Sunday, August 19, 2007

Girly Book

"Daddy's reading a girly book." It was the jesting call of a seven-year old, son of a friend ours, as he observed his dad reading my book. I have no doubt that he was prompted--programmed is more like it-- by another adult. I am proud of my good friend for taking the time to read my book--wedding dress cover and all. (His usual genre in books is the espionage type thriller.) My dad, too, is reading outside his genre on this one. He likes my writing style, but wonders why I can't write a story more in keeping with the novels of Zane Grey--author of pulp fiction cowboy and adventure novels. (I had to look him up on Wikipedia.)

I cannot blame these men for their preferences. I do admire them for stepping outside the box for me. And they are not the only ones who are in the box. Even though my book is written from the perspective of a woman, it is considered to be of the literary genre. Not women's literary, but literary. Period. But not many will see it as such. In terms of literature, a man's perspective is the default. It is a sad fact that in junior and senior years of high school honor's English classes, of our seemingly endless reading, our required classwork only included one novel by a woman. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. (Luckily the protagonist was male.) I did manage an independent book report on Wuthering Heights, but it wasn't until I was in college women's studies classes, did I discover books by: Margaret Atwood, Marge Piercy, Toni Morrison, Isabelle Allende, Kate Chopin, Zora Neale Hurston.

Today, the Sunday Reading Eagle ran an associated press article about female directors struggling for equality. The article quotes screenwriter, Robin Swicord as saying that she wishes, ". . . we could make our movies without people saying, 'And she's a woman director,' Here's Julie Delpy doing this wonderful comedy and here's Judd Apatow doing his comedy and no one is saying, 'And he's a male director.'" The article concludes by saying that though many women directors are interested in telling more intimate, character-driven stories, it is films like The Departed, Braveheart, and Dances With Wolves that win Oscars.

Yes, I like to write novels that are character-driven, emotional, spiritual, sexual--all at once. Novels that explore the artist psyche and the psychology of the family dynamic. To me these stories are more vibrant and intriguing than swashbuckling heroics. I do understand the need to market my novel to women, but I do not understand the limitations of gender perspective.

Why did J.K. Rowling make her main character male? Imagine for a moment... Harriet Potter. Why not? It is common knowledge that girls will read books where the protagonist is male, though boys rarely make the same leap. Numerous studies analyzing children's literature find the majority of books dominated by male figures. A 1995 study (See note below) analyzed titles of children's books and discover that male names were almost twice as prevalent as female names.

I have read male writers: J.R.R. Tolkien, Mark Twain, Philip Pullman, Dan Brown, C.S. Lewis, Wally Lamb, Pat Conroy, Robin Cook, Chris Bohjalian, John Grisham, Khaled Hosseini, and Robertson Davies-- among many others. I read almost indiscriminately and love getting a new perspective. I now encourage all men and boys to read outside the lines. Gender lines that is. Teachers--I dare you to challenge your students in this way. The sexes need to have more understanding of each other--and I'm going to say it: men (and they are the ones who have the seats of power in business and government) especially need more understanding of women, so that the feminine perspective is integrated into the norm instead of merely the fringe. Is it too much to ask that the next president of my country is someone who can claim at least one book by Margaret Atwood in his/her education?

* Ernst, S. B. (1995). "Gender issues in books for children and young adults." In S. Lehr (Ed.). Battling dragons: Issues and controversy in children's literature. (pp. 66-78). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. [ED 379 657]

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