GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS …

Hello, dear reader, this is a rant. So there I was last Friday settling down for a nice read of The Bookseller magazine which tells me it is ‘at the heart of publishing’. I read it mainly for the gossip. In the middle of it they have THIS WEEK’S OFFICIAL UK BESTSELLERS and I thought to myself, Oh, why don’t you take a look down that lovely list while visualizing yourself on it and in the meantime enrage yourself by seeing how many times Girl/Girls figures in the title. Now why did that unfortunate thought come into my mind? Probably because I have read a few bloggers on the subject, probably because I was having one of those self-destructive sort of days when I wanted to infuriate myself. Dear Reader, this is what I saw:

2. The Girl on the Train Oh yes, I know about that one so there it is. How old is she? 10?

19. The Girl in the Spider’s Web   Yup, know about that one too. How old is she? 8?

25. The Miner’s Girl Nope not heard of you and I’m mildly irritated now and I refuse to speculate on your age

39. The Woolworth’s Girls oh go away but in your 20s probably

But then, dear reader, hard on the heels of this one came yes, you guessed it …

40. The Girls The Girls?????? I mean that’s not even trying

44. The Girl of Ink and Stars* If this is a children’s book I forgive it. I think it must be. If it’s a children’s book this is quite a sweet title actually. 

47. Pretty Girls Pretty Girls – you’ve just got to be f*****g kidding me.

Now then, without googling, shall we speculate about which one of these is a children’s book. I would say The Girl of Ink and Stars myself and that’s it. Now then suppose I transpose the word ‘boy’ into a couple of the titles like this:

The Boy on the Train

The Boy in the Spider’s Web

Would you think they were for adults? No you wouldn’t. You’d think they were children’s books.

So here’s the thing – at what point did publishers decide that infantilizing women would make books sell? The starting point for this is, I think, the crime novel The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo by Stieg Larsson. It’s interesting that the original Swedish title was Men who Hate Women.  Ah, the W-word, at last. I wonder what Larsson would have made of the ‘dragon’ title?

The larger debating point is when does a girl become a woman? When she can first have sex? 16 in the UK. When she can first vote?  18. When she’s 21? When she brings home her first pay packet?

My mother, who was conservative and rather old-fashioned about these things, would call women in their 60s ‘girl’ but often she would attach the word ‘silly’ to the front of it. ‘She’s a silly girl,’ she would muse about someone or other, who had done something she disapproved of, usually it involved divorce. So Mum if you’re listening this is what I think. Finally, I’m with you – these are silly, silly girls.

*It’s YA it is forgiven!

So here’s the question does reading ‘Girl’ in the title of a book make you more or less likely to read it?

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16 thoughts on “GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS …

  1. Much less likely to read it! Must admit that’s less to do with the infantilising, though I agree totally, and more to do with the utter and total lack of originality! Bet most of these ‘girl’ books also have a cover picture showing the back of a ‘girl’ wearing a red coat – which has become code for ‘Gone Girl’ knockoff…

    Having said that, I do have The Girls on my TBR, but it looks like a totally different kind of book and I think might actually be about teenage girls.

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    • Hi FictionFan it’s the lack of originality which gets me too. I sort of feel insulted by it. Ah, but if The Girls is about teenage girls I’m going to have to forgive that one as well – damn – although I do still think it’s a very boring title!

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  2. I think quite a few men born before about 1950 think it’s a compliment to refer to a woman of any age as a ‘girl’. A couple of years ago a friend’s husband, of this vintage, said something like ‘I’ve parked over there, near where those two girls are’. I looked hard and could only see a couple of women well into their 60s at least – then I realised that he used ‘girl’ to refer to any woman younger than himself. As he got older, the term got applied to older and older women.

    I think I’d automatically think of a book with ‘girl’ in the title as chick lit (as a first approximation) – not a genre I read much so I’d probably avoid it.

    Sports writers and commentators are another group who like to refer to ‘girls’ rather than ‘women’, though in recent years they have improved, perhaps as women’s sport is taken more seriously.

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    • Hi Virginia and thanks for the comment. I agree it is generational and some people do see it as a compliment. Chick lit – that’s interesting because quite a few of these are actually crime. In fact Pretty Girls is by Karen Slaughter who is a crime writer so the origin of the most recent use is as a title for crime novels which I think is pretty unsettling … and I agree on the sports front. The coverage of women’s sport is so much wider than it used to be and I think that is fantastic. Slowly, slowly these things change.

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  3. They (i..e. today’s books with the word “Girl” in the title if referring to grown-up characters) are now banned in our house. Not only is it sexist – yes, let’s use the “s” word – but it also demonstrates a severe lack of imagination. Either by the author or (more likely) by the flaming Marketing Department.

    And you’re absolutely right – the rule is simple: ‘if you substitute “boy” for “girl”, would the world and her husband think it plain daft?’

    Mind you, I think we both want to read “The Boy With the Pearl Earring” when it comes out.

    Maybe the girl-in-title thing is also somehow an attempt to “poppify” (freshly invented word?) literature. Somewhere in the mists of something or other the phenomenon may be loosely connected to the infantilising lyrics emanating from the pop combos in today’s dancehalls and discotheques, what with their references to “boys” and “girls” and “babies” when they do in fact mean adults.

    And what other industry would dare to “manufacture” the equivalent of “girl bands” and “boy bands”? Oh yes, I can almost see it: the new Penguin Anthology of Boy Poets, the latest Quercus Collection of Short Stories by Girl Crime Writers.

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    • Hi Mel – you ban them – excellent! Yup it’s the lack of imagination which gets me too. “Boy with the Pearl Earring” damn right I want to read it. I hadn’t thought of the ‘pop’ thing but one thing bleeds into another doesn’t it? It’s interesting that on the other side of the page in The Bookseller there’s a list of the top ORIGINAL FICTION and in that list there’s not a girl to be seen. There’s a ‘friend’ a ‘daughter’ and a ‘Queen’ OK – not astronaut and brain surgeon but better. When’s your next book out by the way? Is it short stories?

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  4. Good rant. I cannot believe the plethora of books with girl in the title and feel sorry of the authors who get strong-armed into changing what were probably much more inventive and appropriate titles. I confess I read ‘Gone Girl’ but that’s all. So far as adults using the word girl, I think of gay men calling each other that, and perhaps women affectionately calling their breasts ‘the girls’…But I’d be steering well away from any boys and their pearl earrings…

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    • I’ve read some of them too although Gone Girl drove me nuts with the overuse of the word literally. On the breast front there was a Wonderbra ad in the 1990s with the line Hello Boys next to a picture of Eva Herzigova. And the first time I saw it I thought that’s a weird thing to call your breasts before realising that, of course, she was supposed to be addressing the whole of mankind. Apparently the ad caused car crashes which I suppose made a success!

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  5. Thanks for asking. I was working away on a collection of interlinked short stories (crime fiction, mostly with the same Moss Reid character of my previous books) but found myself waylaid by the way one particular story was developing. So it became a full novel,

    I’ve nearly done the first draft (that’s the hardest part) so with the polishing and scrubbing it should be out by Christmas. Between you and me it’s going to be called “The Rebel Type”. You heard it here first.

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