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According to the blog Collected Voices, a leading website for UK teachers is peddling a reading list for 14-15 year olds which splits its recommended books into a section for girls and a section for boys.

Unfortunately I can’t find this list on the teachit.co.uk website, but Collected Voices has cut and pasted some of it for your reading displeasure. Boys, for example, should read:

Bernard Ashley – Little Soldier

Tim Bowler – River Boy

Benjamin Zephaniah – Refugee Boy

Robert Harris – Enigma

Phillip Pullman – His Dark Materials

Terry Pratchett – Discworld series

John Grisham – The Firm

Douglas Adams – Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Nick Hornby – Fever Pitch

Ernest Hemingway – Death in the Afternoon

Aldous Huxley – Brave New World

Meanwhile, those with the XX chromosome will prefer:

Amy Tan – The Bonesetter’s Daughter

Joanne Harris – Chocolat

Michelle Magorian – A Spoonful of Jam

Sebastian Faulks – Charlotte Gray

Louis de Bernieres – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

Penepole Lively – Cleopatra’s Sister

Melvin Burgess – Loving April

HE Bates – The Darling Buds of May

Iris Murdoch – A Severed Head

Ian McEwan – Atonement

Alice Seabold – Lovely Bones

A few observations:

  • Above and beyond the offensive idea that books should be split along gender lines at all, every single one of the books recommended for boys was written by a man. While girls are expected to enjoy the novels of both female and male novelists, boys, we must assume, have no interest in anything written by, shock-horror, a woman.
  • Many of the books recommended for girls are romances. Some are very good, but still, the assumption seems to be that girls will enjoy stories about love, while boys are more likely to enjoy science fiction, fantasy and adventure.
  • The boys’ list is stocked with out-and-out classics like Brave New World, which are missing from the girls’ list – or at least the excerpt we have available. Indeed, the material for girls contains some enjoyable, but mostly frothy books.

The list itself tells a very interesting story, in short, about how teachers can become responsible for carrying on sexist ideas about what girls and boys, and therefore women and men.

As Collected Voices says:

The joy of reading is that you can be a powerless fourteen year old in a small town, and have access to places you’ve never been, people you’ve never met, and ideas you’ve never encountered before. These are things that can change who you are and how you engage with the world.

It is depressing that teachers who have such a potentially powerful tool at their disposal are misusing it so horribly.