Mar 11, 2012

Reading and Gender: A Brief Guided Tour of my MA Dissertation

Pile of books on gender and reading

Whenever I mentioned my Master’s dissertation in the past, quite a few of you expressed interest in hearing a little bit more about it: I remember that Renay, Jodie and Stefanie showed particular interested in hearing all about the great books I must have discovered in the process. Now that the results are out and that my MA has become official, I thought I’d write a post telling you more about my work and recommending some of the sources I found the most useful.

To be completely honest, this is also a bit of a cheer-myself-up kind a post. I’ve made the decision to look at blogging as my refuge and to therefore keep this space as free of angst as possible, but the truth is that things have been very difficult for me over the past few months, and I’ve gotten to a place where I’m really struggling1. At a time when I’m seriously questioning the wisdom of having gone to library school and incurred debt in the current economical climate, as well as wondering about the tangible benefits this MA will (or will not) have in my life, it helps me to remember how much I enjoyed researching and writing my dissertation; just how gratifying the whole process was for me; just how much I learned and how much fun I had. Hopefully returning to that mental space will help me not to become despondent.

I picked the topic of my dissertation in the context of several discussions about the gender reading gap: the idea that there’s a “boys’ crisis” going on in reading (and in education in general) was the topic of a very interesting classroom debate at the end of my first term of library school, not to mention the topic of debates I was constantly seeing online, particularly in the YA community.

The relationship between gender and reading is a topic that interests me greatly, but I found many of these conversations extremely frustrating because they never seemed to move beyond gender essentialism. The assumptions behind most of them were that boys and girls “naturally” have completely different interests; that “boys” and “girls” are homogeneous categories and that gender trumps any other factors such as socioeconomic background, ethnicity or sexual orientation (not to mention, you know, personality); and that what’s scaring teen boys away from reading must surely be the hordes of women supposedly dominating the worlds of YA, of publishing, and of librarianship. Obviously there are plenty of people out there who disagree with these assumptions, but it seemed to me that every single time the topic came up, they were required to reinvent the wheel before the conversation was allowed to even begin to progress beyond the same old stereotypes. I was also disappointed to find that these assumptions often went unquestioned even in professional circles, and that the likes of Gurian and Sax were constantly cited as if they were reputable scientists (hint: they are not).

Like many others, I felt that there was room for more nuanced explorations of this topic, namely ones that addressed the fact that reading fiction, or at least some kinds of fiction, may be culturally constructed as something that is more appropriate for girls. No matter how well-meaning they are, attempts to address this issue with yet another “special manly books for boys” campaign can have the effect of reinforcing the idea that it’s not “natural” for boys to enjoying reading without this extra encouragement, or for them to enjoy reading books that fall outside culturally sanctioned traditional male interests (sports, outdoors adventures, etc). I have always been extremely suspicious of this kind of gender-based assumption about people’s reading interests or preferences. And of course, another thing these approaches assume is that it’s preposterous to ever expect boys to read, let alone enjoy, books by or about girls and women. I very much suspect that this is where the root causes of a phenomenon that has been brought to our attention recently really are.

The timing for this post is particularly appropriate, because unfortunately I keep seeing the same thing happening all over again in responses to Renay’s recent study of the coverage of women writers in SF/F blogs: according to several commenters, the disparity her data shows simply reflects the fact that “on average, men and women have different tastes in reading material — it’s just part of what makes us different”. In her coverage of the study at Publisher’s Weekly, Rose Fox wrote:
As more books by and about girls and women become available, there are two types of equality we could end up with: the sort where most people only read books about people who resemble them (that is, girls stop reading about boys because they no longer have to), and the sort where most people are omnivoracious readers (that is, books about girls are marketed to boys and girls alike, the way books about boys are now, and we make it culturally more comfortable for boys to read and enjoy them). I think we would all do well to encourage the latter.
This pretty much sums up my point of departure: I wanted to research the gender reading gap from a stance that not only rejected gender essentialism, but also embraced the possibility of changing the dominant cultural climate: we can normalise reading for boys and make it comfortable for them to have interests that fall outside hegemonic masculinity. Literacy professionals such as librarians have a crucial role to play here, and as the interviews I conducted showed, many already do this.

Before I go any further, I wanted to say a few words about how an enthusiastic feminist ended up picking what is, after all, a pretty male-centric dissertation topic. It’s not that I feel that I have to apologise or anything like that; it’s just that I wanted to explain why I feel that it’s important to add feminist voices to this kind of debate. My reasons are all the reasons bell hooks points out in her book Feminism is for Everybody. Reading it made me feel validated in retrospect, which is always a pretty awesome feeling. This comment by Foz Meadows on a different discussion also sums up my motives pretty well.

Anyway, my study wasn’t actually exclusively about boys: my research question was, ‘Do adolescents perceive the act of reading fiction for pleasure as a feminine behaviour?,’ and my sample included both boys and girls. This was because I felt that it was important that educators develop an understanding “of the ways gender reform in schools and literacy contexts can meet the needs of girls and boys alike”; and also that we all acknowledge that “both men and women are involved in the processes of constructing, circulating and critiquing understandings of masculinity” (both of those quotes are from an amazing book called Boys, Literacies and Schooling: The Dangerous Territories of Gender-Based Literacy Reform, on which more soon).

And what, you wonder, did I find out? Well, my abstract should give you a good introductory idea:
Dominant representations of the gender reading gap (OECD, 2010) are based on the assumption that boys and girls are inherently different and propose solutions that fall under what Smith (2007) calls recuperative masculinity politics. However, essentialist models are poorly theorised and lack empirical support (Moss, 2007). Rowan et al. (2002) propose an alternative transformative approach that seeks to deconstruct the incompatibility between hegemonic masculinity (Connell, 2005) and reading, particularly reading fiction. The present study sought to verify if the assumptions underlying this approach have empirical support by assessing the extent to which adolescents aged 14 to 18 in Greater Manchester perceive reading fiction as a ‘feminine’ activity. A questionnaire was distributed to 128 adolescents, and five adult key informants were interviewed. Results revealed that most respondents disagree that reading fiction is ‘for girls’, but those who do agree are indeed boys who are reluctant readers. Findings also suggested the existence of mediating factors, such as reading ability and the relationship between reading and ‘geek identity’, which may be perceived as a subordinate form of masculinity (Kendall, 2000). 43% of respondents do perceive reading as ‘geeky’; this term may be better at coding the incompatibility between reading fiction and hegemonic masculinity than asking them directly if reading is for girls. Additionally, some respondents seemed to resent the gendered marketing of books and the very idea that boys are unlikely to enjoy reading fiction. The implications of these findings caution against approaches that essentialise adolescents and assume that ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ are homogeneous categories. Further research exploring these possible mediating factors and systematically assessing the effectiveness of different strategies is required.
My research was unfortunately affected by non-response bias: because participation in my survey was voluntary (which is of course a key ethical requirement of any study), I ended up with a majority of enthusiastic readers in my sample. Who else would be the first to volunteer to participate in a study about attitudes towards reading, after all? There was not much I could have done to prevent this, especially under the circumstances, but it did affect my results (briefly, timing limitations meant that I could not wait to get a CRB check, and was therefore not legally allowed to be in direct contact with my teenage respondents. Instead, I had to rely on the cooperation of the extremely kind teachers and librarians who made time for me. They were incredibly helpful, but not being able to be more closely involved in the distribution of the questionnaires did have an impact). But even so, I did uncover a correlation between being a male reluctant reader and perceiving reading as “girly”.

Also, my survey suggested some interesting possibilities: reading fiction is widely perceived as “geeky” by girls and boys alike, and the “geek” identity seems to be one that requires boys who adopt it to step away from hegemonic masculinity. This is not at all to say that geek culture is free of sexism or always welcoming to girls; just that geeky boys are perceived as performing their gender in ways that are less socially prestigious. There’s room for plenty more research here, and this is something I would happily devote more time to (insert pipe dream about PhD here). If you’re interested in this topic, I highly recommend the work of Lori Kendall, as well as the blog Geek Studies.

My dissertation included a final section with conclusion and recommendations to researchers and practitioners. If I had to pick the most important points I made there, they would probably be the following:
[It is important to] remember that education and literacy are not zero-sum games, and that the problems that specifically affect boys do not mean that girls are ‘winning’ (Mills, Francis and Skelton 2009, pp. 42-3). Essentialist approaches to the gender reading gap often imply that girls’ literacy no longer requires any attention, and may communicate to girls that they matter less. However, reading is not socially prestigious for either gender, and this could affect girls too. Furthermore, researchers such as Moeller (2011) have drawn attention to some of the barriers to literacy that girls specifically face.
(…)
Expanding what is socially permissible for boys may be far more productive than catering to what we assume to be their homogeneous interests.
As I promised in my opening paragraph, I’ll now list some of the most interesting and helpful books I came across in my bibliographical research. There are a few here I only read selected excerpts from, but I want to return to them someday. I would recommend these to teachers, librarians, parents, or anyone with a general interest in teens, reading, and gender. Most are extremely thoughtful and sensible, and make for a welcome change to the usual knee-jerk approaches or simplistic solutions:
  • Myths of Gender by Anne Fausto-Sterling (1992): This can perhaps be called a precursor to Delusions of Gender (which, by the way, I also relied on), only it’s about biology in general rather than just the neurosciences. As you can see it’s an older book, but I would still recommended it for the introduction alone. It was incredibly useful when it came to helping me decide how to deal with the political implications of my research topic. Here’s what Anne Fausto-Sterling says:
    We ought to expect that individual researchers will articulate – both to themselves and publicly – exactly where they stand, what they think, and, most importantly, what they feel deep down in their guts about the complex personal and social issues that relate to their area of research. Then let the reader beware. The reader can look at the data, think about the logic of the argument, figure out how the starting questions were framed, and consider alternative explanations for the data. (1992, p. 10)
    I wish more researchers would follow her advice, rather than pretend that it’s only their opponents’ arguments that have political repercussions.

  • Masculinities by Raewyn Connell (2005): The concept of “hegemonic masculinity”, which was crucial to my theoretical approach, came from this book.

  • Dude You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School by C.J. Pascoe (2007): I really need to finish this book so that I can write about it at length here. I found it extremely useful for some of the same reasons as Connell’s work.

  • Still Failing at Fairness: How Gender Bias Cheats Girls and Boys in School and What We Can Do About It by David Sadker, Mira Sadker, and Karen Zittleman (2009): This helped me unpack the zero sum game mentality that hinders so many of these debates.

  • Boys, Literacies and Schooling: The Dangerous Territories of Gender-Based Literacy Reform by L. Rowan, M. Knobel, C. Bigum and C. Lankshear (2002): This book! I came across it relatively late in my bibliographic research, but this was the book that made everything fall into place and gave me my main theoretical angle. Rowan et al. introduce the concept of transformative models, which amount to the same thing Rose Fox alludes to in their post at Publisher’s Weekly. This is an excellent, excellent book.

  • Boys, Girls & The Myths of Literacies and Learning edited by R.F. Hammett and K. Sanford (2008): Probably my second most useful theoretical source, after the one above. An amazing, sensible collection of scholarly articles by some of the key researchers in the field of gender and literacy.

  • Reading, Writing, and Talking Gender in Literacy Learning by B.J. Guzzetti et al. (2002): A slightly older book along the same lines as the previous two.

  • The Problem With Boys’ Education: Beyond the Backlash edited by Wayne Martino, Michael Kehler and Marcus Weaver-Hightower (2009): Male feminist allies FTW. Also, I’ll use this as an opportunity to recommend pretty much anything by Wayne Martino. He’s an Australian researcher who is huge in the field, and whose work frequently addresses sexism, homophobia, and the relationship between the two.

  • Literacy and Gender: Researching Texts, Contexts and Readers by Gemma Moss (2007): Moss draws attention to reading ability, and to how boys and girls are trained to deal with academic failure differently from an early age. She suggests this plays a role in some boys showing a preference for non-fiction that many tend to essentialise.
  • ‘Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys’: Literacy in the Lives of Young Men by Michael W. Smith and Jeffrey D. Wilhelm (2002): Smith and Wilhelm always take care not to essentialise boys, which is great, but unlike Martino they are not necessarily concerned with pointing out the patriarchal assumptions behind some of the dominant approaches to boys and literacy.

  • Differently Literate: Boys, Girls and the Schooling of Literacy by Elaine Millard (1997): I was at times frustrated that Millard didn’t go a few steps further. A useful book, but it sometimes falls back into essentialist terrain.

  • Nerds: Who They Are And Why We Need More of Them by David Anderegg (2007): This book is not overall concerned with the gendered dimensions of the geek/nerd identity, but there was still some very useful sections. Another one I need to finish so I can review it here.

  • Adolescents Talk About Reading: Exploring Resistance To and Engagement With Text by Anne R. Reeves (2004): Also not specifically about gender, but fascinating and very useful all the same.
As in most academic woks, most of my sources were actually articles from scholarly journals rather than books, but if I were to list those I’d be here all day. Feel free to e-mail me if you’d like a more detailed reading list, though. As you’re probably starting to suspect, I’d happily talk about this topic for hours.

I also wanted to include a list of blog posts that were just as helpful to me as any the scholarly sources above, even if in different ways:
Phew. I promise that when I started out, the “brief” in the title of this post was in no way meant to be ironic. I will now shut up, but before I do I would like to nod in the general direction of some lovely people who might be reading this blog and who helped me immensely by agreeing to be interviewed (I’m not naming them out of respect for their anonymity): you know who you are, and also hopefully just how awesome you are.

1 This would also explain why all has been quiet on the commenting front. I’m really sorry; I’m still here reading and I hope you all know I love you and your blogs and comments.

35 comments:

Iris said...

I am so glad to finally read more about your thesis. I have lots to say, but in general it comes down to: "this is an amazing topic". As for your pipe-dream about a study of geek culture, that would be so interesting! Just reading that paragraph cheered me up (I've noticed that since I graduated, the idea of research is SO appealing it immediately cheers me up). Anyway, I'm so glad to read about this (and a little angry reading the commenters you linked to) and I do hope you get to do some more research some day *hugs*

(I know that this is a comment without much content, I'm sorry about that)

Nymeth said...

Iris: Yes, you'd better be sorry - how dare you leave such a kind, encouraging and supportive comment? ;) Shame on you :P There are people out there already studying geek culture, but it would be so interesting to relate that to reading fiction in particular. I have so many exciting ideas. Like I told you before, it's all out of my reach at the moment, but who knows, right? Maybe someday.

Helen said...

Dear Nymeth, I have lurked about your blog before but never commented I think. I enjoyed reading about your thesis so much, and I'm sad that you're fizzing with ideas and enthusiasm and yet unable to pursue further study. I understand perhaps a little how you feel, as I have been in exactly that situation myself, but just at the last minute had to give up my PhD plans. It is gut wrenching, isn't it?

I just wanted to add that four years after I finished my MA in a subject which was utterly impractical and inapplicable to any situation in everyday life, I still feel enriched and happy for having done it; I read differently and I feel that the world opened up just that little bit more for me. I do so hope that you find your way out of your despondency and that you experience something similarly positive.

Best wishes, Helen

Bettina @ Liburuak said...

This topic is the intrestingest! I can totally understand that you'd love to pursue it further, and am sorry you can't, at least not for the moment. But it's never too late to get a PhD, so maybe someday you'll get the chance to pursue that dream. Meanwhile, enjoy the satisfaction that comes from successfully completing a research project (even if it can't console you completely, you can be so proud, and you're allowed and supposed to revel in that feeling).

Aarti said...

Oh, Ana, I'm so sorry the past few months have been so difficult for you. I am actually just about to write back to the email you sent me approximately three months ago. Eek!

This was a really fascinating post, and I'm so glad you got to explore something you feel a great passion for through your MA.

Caitlin Martin said...

Having been in the world and having changed jobs and fields of interests multiple times, I think it's best to pursue what you're passionate about and do what you need to do to make it work. It's also really interesting how useful you may find your degree in different and interesting places.

Mine is in biosocial anthropology (I also did grad school). I was interested in understanding evolutionary aspects of modern human behavior. When I decided I didn't want to get the PhD I did many different things and the systems thinking that I learned in school has always been a huge advantage.

I went from technology into health care and am now just beginning to manage an anesthesia department (and the world of the OR and its environs is a fascinating system. This is not something I ever imagined doing, yet here I am and I'm loving the learning.

Anyway, finishing things is hard. It leaves you feeling good, but maybe more feeling "over." You've done this thing you've been doing and now what and did it even matter? This will pass and the next thing you're doing will come along and surprise you.

Eva said...

*bookmarks for future reference*

I'm sorry you're having a hard time Ana. :( I'm always here if you need to e-mail!

Tiina said...

Sorry to hear you are going through a hard time.

Your dissertation sounds really interesting! I'll have to take a closer look at some of the books and blogs you mentioned.

Kate said...

Aaaaa this is fantastic as I've been dying to know what your MA is about! And of course my computer battery is about to go kaput so I shall be back to drink it all in once recharged! But congrats already on the official MA!

stujallen said...

what a great subject to do a thesis on ,I know less boys read such a shame not sure how it will improve ,I just wish young boys could see the passion books can give you ,always telling youngsters in my family ,all the best stu

animewookie said...

I find everything you write incredibly fascinating....I not only enjoy your perspective but the fact that you often offer others as well. Your posts make me...think. Thank you for that and please...keep doing what you love <3

Jenny said...

What an excellent post, and what a wonderful topic for your dissertation! You sound so enthusiastic about it, and it's obvious that you loved working on it. I know it's easy for me to say this from the vantage point of not being in your situation, but it sounds like going to grad school was a wonderful choice that gave you a great deal of happiness and new knowledge as well as a degree.

That said, I know how shitty the job hunt can be, and I hope you're doing okay and being kind to yourself. I'm sorry you're having a hard time. *hugs*

Clare said...

Fascinating, fascinating, fascinating. Thank you so much for taking the time to dip back in to let us see what you've been working on. You end up in my commonplace book a lot… :)

Vasilly said...

Nymeth, I'm sorry to hear that you're having a hard time. I definitely understand what you're feeling. I had a similar crisis late last year. I didn't know whether or not being an English major and subsequently earning my MA in Library Science would be the right choice. I love research but this economy and society's attitude when it comes to the importance of libraries and librarians . . . *sigh* You know.

From reading this post, it seems like research is where you should be. I think you have so much to offer. I hope you're able to find a job that fits you or able to make one. Jenny's right, now is the time to be kind to yourself. Take care.

Tasha B. said...

Re: questioning the wisdom of getting your MA, I know exactly what you're going through. I don't regret getting my MA, because I did learn a lot; but it's a huge financial burden now, and hasn't really helped me get a job. I wish I could offer you some words of reassurance but I'm still working through it, myself. =/ My only words of advice are do not go into a PhD program until you've worked in the field for a few years and are sure that's what you want to do for the rest of your life.

Amy @ My Friend Amy said...

Of course you'd have a really fascinating topic. I really enjoyed reading this, but I need to read it again to take it in. Thanks for taking the time to write it all out.

Also I am so so sorry times have been tough. I have no encouragement to offer other than that the world is sometimes unfairly cruel. I also continually regret my decisions, but I'm hopeful things will eventually pay off for you.

Amy said...

*insert nerdy fangirl awesomeness here* your topic is so awesome and I'm glad you gave us a bit more information about it and about your findings here. And especially for the reading list. I want alllll the boooks! heh

Zibilee said...

I think the topic you picked is fascinating, and as the mother of a teenage boy, I would have to say that it's right on target. It's hard to find reading material that he will accept because he sometimes feels that the books I pick are "girl books". It's gotten better lately with the introduction to so much dystopian stuff out there, but it has long been a challenge.

I am also sorry to hear that you have been having some rough times. I can sympathize and relate, and am wishing you nothing but good things and happiness in the months to come.

Jodie said...

Seriously fascinating, thanks so much for sharing more detail Ana and I can see how well structured your MA thesis must have been from this post.

It's super tough to get jobs right now and I'm sorry both you and Iris are struggling so much. If you are still searching out library, or academic jobs (maybe even for business jobs if you're applying to that kind of role now) alongside other kinds of jobs I fully suggest attaching this post to any application. It's clear and gives a sharp eyed picture of your smarts, as well as your ability to communicate them to audiences who may be unfamiliar with your subject. That's just what everyone is looking for in many professions.

Mumsy said...

Ana, this sounds like a fascinating topic - I would be so interested to read your dissertation, as this is a topic which interests me enormously. My one regret about having only daughters is that I never had a chance to test my make-the-child-love-reading ideas on boys (they worked brilliantly on the girls). I am definitely going to hunt down some of these books - thanks for finding them for us!

Also, I know the job hunt is about as much fun as chewing nails. But believe me when I say, you are an exceptional candidate for ANY job - whether the employers know it or not, YOU are what they are looking for. I know you will find the right place, and your future boss will wonder how s/he ever managed without you.

Stefanie said...

Thank you so much for sharing all this! I especially agree with your point about expanding what is socially permissible for boys. I also find it fascinating that it could be the idea of reading being geeky that is more off putting for boys. I have a 14 yo cousin who has always been an avid reader and I just found out he has also started writing stories too. He gets lots of support from family including the men in the family, which I think makes a big difference.

I also know and struggle with the doubt you have about getting your degree. I am in that morass too.

Nicolás Díaz said...

Thanks for sharing your bibliographical research!

It will always sound strange to me that reading fiction is considered "girly". In latin countries the prejudice against fiction is that it is "useless", not girly.

Nymeth said...

Reposting a comment from Teresa that Blogger sent to spam and then decided to delete permanently when I marked it as NOT spam (seriously Blogger? :S):

"I'm sorry to hear you've been having a difficult few months. I know it's difficult not to know where your next steps will take you.

And thanks so much for the tour of your MA work! How did I miss that this is what you were researching? I've had to read up on some of these issues for work, and it is a huge challenge for educators and librarians to figure out. I think the big difficulty is that even if we agree that essentialism is a problem (and so many don't), we still have to deal with all those thorny culturally embedded ideas about what boys and girls like. The Smith and Wilhelm book and Anne Reeves' work in general are both ones I've seen referenced a lot."

Nymeth said...

Helen: Thank you so much for "delurking" to leave me such a kind and encouraging message" I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. I really do believe I'll feel as positively as you do about your MA in the future, but it's been hard to avoid feeling discouraged sometimes. I'll keep your words in mind, though!

Bettina: You're right, it's absolutely never too late. As you probably know even better than I do, things are difficult at the moment when it comes to obtaining funding in the humanities, but this situation won't last forever.

Aarti: Thank you so much - and thank you also for your e-mail *hugs* I will write back soon.

Caitlin Martin: Thank you so much for the encouragement and the wise words. I have always believed in going after things I'm truly passionate about, even if they seem difficult, and it's wonderful to hear that other people who did the same ended up in a good place.

Eva: Thank you - I really appreciate that *hugs*

Tiina: I hope you find them as useful and interesting as I did!

Kate: Thank you!

Stu: I really do as well. There are no simple solutions to questions as complicated as this, but I believe that normalising reading for people of every possible backgorund is a huge first step.

Kelly: You are too nice! I hope I'll have the chance to keep working on things I love - even if it's not professionally for now, there are always outlets like blogging and all the related reading projects blogging gets me involved in.

Jenny: Thank you so much *hugs* I was hoping writing this post would help, and it really did. I really appreciate having had the opportunity to work on something that interests me so much, no matter what I end up doing job-wise.

Clare: *blushes* I'm so flattered to hear that!

Vasilly: It made me smile that you said that, because if there's one thing this dissertation made me realise is that I would LOVE to end up in research. Thank you for the kind words, and take care of yourself too.

Tasha: I think you're right. Even if I could get PhD funding immediately, a few years of "real world" experience would really enrich my perspective on these things. I would love to be involved in children's and YA literacy in some capacity or other for a few years, and then go on to do a PhD.

Amy: Thank you so much. Hopefully they will! I really don't regret the experience of my MA itself for one moment, nor all the interesting things that I learned. Just the financial burden of it, plus a lack of actual improved prospects as Tasha was saying above. But so many people are in this situation these days, particuarly in the humanities. Things can't stay this bad forever, right?

Nymeth said...

Amy: Good luck hunting them down! I'm glad you enjoyed the post :D

Zibilee: I really hope one day society will get to a place where that will no longer be a concern for any boy. It's not easy to make it happen, but every bit helps. And thank you for the kind words!

Jodie: Thank you again so much for all your help and thesis cheerleading, not to mention all the exciting talks about this topic. Amf I'll keep that in mind about this post. I've been experimenting with mentioning my blog in applications to all sorts of different jobs. I think I told you on Twitter that the only interview I got to date was when I *didn't* include it, but I will NOT be a bad scientist here and generalise from a single instance :P

Mumsy: I'd be happy to e-mail you a PDF copy if you want! I really believe you would have been just as successful with your make-the-child-love-reading strategies on boys, even if they required some occasional tweaking due to different social expectations. Also, thank you so much for the encouragement - I can't tell you how much I appreciate it.

Stefanie: First of all, I'm so sorry to hear you are struggling as well :( And yes, I think social encouragement makes a huge difference when it comes to spreading a love of reading. Despite the fact that reading isn't generally perceived as socially prestigious, the most passionate readers usually seem to be people who have found little pockets of approval, be it in their families or in small groups of peers. (Or online, like book bloggers do.)

Nicolás Díaz: If there's one thing this process taught me it's that there's no simple answer to why some groups of people read less than others. The teens I surveyed all agreed that reading wasn't socially prestigious, but the reasons why seem to vary hugely from context to context. Culture is definitely an important factor to consider, so I'm not surprised to hear your observations in Latin countries are different.

Teresa: Yes, I absolutely agree. Even if agree that gender essentialism is a problem, no immediate solutions present themselves. Social change doesn't happen overnight, and I imagine that it's difficult not to get discouraged when dealing with cultural forces that are so deeply entrenched. But acknowledging that these questions are complex seems to me a crucial first step. (Also, I'm so sorry that Blogger ate your comment :\ Fortunately I was able to copy it from the e-mail notification.)

Emily said...

Please tell me you're going to publish this! This is fantastic, Ana, and I'm not just saying that to be nice. This is an important point you're making, and one more people need to hear.

I understand your feelings of despondency (the economy isn't much better over here on the other side of the pond), and sometimes I feel like I'm going to be carrying around the weight of my student loans forever. Whenever you're feeling down, though, I want you to think of your dissertation. It is a masterpiece. I am so proud of you.

Nymeth said...

Emily: I don't think it's publishable in its current incarnation, mainly because it's not ground-breaking enough. The methodological limitations mean that I didn't actually find out all that much, and I ended up with far more questions than actual answers. But I do think it could be developed into something more solid, and I really really hope I'll have the opportunity to do that in the future. Thank you so much for the encouragement - I can't tell you how much I appreciate it.

chasingbawa said...

Hi Ana, I know the months after finishing an intense period of study is difficult, especially if you don't know what your future holds. But keep heart as I don't think I've met another person who is more passionate about her subject than you. It'll all fall into place.

And I'm so glad you wrote this post as I've been dying to read more about your studies. This is such an interesting topic. I have two nephews (7 and 5 years old) and am beginning to think more about the books I choose for them. I always give them books I've read as a child but suddenly I'm beginning to wonder whether there is a set list of books for boys I should be consulting (bad me!) Sometimes I have to shake myself as I don't want to believe that I should choose children's books according to gender. So this is a timely post.

Susan said...

Thank you for posting about you MA dissertation, Ana. I enjoyed reading about it, the ideas that you talked about, and the books that you read. It was interesting to see it from your viewpoint as a professional, trying to understand how we culturally have to change our biases, and the discovery you made that boys view reading as not a masculine activity.

As a parent with two boys, I would say that boys don't gravitate to books naturally until later on, though unfortunately they both have learning difficulties with reading. I am happy to say that they both want to read, and the eldest is reading deep, big books on his own now, and at university. The youngest (age 7) is learning how to spell still. What I've observed is that the best way to get any children and all children interested in books, is for them to see people around them interested in reading. We as adults know that reading is not gender-based, or biased, and if in the teen years it is seen as nerdy - and oh yes it is, for girls and boys, to read is to be a nerd! - by the time the early 20s is reached, that stereotype loses its power. It would be interesting to do research on how that happens, and how so many males who resist reading while a teen, turn to books at some point in their twenties. Not all, of course! But enough that a large portion of males do read as adults. So where and how is their leap made?

See? your thesis is interesting, and timely, and I agree with all your commentators here that you ought to take pride in accomplishing it. It is an achievement.

I am so sorry on a personal level that things are so difficult for you after finishing it, though. Aside from looking for work and the horrible debt, do you think some of your sadness is because you don't know if your schooling is done - if you want to continue, or if this is all there is?

*hugs* and more *hugs*, Ana.

Susan said...

Sorry, I meant to say that your Manchester group of girls and boys are right when they both say that reading is nerdy, especially for boys to be seen doing. I'd forgotten that about my high school, but it certainly was (and is) a part of that age group.

Pocketful of Books said...

This is really, really interesting. I did an MA in Eng Lit and one of my courses was 'The Politics of Gender' and I did my dissertation on Virginia Woolf/H.D/Dorothy Richardson and the Cinema which I really loved! Your studies sound awesome and I hope you continue to enjoy it! x

Care said...

Awesome. You're just the coolest. {{hugs}}

Emily Jane said...

I'm sorry you've been having a rough time Ana...I hope it gets much better for you very soon :/

At least you've gotten to spend some time with what look like AMAZING books, on an incredibly fascinating subject. I'm sure it will serve you in the long run, somehow! I wish you the best on the job hunt, and in pursuing this topic further if and when you decide to do so.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

You have so much on your plate right now! For the record I think your thesis soudns fascinating and I think you'll do a wonderful job shedding more light on this issue. I'm so glad you shared a bit about what you're researching.

Vishy said...

Beautiful post, Ana! I wanted to wait for the right time to read it so that I can read it slowly, think about it and respond. That is why I am late in commenting. It was wonderful to know about your MA dissertation. The topic is wonderful and your thoughts on it are awesome, as always. I hope you get to do your Ph.D in the not-so-distant future. We can call you Doctor Ana then :) Wish you all the very best! The list of books you have mentioned are quite fascinating! I am tempted to read most of them :) And as Emily has said in the comments, it will be wonderful if your thesis comes out as a book. I would love to buy it and read it :) Thanks for this wonderful post!