How We Write & Market Gender

I think a lot about gender in general, but a few things have made me want to talk about gender with regards to children’s books recently. First, Ursula LeGuin’s (one of my superheroes) thoughts on “Being a Man.” And a few weeks ago when some folks got upset that there were no books about female athletes on a YALSA list of 10 best sports books of the year.

So I’m asking for a bit of (polite and productive) argument here. Where are we on the gender question right now? I mean, I realize that we now generally consider that girls can play with the boys and do-everything-that-they-do-but-better. But really, what do we currently believe about gender? And, more importantly for the purposes of this blog, what messages are we and are we not sending about gender to our chickens? Where do we need to get to from here?

We don’t talk about this enough. We get outraged when girls are under-represented in a list of sports books because sports are traditionally considered a masculine domain, but we don’t seem to get upset that most of the YA is written by women with female protagonists. So let’s talk about it. What does justice in the field of gender look like? Do we need to see exactly even representations of male and female protagonists in fiction in general and in each domain (like sports) for it to exist? What stereotypes about women are we still propagating? And then, let’s look at the other side: what are we giving boys?

I can’t seem to manage to ever hold a popular opinion. What I see is that we are teaching girls to still be pretty and desirable while telling them that they need to be boys in terms of success and pursuits. And at the same time, we’re telling boys that it is not OK for them to be what they have always been told to be. But we aren’t giving them any ideas about what they should be, either. We have devalued traditional masculinity to such an extent that no one feels comfortable expressing it. We pretend that we have equally devalued traditional femininity while still expecting it. So girls are supposed to be girls and boys, and boys are supposed to be nothing.

That’s how it seems to me, in any case. And I think this is generally the state of our books for kids, too. Someone reasonably explain this or change my mind, please?

We’ll have the fabulous Rebecca Maizel on here later this month to talk about these things. She both writes fabulous heroines who don’t need saving and thinks critically about Manic Pixie Dream Girl tropes and other things gender. The person who comments most this month will win one of her Vampire Queen novels.

So stop by. Have an opinion. Express it blithely. Cheers!



About pamwatts

Writer, Reader, and Children's advocate
This entry was posted in Thoughts and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to How We Write & Market Gender

  1. kmquimby2014 says:

    You are so right. We don’t talk about gender enough. We don’t, because we don’t think about it deeply. People tend to look at single aspects of gender–equal access for girls, transgender equality, the current restrictive definition of masculinity, and things like that, rather than looking at gender as a broad issue uniting all those things.

    This is a subject I’ve been thinking about for over thirty years, starting when second wave feminism came to my college-age consciousness. One of the things that bothered me, even then, is how prescriptive people can be about gender roles, whether that prescription is the avoidance of high heels by women who are theoretically buying in to the dominant stereotype or the assumption that boys will only be interested in STEM subjects. Only when we accept that there is no one particular way to be a man or a woman or anything in between will we achieve gender equality. In other words, as I came to believe in the process of working on my VCFA critical thesis, only when we accept that gender is a spectrum will we see our way out of our current difficulties.

  2. pamwatts says:

    Kathy, I would love to read your thesis. And I agree that gender is a spectrum. When I was a kid, I was really a little boy. But I hated when I was mistaken for a boy. And I didn’t know until well into high school that being a girl meant anything different at all. I’ve always had a loud laugh and expressed my opinions freely and without apologizing which got me pretty hugely shunned at the all-women’s college that I attended. I’ve studied Physics and Western Philosophy. And I like physically fighting, wrestling, and getting all scratched up. And then I started to fall in love with a man, and I started spontaneously baking. Like woah. And now I own two pairs of high heels. None of this a conscious intention towards femininity. And I keep arguing with this very man about what womanhood is. And it makes me wonder if it really IS something?

    Gender is a spectrum. Does it have poles? Rilke in his “seventh letter to a young poet” talks about womanhood as something that hasn’t yet come to fruition. He says that women are going through a reactionary period where they take on manhood as a way of overcoming their subjugation. But he says that women, “in whom life lingers and dwells more immediately, more fruitfully and more confidently, must surely have become fundamentally riper people, more human people, than easygoing man, who is not pulled down below the surface of life by the weight of any fruit of his body . . . This humanity of woman, borne its full time in suffering and humiliation, will come to light when she has stripped off the conventions of mere femininity in the mutations of her outward status . . .”

    What do we think? Is there room in the world for strong, empowered manhood and womanhood?

  3. Pingback: Strong Female Heroines: Review of Infinite Days by Rebecca Maizel (w Giveaway!) | Strong in the Broken Places

What Do You Think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s