Feminism | Posted by Shanmin D on 08/19/2010

Not Two Separate Species

not for girls?

not for girls?

I’m taking a creative writing class this summer at the local community college. One day, a man brought in a story he’d written? I won’t get into what it was about, but when he finished reading it to the class, a girl spoke up and politely disagreed with him. The man was not offended, received the comment graciously, and all was well and good. However, I was distraught when another guy spoke up and suggested that the girl didn’t “get” the story because it was written “for a man, by a man.”

It reminded me of another incident that took place in my English class last year. The teacher asked if any of us had seen How to Train Your Dragon over the weekend. Another girl and I both raised our hands. He asked us if we’d liked it. We had.

Then he said, “I was wondering what the girls thought of it? it’s a pretty masculine movie, isn’t it?”

What?! After some consideration, I concluded, that, yes, How to Train Your Dragon was rather “masculine.” A male protagonist, Vikings, dragons, and rousing action scenes. But I could not, and still cannot, see anything about the movie that would lead anyone to believe that girls would not enjoy it.

So these two episodes got me thinking: It seems to me that gender is THE most important part of a person’s identity, whether in fiction or real life. A writer might get away with creating a character without describing his/her physical appearance, or age, or social class, or nationality, but there is something about gender-ambiguity that enrages and confuses the mind. It’s not so much a dividing line as a yawning chasm.

You can imagine my distress. Do people really think that they can’t identify with protagonists of a different gender? Do they think that we’re too different from each other to relate? Is there such an unbridgeable gulf between “male” and “female” that we cannot fully understand and connect with a person of the opposite sex?

I really do not believe this is true. When I read a book with a main character who is male? say, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? there is a part of my soul that feels like I am Tom. I can relate. I have male friends who I do understand, and I am close to them.

Perhaps I am female and you are male, but we are both humans. We share common human experiences. We are not two separate species.

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  • K @ at 2:04 pm, August 19th, 2010

    I would be interested to hear a male perspective. I feel that females are constantly made to identify with the male perspective/protagonist b/c that is a majority of the offerings. Do males read books with female characters or watch movies with female leads and “become” them? I don’t know that they are socialized to accept that kind of identification b/c being “feminine” is “wrong.”

  • Niamh @ at 6:02 pm, August 19th, 2010

    I have to agree: in our society, gender is expected to define us. Gender is quite a human-formed phenomenon similar to race. The WHO has a really good definition of sex vs. gender, found here:

    http://www.who.int/gender/whatisgender/en/index.html

    As a feminist, I try to reject stereotypes about my gender. I’m in the minority of girls in computer programming classes; I whip butt at science and math; and I’m a good parallel parker, like many woman I know (thank-you very much Allstate). Nonetheless, my gender does define who I am. I doubt I would be such a strong feminist if I were male (not saying that men can’t strongly align with feminism… just that I probably wouldn’t) because the situations that led to me to feminism were to with me being a female doing typical “non-feminine” activities.

    Just like weight… just like beauty… I think I have the same philosophy with fitting or not fitting gender stereotypes:

    If you want to fit a gender stereotype, go ahead; great! If you don’t, go ahead; great! Just don’t let societal pressures force you to embrace either.

    Vair interesting post!

  • A @ at 7:11 pm, August 19th, 2010

    it is a very thought-provoking post. gender seems to define us greatly, and i don’t think that’s ALWAYS bad, but it is sometimes. re: Tom Sawyer and other classics- SO many classics that we study in school are narrated and written by males, and i think that it’s beneficial to read books by and narrated by both genders to increase perspective, which in my opinion is a big part of why we read. the only classic i can think of that we’ve read in school, is written by a female, and has a female lead character is Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.

    Thanks for posting this!

  • Cicutae @ at 11:01 pm, August 19th, 2010

    I saw an interview with Kathryn Bigelow (she directed The Hurt Locker, in case you don’t know) where the woman interviewing her asked if it was hard to make such a masculine movie. I barfed. Mentally, of course.

  • Shanmin @ at 1:36 am, August 20th, 2010

    Niamh: I guess it’s true that gender is part of who I am— but the thing is, it shouldn’t be the ONLY part, and it shouldn’t be the biggest part, either. But I agree with you, it does affect who I am.

    A: I hate that about the literature we study! It’s always Arthur Miller and the “common MAN,” or T.S. Eliot and the the “modern MAN”, as if men represented ALL of society— and whenever we read about a character who is not straight/white/male, the literature automatically classified in a specific, different genre. I could go on, but this comment is already getting quite long…

    Cicutae: Kathryn Bigelow. Yes. I noticed that, how everyone was all surprised that a cute little girl like her could make such a manly movie. It was like they focused on her gender more than the actual awesomeness of her work. It was… just… so wrong.

  • Shanmin @ at 1:41 am, August 20th, 2010

    Hm. I would like to add that… it seems that all my dashes have turned into question marks in this post.
    Please excuse the grammatical errors, everyone!!

    I didn’t make them!

  • Jade @ at 5:38 am, August 20th, 2010

    I totally agree with what you wrote. Still, I can’t help but think: in The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir said that the problem in our (Western) societies is that women are considered as “female”, and men as “male” and *also* as neutral. Meaning that anything that is not (seen as) typically feminine is automatically seen as masculine. So if you don’t have a movie dealing with love/fashion/knitting/whatever, some people, even today, will assume that it’s a man’s movie and that girls can’t understand it… How sad.
    However, I think that there *are* men’s movies, men’s books &c. Just as most women are more interested in, say, psychology, most men are more interested in sports, war, &c. A good example is Joseph Conrad’s work. I had to study Lord Jim in uni and I didn’t really enjoy it, mostly because I kept thinking “man’s book, man’s book”. You know, whenever there’s all this ranting about virility and that white man’s concern about honour, I do feel that it’s not really for me. I don’t identify with this old-fashioned notion of what a man’s got to do, and whenever I see it in books that have been continually praised for centuries (guess by who? men, of course), I feel disgust.
    Similarly, most of my favourite writers are women (Jeanette Winterson, Angela Carter, Virginie Despentes…). They write about stuff that most men simply can’t relate to. Yeah, I think gender is still an important part of my identity, because society makes it so. Feminism wouldn’t exist if society didn’t give gender such importance.

  • blakerivers @ at 6:58 am, August 20th, 2010

    -Jade: “Feminism wouldn’t exist if society didn’t give gender such importance.”

    Very True statement…the profundity of which may not initially be evident.

    -A – I too wish there was more standard female-protagonist literature. Not just teen fiction, or romance, or young adult, but actual classics – like Moby Dick, but with a woman; imagine that! I feel a little bit unusual because I really want to read bad-ass adventure stories that follow female characters rather than male. A lot of the literature out there that features females is more within the drama/romance/comedy genres and not as much in the sci-fi/adventure arenas. While this is understandable, I think it should not be that way anymore.

    Why should we not be compelled by switching the gender of archetypes and heros? See the comic below:

    http://i744.photobucket.com/albums/xx85/blakerivers/blakeriversblog/girlstarfighterpilot.jpg

  • blakerivers @ at 7:01 am, August 20th, 2010

    -Niamh – Here’s a somewhat radical but very interesting article. Make of it what you will.

    http://www.now.org/nnt/fall-2001/viewpoint.html

  • Ruth @ at 3:50 pm, August 20th, 2010

    I’m actually surprised the guy didn’t pick up on one “feminine” aspect of the movie- that dragon is the most adorable dragon I’ve ever seen. ;D Also, one of my favourite movies is Terminator 2, I adore action scenes and science fiction. It’s amazing how so many people don’t realise we’re all a mix of traditionally “male” and “female” traits.

  • Simim @ at 2:20 am, March 23rd, 2011

    I use gender-neutral pronouns not because I believe I’m gender-neutral, but rather because I don’t want to be clumped into a “he” or a “she.”

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