I read two things today that annoyed me.
The first was a letter over at Slate to Dear Prudence from a father who was seeking advice about his 8 year-old son who displayed effeminate traits. The question in the letter isn’t that important, what’s important is that the letter writer, Prudence, and many of the commenters all assumed that because this little boy was more sensitive and effeminate, that he was gay.
The second thing I read was a review for a book. The review of the book wasn’t particularly charitable, noting lack of plot and unfocused, one-dimensional characters. The review concluded by stating that the book (which had just been eviscerated) was one for people with a Y chromosome.
I was a little cranky this morning and may have commented to the reviewer that those us of with the Y chromosome dislike poorly written books just as much as those of you who lack it, but the truth is that I wasn’t upset with the reviewer so much as I was upset by the way in which we categorize things (books in this case) by perceived gender roles.
People assume that only girls will like certain types of books and that only boys will like others. We assume that boys must act a certain way and girls must act another, and that deviations from those norms mean something is wrong.
As both a reader and a guy, I love action books just as much as I love emotional books. Just look at two of my very favorite books: The Marbury Lens and Jellicoe Road. Both books are amazing. Some might be tempted to call Jellicoe Road a girl book while others might be tempted to call The Marbury Lens a boy book. Both assumptions would be wrong. Even though Marbury is narrated by a guy and has some particularly violent (and awesome!) writing, while Jellicoe features a female protag and some sweet, romantic elements, both books are just plain fantastic regardless of your chromosomal makeup.
Maybe books with lots of explosions won’t appeal to all girls, but to believe they won’t appeal to any girls is stereotyping of the worst sort.
I’m not dumb enough to think that gender doesn’t impact who we are, and that there are fundamental differences between the genders, but it only hurts people when we make assumptions about people based on those traits. People aren’t their genders, they’re a collection of things. They fall on spectrums. They are contradictory and confusing.
That eight year-old boy might like playing with dolls now, and he might always be a little bit fabulous, but he could grow up to be a football star or a CEO or an artist or an astronaut, and whether or not he is or isn’t gay would have nothing to do with that. And that action-packed, bloody book that you think only appeals to boys might be some girly-girl’s guilty pleasure beach read.
For me, the biggest shame, is that when we make assumptions, we miss out on so much. One of the greatest things for me is hearing from someone who read Deathday and loved it, but had put off reading it for so long because they assumed it wasn’t their kind of book. For the longest time, I put off reading books by Courtney Summers because I thought she wasn’t my type of writer. But I read Fall For Anything and realized how wrong I’d been.
Books are like people. They can surprise you if you give them a chance.