It's impossible to spend much time writing for children before you notice the massive discrepancy between men and women; writers, agents, editors - women greatly outnumber men at all levels of the industry. Does this give us a vision of what life would be like in a matriarchal society? And is that such a bad thing? I've been procrastinating on this subject for months, lest it get me into trouble, but here goes anyway...
I don't want this to become one of those I'm not a sexist, but... posts. I can't help being male, but beyond that I don't really have an axe to grind. In fact, being a man writing books for boys does give me something of a USP. I'm used to being outnumbered by women (I have a wife and two daughters) and I generally find it easier to get on with women than men.
The key question I have is what effect the female domination of the industry has on the kind of books that are being written and published for children, especially boys. We hear all the time that boys are falling behind in general literacy - you can read more about this at the National Literacy Trust. Is there an unconscious bias towards the sort of books that girls would find appealing? Surely the industry must be happy to shift product to anyone who wants it?
The fact that so many more women want to write or edit for children isn't particularly surprising or suspicious - you only have to walk into any primary school in the country to see the gender bias of working with children. Whether this is because the hours are easier to fit around the teachers' own families, or because of some genetic urge to nurture, or a reinforcement of traditional gender roles - well, I leave you to comment on that. Given the historically lower wages for women in this country, it can be less financially punitive for a woman to give up work to pursue her publishing dreams than a man. On the other hand, lots of women stay in full time work and manage to write in their spare time, and lots of men get to 'house husband' while scribbling in the shed.
I'm sure any female agent or editor would hotly contest any accusation that they are selecting titles based on gender bias. Their job is to appeal to the widest range of readers, after all. An additional argument is that there's a glass ceiling in the publishing industry - like many others - and that a lot of the top jobs are still held by men, and that they are the ones who ultimately approve or reject a particular title.
Nonetheless, the market is clearly skewed, most noticeably at the Young Adult level. There are some writers like Charlie Higson or Anthony Horowitz who sell very well to teenage boys, but the majority of this market's customers are girls. Video games are constantly blamed for distracting young male readers, but all the girls I know are obsessed by games as well - it just doesn't stop them being engrossed by books too.
In the end, I wonder if this all comes down to supply and demand. Adult women read more books, so they are more likely to want to write and publish them. Similarly, girls - especially teenagers - are more voracious readers, so it makes sense for publishers to feed that market.
Maybe what's needed here is not so much a change of personnel, but rather a change in our perception regarding what boys are capable of. A Booktrust survey last year found that parents and carers of boys were twice as likely not to read with them compared to those who have girls.
Your thoughts please...