done with shoes and handbags...

    Finally, Thomas's comment "I know teenage boys who read are supposed to be rarer than a girl at a football match, but is it any wonder when books for their age group are so relentlessly pink?"

    They're really not. I have sixteen YA books on the shelf in front of me. All different genres from full-on romance to vampire to social realism. Only one (Kisses for Lula) is pink. (If you're interested: 7 black, 5 blue, 1 green, 1 yellow, 1 red.)

  6. I suspect that some boys do read the pink books, but most of them don't. Teenage boys often feel insecure about gender roles - much more than they did when they were younger - and they need to be pretty self confident to be seen reading something which screams 'girl'. (This pressure, btw is something that I try and reflect strongly in When I Was Joe)
    So by marketing something as 'girly' the publishers sacrifice part of the market. presumably they think it's worth it.
    Your cover Keris is unusually boy-friendly for a romance- was that to attract boys?
    Was Pat Barker really renamed to attract male readers (like J K Rowling?) Or is it just that she calls herself Pat? This certainly goes on..

    I agree that there is a good range of book covers for teenagers, but in one of my local children's bookshops there's a whole shelf of 'pink' books...which might as well be marked 'not for boys'.

  7. I'm with Emily Gale here - not surprisingly, since we're in a similar boat as writers of pink-packaged books. I don't want to deride stereotyped 'female' culture (be it shoes OR Austen) because we're allowed to like whatever we like, dammit! BUT we don't live in a cultural vacuum: we like some things because our cultural environment influences us to like them - and women get pinkness advertised to them every instant of their lives. That doesn't make 'liking shoes' a terrible thing (I have feet: I need to put things on them, to faciliate walking places and ass-kicking superheroic behaviour), but it's worth asking ourselves which of our opinions fall into the 'stuff I like because society likes me liking it' category.

    Think cupcakes: when I was a kid, the cupcake as we know it now (huge, with a mountain of buttercream and sprinkles) didn't exist. Now that image is everywhere. And we love cupcakes! They're pretty and delicious - but naughty of course, ooh, calories! - oh dear, feel a bit sick and empty now. I'm not sure that's the most inspiring symbol of female culture we could have.

    If that sounds like some ranty feminism which has nothing to do with book covers, I'd like to point out that it took all of ten seconds for your daughter to turn a discussion about whether pink covers were unappealing to girls into a discussion about the poor boys who were missing out as a result. That's textbook derailing: her instinct is to switch the debate back to the concerns of those with cultural privilege. That's what 'pink' books perpetuate, for all of us.

    (Please note - I'm not talking about content here at all: I write 'pink' books, read 'pink' books, love 'pink' books. As a result I know that, much like women, what's between the covers is very rarely represented by the bag or shoes.)

  8. I was at a Youth Librarians Group meeting last week in the West Midlands and sat in on a book panel discussion. Pink covers were often touched upon by these almost exclusively female librarians, with reactions ranging through annoyance through derision through anger.

    The Scholastic publicist who'd turned up to accompany had just been raving to me about Scholastic's awesome bright-pink cover for 'What I Saw And How I Lied'; she and I exchanged bewildered glances.

    The negative reaction seemed to be a given, no dissent was expressed, to the extent that they hardly even qualified it. One librarian said that what was inside the books was 'perfectly fine, often really good'. it was the blatant message of 'ONLY FOR GIRLS, AND GIRLY GIRLS AT THAT' to which they objected. (I'm expressing her comments about the only-for-girls aspect in my own words here)

    They lamented that publishers have allowed themselves to believe that teen boys don't want to read fiction. Some thought that boys are being robbed of an important right to relate to narrative, so crucial for all aspects of life.

    I wonder how much of that my publicist fed back to the publisher...

  9. I think the problem with pink is that it's become cultural shorthand - an easy way to catch the eye of consumers. It gets applied to a whole load of products that have only a tangential relationship to each other, which includes books. As authors, our very USP is the personal nature of what we do and we pride ourselves that our books are very different from those of our peers. That, I think is the most depressing aspect of trend-conscious book marketing, although it does shift copies!

  10. Boys do read pink books, in the safety of their own homes, if purchased by and for a female. When he started secondary school my son had read more Jacqueline Wilsons than the girls in his form had.

    I still like the suggestion from my 'pink blog' two years ago, which is to go round bookshops and put stickers on pink books we like, that says 'Smart Inside'.

  11. I think if it were down to the publisher alone, there would be fewer of the generic marshmallow covers...but there are bigger scarier marketing machines at work.

  12. I am put off by pink covers en masse just as I am put off by covers with stock-close-up-face photos or headless girls mainly because it's lazy and boring and doesn't really say anything about what the book is about. I looked at the teen of queen competition with interest - and while I do feel the pink wince I love that there's such a big event for young readers (10,000 votes!) we don't have anything like QOT here - we have the inky awards which are teen choice awards and (I think) modelled after the book trust - but even then it's not PURELY a teenage choice award) ... hmmm ... maybe it's just that sometimes, as adult readers (and writers) we don't always agree with the choices younger readers make but they have their reasons and I think it would be churlish to assume they just see pink and spend money ...

  13. I like your point there, Simmone, but then I think of the number of times I see an ad for wrinkle-cream and start fretting about my appalling skincare regime (= a face-wipe casually smeared around while lying in bed reading a book at the end of the day) and promise to buy myself a tube of the miracle stuff so I can say "Because I"m worth it" and look 15 years younger. Aren't these messages on Q of T kind of the same? What strikes me is that it would be so easy to make the award smart (and glittery) instead of cute (and glittery).

  14. I think Keren makes an excellent point about self-confidence and teenage boys. Yes, it's obviously the case that society conditions boys to respond to pink in a certain way, and yes that's a cultural convention we could all live without, but quite where those boys are suddenly going to find the perspective and worldly wisdom to challenge it I don't know. And if we care about these things, then a fluffy pink award no male author can aspire to win is hardly progressive (quite apart from the dubious handbags and heels message it sends to girls).

    Yes, I know it's just a bit of fun, but still...

  15. I'm very interested in this discussion of 'pink'. I had a quick look at the various bookshelves at home and could only spot 3 books with a pink spine or cover amongst the thousands we have all over the house.
    My teenage sons (past and present) would not read books with a pink cover unless it was by an author they already knew and liked. As your daughter said, it cuts down the amount of fiction that they feel is open to them. It may not be right that the world works that way, but it *is* the way the world works, or at least the world my family lives in.
    I have realised that I seem to have a previously unrecognised aversion to pink books; the three pink books weren't bought by me, whilst the answer to the bags or shoes question is shoes, preferably with high heels....

  16. "Your cover Keris is unusually boy-friendly for a romance- was that to attract boys?"

    No idea, but I doubt it. If a boy wasn't put off by the cover, they'd still be put off by the blurb, no? Do boys happily read romance? (Although I agree with bookwitch's comment that they'll read pink books in the privacy of their own homes.)

    "Was Pat Barker really renamed to attract male readers (like J K Rowling?) Or is it just that she calls herself Pat? This certainly goes on.."

    I don't know for certain, but I remember reading that when The Ghost Road won the Booker. I'm still not sure how I feel about the whole "JK" Rowling thing. On the one hand, I appreciate that it's a marketing decision, but on the other, we're not exactly going to make much progress by pandering to men/boys who won't read a book they know to be written by/aimed at women/girls.

    Thomas's comment "quite where those boys are suddenly going to find the perspective and worldly wisdom to challenge it I don't know" is interesting, I think. We started off worrying about what pink does to girls and yet girls seem to have to "perspective and worldly wisdom" to read beyond pink covers, don't they?

    Isn't it the case that girls do read books marketed to boys? I keep thinking about Sophia Bennett's wish that Threads had had a line drawing of a machine gun on the cover. Presumably she doesn't think that would have turned girls off in the way the cover image of a dress turned off boys.

    I also agree with every word of Susie's comment. Why does this discussion keep coming back to boys?

  17. @Keris Girls have the perception to read beyond the pink covers - yes but there is no feeling of transgression for girls when they pick up those books. There could be for boys.
    Do boys read romances? I've certainly heard of quite a few teenage boys reading Twilight. I think that boys are as likely as girls to want to read widely - but for some reason the marketing seeks to exclude them.
    @Susie - Not sure that a 13 year old girl sees teenage boys as in any way a privileged elite, nor that my daughter was concerned for them - it's just the age in which they see boys as less than them in every way, and view them with contempt rather than concern. Only later I think do (some) girls allow their own concerns to be swamped by a male agenda.

    What infuriates me is how books are excluded from the mainstream because of their packaging. Which 'girl's' (ironic apostrophes there) books get shortlisted for the Carnegie or the Branford Boase awards? Is the prejudice expressed by the librarians MG Harris met being passed on to children and reflected in the books honoured by the industry?

  18. "@Keris Girls have the perception to read beyond the pink covers - yes but there is no feeling of transgression for girls when they pick up those books. There could be for boys."

    So doesn't that suggest that girls are more rather than less empowered in this particular area at least?

    "What infuriates me is how books are excluded from the mainstream because of their packaging." But I don't think it's just because of the packaging. Did you read Anthony McGowan's comment on Meg Rosoff's blog?

    "‘The leathery-skinned hacks who churn out the Pink books present a vision of young people as self-obsessed, shallow, blind automata, swilling about in a moronic inferno. Reading these books will leave your soul as shrivelled as one of those pistachios you sometimes find, blackened, in the bottom of the bag."

    Which books is he referring to? All that on the basis of a pink cover? (He goes on to give Louise Rennison a slagging, despite the fact that most of her covers aren't pink.) Again, I think it comes back to the assumption that if a book's marketed to girls, there is nothing of value therein.

    (Oh and just wanted to mention that the 16 YA books on my shelf have been sent for review, not chosen by me. i.e. the lack of pink is down to the publishers, not my own pink-prejudice. Not that I have one. I'll shut up now.)

  19. Oh and...I very specifically did not want a big scary knife on the cover of When I Was Joe, and I did want to make the cover as attractive to girls as possible, without scaring off boys. Did I succeed? Time will tell..

  20. Re Anthony McGowan...(I'm going to tweet him, try and get him to speak for himself) His complaint appears to be about romances which suggest that getting/snogging a man is the be all and end all for girls. He also thinks that the likes of Muchamore are more feminist because girls in those books are skilled at kung fu etc (which is of course a very male perception of feminism being about proving that women are 'as good as men' and not allowed to redefine the norms). He doesn't seem to mind the way Muchamore describes girls in terms of their bodies.

    You read more romances than I do - are they all about girl gets boy? Is that a problem?

  21. "You read more romances than I do - are they all about girl gets boy? Is that a problem?"

    No, they're not at all. Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries series, for instance, is very pink and girlie-looking but definitely feminist. Mia, the mc, is an excellent role model. (The books are actually for slightly older readers than the marketing would suggest - we used to get complaints when I worked in Waterstone's.) E Lockhart's books are definitely feminist as are Maureen Johnson's (and MJ's aren't all girl gets boy either - The Bermudez Triangle features a lesbian romance).

    We need Luisa to chime in on this one, but I've told her I'll shout if I catch her online. ;)

  22. Thanks for this very interesting discussion. I'm another author of 'pink' books, and I've encountered prejudice against my books from all ages, but mostly from adults. On the other hand, I've had the occasional teenage boy buying my book at signings (and asking for it to be signed to himself). There are independent-thinking individuals in all kinds of packaging out there. ;)
    It's true that we're marketed to from a very early age, from the very first colour-coded "Little Monster/Little Princess" baby sleepsuit.

    The discussion has moved on while I've been writing the above, so I need to read back now...

  23. Oops, Keris, you haven't seen me!
    I think I'll be back in a minute, though. :)

  24. I want someone to do a Venn diagram of girls who like a wide variety of things ranging from 'girly' things such as kittens and ballet to 'boys-y' things such as football and cars. Then I'd like to see how many of these topics overlap with girls who list pink as one of their top three favourite colours.

    If a wide selection of readers with specific interests like a certain colour, wouldn't it be foolish not to make a book targeting them as appealing as possible? And, erm, isn't that one of the reasons why there are lots of paranormal romances have black covers? (Well, that and Twilight's branding.)

    I'm not in favour of stereotyping groups of people according to colours (or anything else) BUT like many stereotypes, hasn't the trend started for a reason? And aren't we in danger of swinging too far the other way in protest? Boys and girls do have different preferences, and perhaps there's a danger present in pretending that there isn't?

  25. The Princess Diaries are my daughter's favourite series...

  26. Hello all - a couple of points. 1. Pink is, of course, just a metaphor, and crap books can come in all kinds of colours. 2. The feminism of Muchamore etc. As I state, this is the lowest form of feminism, in that girls are shown to be just as good as boys at boys type stuff, rather than trying to re-imagine how men and women can find value in their lives without conforming to stereotypes. (I should say that Muchamore is actually a more complex and interesting writer than he's given credit for). But low-grade feminism is better than the cheap and tawdry commercialism of the pink (metaphorically used) books. 3. The target market ('market' here seems the only word) for the snogging books - ie girls in their young teens - are perhaps the most open and enthusiastic readers out there. They could and should be stretched and challenged intellectually and emotionally, and not just about what colour lipstick to wear with which thong. It's much harder to get boys reading, hence the emphasis on thrills and spills. I remember my sisters reading Wuthering Heights and The Mill on the Floss at the age when I was still reading comics. Actually, I'm still reading comics ...
    Sorry if I've offended any teeny chicklit writers. The solution is straightforward - go and write something better.
    Anthony McGowan

  27. As I was saying, I've encountered prejudice... etc. :)

  28. Don't forget BLACK! My brother's step daughter, reader for my books, says all the kids go for the black covers now because of the TWILIGHT series. What can you do? We all know we react to colours. I'm not keen on orange, would that put me off buying a book. Good to hear your daugher reads the blurb,Keren!

  29. I think the biggest irony is that for many years pink was for boys and blue for girls!
    Wikipedia has a reference to this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink
    though I'm sure (many years ago) I was told that it goes back even further to a time where the pink dyes were more expensive than blue and thus were given to boys (Roman or Greek times, something like that, but I might be mistaken).

  30. Anthony McGowan,

    I have yet to read a teen girly book, pink-covered or otherwise, which is about lipstick and thongs and nothing else (though the fact that you choose those identifiers is interesting: is your worry really a distaste for teen girls claiming a sexual identity?). The ones I've encountered are relateable, true: often light, often witty, often obsessive about the irrelevant little things of life, certainly - but they're also intelligent and insightful and relentlessly provocative. If you can credit Muchamore with being better than people think, might you bring yourself to acknowledge that the swathes of books you're dismissing as inadequate and facile could, conceivably, have admirable qualities too?

    I've also never a met a teenage reader who has only read one book. I'm reading Sophia Bennett today. Tomorrow I might read some Conrad (I'll skip Bronte and Eliot, ta). One doesn't exclude the other, and both of them will stretch me intellectually and emotionally.

    @Keren - I wasn't suggesting your daughter has a bonkers inflated sense of boy-importance (or meaning to single her out: she just happened to be the example you used) - I just meant that we're all participants in culture, and we default to certain norms and repeat certain behaviours without consciously doing so.

    I think you're spot on re prizes: the marketing means a whole genre of writing is excluded en masse. That's exactly why the QoT business is frsutrating: it should be something I want to flagwave for, but the presentation is toe-curling and only reinforces that sense of exclusion from 'proper books' like what that nice Mr McGowan would like us all to read.

  31. Oh, and on the subject of 'strong female characters' - this is worth reading: http://www.overthinkingit.com/2008/08/18/why-strong-female-characters-are-bad-for-women/

    (I think YA lit does it a lot better than Hollywood, FYI.)

  32. I despair of why we have to have characters that support or subvert gender norms at all. Why can't we just have characters that feel true to themselves, regardless of gender?
    I suspect I'm just being hopelessly naive here...

  33. Should probably stress that I wasn't think of any of the fine writers posting here! And of course many of the writers who get pink covers weave in subtle and complex themes. The Young Minds Award, which I judged last year shortlisted a couple of books (A Perfect Ten, by Chris Higgins- the eventual winner - and Ginger Snaps, by Cathy Cassidy) which had frilly covers but dealt with serious themes in lively and engaging ways.
    God it's boring taking a sensible middle way, isn't it?

  34. @Susie - I know, but I was suggesting that if there's a group that has its own little micro-culture which does not recognise the wider cultural norms re male power it is 13 year old girls. 14 and 15 yr olds may be a different matter.

  35. This is a fascinating discussion, but I still haven't read anything that makes me feel more comfortable about the Queen of Teen award, which seems to do nothing but exclude boys/men on the one hand and divide girls/women on the other.

    Still wearing my socks!

  36. Susie: 'is your worry really a distaste for teen girls claiming a sexual identity'. Probably, in part. When I was a teenager, teenage girls frightened and baffled me. They still do. But why do the depictions of teenage sexuality have to be so parodic? For a genuinely intriguing (and dark) view of teenage sexual angst, it's hard to beat Katie Cann's Leaving Poppy.

  37. Interesting that this is all about teenagers, when the situation is really established at birth. Baby girls get pink stuff and the conditioning begins. I've met parents who insist they never gave their daughter pink things - but it's all around, on TV in shops etc. By the time they (and boys) can think for themselves it's too late. the association is firmly established.

    So Pink picture books for infants play their part in all this. I was furious when my own Ella Bella Ballerina books were be-pinked by the publisher (against my explicit request to tone it down). But in the end I thought: what the hell. If it makes a kid happy, and encourages a love of books and dance and Prokofiev...who cares?

  38. I should mention at this point that Keris Stainton, author of Della Says OMG is going to do a guest post on the blog on Friday about sex in teen novels. I hope you will all be back for that..
    And this blog is a year old this week, and how great to mark that with such a long and interesting debate.
    Right...keep going...

  39. To touch on the pre-teen age group, I have two daughters (6 and 10) and they are wonderfully militant about gender stereotyping. I not sure if I should take any credit for this, but they were so incensed by an article in a magazine before Christmas that recommended different toys for boys and girls that they wrote a letter to complain.

    My eldest daughter seems to prefer boys' books (Artemis Fowl, Percy Jackson, Star Wars etc.) to the pink equivalents, but she's read her fair share of Rainbow Magic as well.

  40. when i was a girl i slotted into the Tomboy stereotype so much so that any girly behaviour was hotted down or belittled. it was sometimes crippling and gave me low self esteem and has shadowed me all my life. girls need permission to be pink. i am now very conscious of my own daughter's need not just to be strong, opinionated, and self-empowered ... but to be as pink as she wanted to be without being shouted down.

  41. @James Mayhew - I was a strong believer in cultural conditioning, having been taught (at University) that that explained the differences between male and female children. Having my own (male) children and observing other people's male and female children gave me a great shock; an 'average' boy is very different to an 'average' girl. My children used to run around shooting each other with stickle bricks, loved anything with wheels and never paid any attention to toys that could be 'cared for' (except at bedtime when a favourite teddy was good enough for a cuddle).
    Nursery schools were a revelation - young children fitted snugly into the stereotypes even when encouraged strongly to do otherwise - little boys kicking balls, little girls sitting down to colour pictures. There will of course always be children who don't display 'average' behaviour, but most do for most of the time, even when their parents and other carers have given them completely free choices.

  42. Black covers come with their own set of presumptions. One of mine, Crossing The Line, comes with a black cover - with red and white bits - and got one very disappointed review from a reader who complained about it being 'realistic' - which I'm guessing meant 'no vampires'! On the other hand, I've no way of knowing how many girls were attracted by the 'Twilighty' nature of an otherwise quite 'male' cover. Or, for that matter, whether it made no difference at all.

    I swore I'd keep my kids (twins, one boy, one girl) free of gender stereotyping, but my intentions were completely redundant. She gravitated to pink and sparkly all by herself - but he was happy to play with her pink and sparkly toys, so long as his friends weren't around. And she just enjoyed the phase and got over it, and now describes herself as a complete tomboy (as I was at her age, just like Candy). But she'll still happily read something pink... I'm talking myself in circles here :-)

    I wonder if any publisher has thoroughly investigated the proportion of readers attracted by pink to those put off? (I genuinely wonder, I'm not being snarky.)

  43. Cannot wait for Keris's post on the M word!

    @Keren: 13-yr-old girls do indeed work Dismissive Sneer Mode better than anyone. If only it could be bottled. :)

    @Anthony: Parodic? That's... erm... interesting. I think there are 2 possible reasons for you seeing that. One, because there's a weird self-perpetuating element of perfomance that goes into feminine behaviour (this post on Beyonce, lap-dancing and sexualized kids puts it brilliantly, I think: http://ow.ly/1QbUO); and two, because you're applying the same bias to sexual content that you earlier applied to pink books in general. You seem to think that a 'genuine' depiction of teenage sexuality must be angsty and dark: that truth comes only from gritty realism, and anything else is dismissable fluff. Now, I wear my Morissey T-shirt like the indie geek I'm proud to be, but that sort of miserabilist snobbery was daft then and it's daft now. Pop music is not evil just because sometimes it's about happy things. Girly books are not emotionally dishonest just because sometimes people in them have a bit of a snog and don't feel terrible about it afterwards.

  44. Isn't it completely essential that girls read about love, sex and snogging from a female perspective? Otherwise they'd be stuck with the male viewpoint, eg Muchamore - just went into a bookshop and opened a book by him at a random page, lo and behold, two boys discussing whether a girl's breasts were magoes or watermelons, and her response: 'I'll set my boyfriend on you.' (this may be completely unfair on Robert Muchamore, never read a whole book by him)

  45. Susie - on the contrary, I utterly reject all such essentialist notions as 'genuine' when it comes to portrayals of sexuality. What I'm against is commodification and the lies that go along with that. I might direct you towards my PhD The Sublime Machine: Conceptions of Masculine Beauty 1750-1850. Not so you should read it, but purely because I've never had the opportunity to direct anyone towards it before and to subtly let everyone know that I'm a sort of all-round clever clogs.

  46. Hah... feel like the hostess of a literary salon bringing together the leading intellectuals of the day for some sparkling discourse. Anthony, your PhD sounds wonderful. I do hope you have read my humble blog post on the female gaze..see link in the post..

  47. Hello Anne Faye and Nick Cross

    I'm sure you are right... But I think the point I wanted to make is that even if parents avoid sterotyping, and even if lots of children refuse to succumb to it, it's still out there, in the wider world. And it insiduously creeps into our consciousness - this very discussion proves that. Of course these are general remarks and some boys love pink and some girls play with guns. Hurrah! But I think the teenage focus of the argument is pointless because I think any stereotyping that may occur is laid down in infancy and is so deep rooted that even conscious thought cannot entirely banish it. I think it's the pre-teen market, therefore, that needs to be looked at. That's the industry I work in and that's where I see what publishers are up to, and I don't like what I see...

  48. I just quizzed my ten-year-old daughter on this subject and she came out with the hilariously dismissive statement: "All that girls my age care about is putting on makeup and watching television." On further questioning, it transpired that she too liked doing these things!
    Not sure what insight we can gain from that, except that she is obviously both attracted and repelled by "pink" behaviour.

  49. Huh, just because you always get hundreds of comments..

  50. Keren - happy blog anniversary! What a great way to celebrate. As I read through the comments (which I've been doing all evening), I'm fascinated how pink is coming to mean sex (from a teenage girl's perspective) to so many writers. I wonder if our readership sees it that way. My favourite line so far is this: "(I should say that Muchamore is actually a more complex and interesting writer than he's given credit for)". My elder son has read every Muchamore he can get his hands on and loves them all. But the day when someone substitutes Bennett for Muchamore in that sentence - or David, or Stainton, or Plaja or Gale ... - I shall be a happy writer.

  51. Thanks everyone for all your great comments...and thanks to Meg Rosoff for setting me off.

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  53. I'm also an author of a Pink Book (and have just blogged on this whole kerfuffle).

    I just wanted to add that I'm far more concerned about books that are black or red on the outside. I'd much rather read books about girls who are flawed, honest, occasionally ditzy, and are interested in shoes (as well as other stuff), than books about girls who are only interested in being messed around by passive-aggressive, distant, abusive vampire boyfriends.

    And in response to Anthony McGowan, whose frankly sexist, uninformed and narrowminded comments on pink books have I've been irritated by before - "The solution is straightforward - go and write something better"??

    Like your Bare Bum Gang Books? I'll stick to Meg Cabot, thanks.

    Oh, and finally? When did we decide that love wasn't a "serious" or "worthy" topic for literature?

  54. Lili - exactly what did i say that could be construed as sexist? Seriously, I'm intrigued. I'd regard myself as a pretty hard-core feminist of the Andrea Dworkin school. All the alternative writing models I've put forward are women. Obviously, being challenged is upsetting to you, but how about addressing the arguments and not making silly insults.
    My Bare Bum books are aimed at seven year olds, so they're hardly relevant here, and it would be a little odd if you were to read them. It's actually a little odd if you're still reading Meg Cabot, unless you are actually a teenager ... It might have been more appropriate to bring up my teenage books, but then they don't have the word bum in the title, which seems to have a curious draw for you.

  55. I thought I'd posted here yesterday but it never came through. That gives me the chance to say this topic is too important for ad hominem, or ad feminam attacks.

    Can I suggest reading my Guardian article about pinkness and princesses?

    And also recommend the organisation pinkstinks: http://www.pinkstinks.co.uk

    And the wonderful French picturebook published by Albin Michel called "Marre de Rose" (=sick of pink) I have tried to get a publisher interested over here with no success.

  56. I'm going to step in here, before it all gets too personal. Wouldn't want tears before bedtime.
    I think this has been a fascinating discussion and I'm grateful to everyone for joining in. We've touched on so many aspects of publishing for young people - girls' aspirations, boys' reading, sex in teen novels, the way in which the literary establishment denigrates books perceived as girlie..and the way the forces of commerce promote them.
    I read Mary's link with huge interest, and agreed with much of what she said. However for me the most interesting comment came from Candy. How about giving our daughters permission to be pink? How do we nurture their femininity as well as their feminism?
    Several people have told me they've had problems posting comments. I'm not sure why that is, but I'm sorry about that.