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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

My Reaction to the Gender Coverup

I'm writing this post, and I'm angry. I usually try not to write things when I'm angry, but right now, I don't care. I just read this blog - The Gender Coverup written by Maureen Johnson, and now I'm pissed off.

What pisses me off even further, is that I nearly used the modifier "lovely" to describe Maureen Johnson, and it's not that she's not lovely, but it makes me angry that my natural inclination to describe her wasn't "friendly" or "smart" or "incomparable" or any other ten million words that don't have female connotations to it, and I realize once again that I'm part of the problem.

I very rarely weigh in on the issue of gender bias books because I think that if I say something, people will just point that my books suck, and recognition or lack thereof has nothing to do with gender but merit, and maybe they're right. Not that my books suck, but I do believe that while my books are enjoyable and fun, they aren't the stuff the of literary of awards, which is perfectly fine with me.

So this isn't about me. This isn't about whether or not I'll win awards, because I won't. I was reviewed in the New York Times, and that's already more than my fair share and more than many much more well written books by female authors can hope for. So I'm not complaining about me or for me.

But I'm sick to death of this. I am so sick of the constant, blatant sexism. And any time any one points anything out as being sexist, they're accused of "whining" or "nagging" or "not taking a joke."

From the Steubenville rape trial to the obituary of Yvonne Brill to the fact that more women read books than men, more women write books then men, but only a small fraction of books that win literary awards are written by women. Women are the publishing industry's bread and butter, we are the backbone of the damn entertainment industry, but we are constantly demoted to "fluffy" to "light" to "meaningless."

From a very young age, I knew that "girly" meant inferior, so I avoided it like a plague. I played with action figures, not Barbies. I caught snakes and toads in my yard. When I first started developed "crushes" on boys, I was enraged at myself, because "crushes" and "kisses" were girly, and therefore inferior, and I shouldn't want that.

For years, I have probably been part of the problem. Instead of standing up for the girly things I did like - like the color pink and glitter and teen romance novels - and pointing out that's its perfectly okay to like these things, that there's never been anything inferior about glitter, and most people of both genders hope to fall in love - I dismissed them and surrounded myself with the "boy" interests that I do have, wearing Jurassic Park and Batman and Star Wars like armor, listening to Korn and Marilyn Manson in high school to prove that I wasn't some girl, I was as tough and as valuable as any boy.

Most of my life, I've spent apologizing to the world for being a girl. A really big and important event happened in my early twenties wherein I had a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide. And that was terrible and horrible, but it was after that I realized that I needed to learn to accept myself for myself. That I'd spend enough of my life hating myself for the things I couldn't change, and at the very top of the list was the fact that I'd always hated myself for being a girl, because in my mind, it made me inherently weak and inferior. Having emotions - particularly sadness and love - are associated with the feminine, and I spent a great deal of my life trying to stifle them as a result. Every thing feminine about myself I tried to change, to "correct."

I'm not transgendered in anyway, because when I actually allow myself to I quite like being a girl. I like shoes and dying my hair and the color pink and guys and tattoos and Batman and comic books and horror movies and romantic comedies and wearing jeans and action figures, because oh my god, I'm a whole person with whole interests, and there's nothing inherently wrong with any of them. 

There are of course other issues contributing to the self-loathing, and I didn't hate myself just because I liked Jonathan Taylor Thomas or My Little Ponies. But these were symptoms of a larger problem, one that was constantly reiterated to me by every form of media. Everything female is inferior.

I don't know how to change this, but I know this has to stop. I may be a terrible writer or an inferior human being or a horrible person, but none of that has to do with the fact that I'm a girl, and nobody should ever feel the way did. Kids today deserve better from us. They do not need these constant subtle reminders that they are inferior.

The first step is acknowledging that it exists, and that there's a gender gap in nearly every form of industry in the country, and the second step is top stop buying into it. We all need to stop feeding it and buying into it.


  1. yep yep yeapppppppp I totally understand that mentality. "RUN AWAY FROM THE GIRL THINGS! NO I HATE JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE BECAUSE EW GIRLS" was basically the theme of my life from 5th grade 'til whenever I decided being girly was totally fine. It had a little to do with bullying (from a girl, no less) about how she assumed I had a pink bike and I must've been lesser-than because of it. BLARGH. I hate that society teaches us that shit from a young age! I was totally fine playing with Barbies AND liking boy bands AND not having the same favorite color as everyone else (blue). ANYWAY, fine post. Fine post, indeed!

  2. This is an excellent post. Thank you for writing it.

  3. Rock on, Amanda. I grew up a regretful girl like you, drowning myself in Star Wars and video games and nerdy things because I wasn't into Tiger Beat boys or princess movies. As a teen, boys liked me because I was "one of the guys" but stopped liking me because I wasn't girly enough. It took me a long time to embrace the fact that I liked "girly" things too, and it's only in the past few years that I no longer feel that instinctive gender divide, that I feel unsettled by the distinct lack of women in movies and genres and books and fandoms I love.

    And you shouldn't need to apologize at all for writing what you write. It'd be a mistake for women to try to rectify these issues by writing "man" books. WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE.

  4. Thank you for sharing this post. :)

  5. Man, this is so familiar for me. I realized one day that I looked down on girls who liked using makeup and things, and that surprised me. Not because I wasn't aware of it, but because I never looked at it in that light. I.E., I never saw that in avoiding makeup and girly things, I was being judgmental.

    It was hard to accept that I am girly in some ways, because it does feel vulnerable. But it's important.

  6. Nothing wrong with being girly, I've always been girly, however, girly does not mean weak. I find myself getting angry with movie companies for not making strong female leads(mostly the comic book movies). While there are strong female roles(Sarah Connor, Alice from Resident Evil, or Selene from Underworld), these roles are either minimized or sexualized. The movie catwoman was the worst thing I have ever seen, and there was no reason for that. Catwoman is not a weak character, she has plenty of decent storylines. Same with Eletrka.

  7. Hi,
    I was an English major in college and am now an English lit teacher. I do in some ways agree with Maureen Johnson, but I also am wondering if maybe her English teacher in high school just had an issue with female authors. I don't understand how she can go through high school and not read any novels from female authors. What about Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, George Eliot, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. I understand that a lot of authors back then were men, but in my high school and college experience, I probably read about 40% female authors. Probably the only reason I didn't read more was because a lot of my classes were focused on early literature.

    As an lit teacher I do sometimes see that boys don't want to read female authors, but not as much as it probably used to be. Authors like you, Suzanne Collins, and Veronica Roth have all helped get rid of that. I think they are now becoming more open to reading female authors because I think female authors are pushing out of the genres they have always been stereotyped into. I also think that she was forgetting about one of the biggest female authors J.K. Rowling. I don't remember anyone caring or commenting that she was a female.

    1. I tried to think what I read in high school, and not counting poems, because I honestly can't remember all the poems I read or their authors, I can recall two novels by female authors that I read in school - Harper Lee and S. E. Hinton, and I'm not sure how you'd classify Anne Frank's diary, but I did also read that in school. But as for male authors, I read Shakespeare (three different plays by him), George Orwell, Charles Dickens (two novels by him), Edgar Alan Poe, Sid Fleischman, Eli Wiesel, and that's what I remember now. But you are right in that her teachers probably had a lot do with it. I know that my senior English teacher chose the novels we read based on his preferences and what he'd thought we'd like, because he talked about it with us. And I think there is a great leeway in curriculum.

      So you are definitely right that Maureen Johnson, and myself, may have had the luck of the draw with the teachers we had who chose predominately male authors, or maybe things are changing - I graduated from high school over ten years ago, and I'm not sure exactly when Maureen graduated, but I would venture that it was probably around the same time I did.

      But as for J. K. Rowling, there was definite concern about her being female. Her name is Joanne Rowling - no middle name, no middle initial - but her publisher's thought that boys wouldn't read a book written by a woman, so they asked her to go by initials. (I believe she took the "K" from her mother, but don't quote me on that). In the beginning, they tried to keep her gender hidden, but eventually people found out, and you're right, no one seemed to care and it didn't anyone from reading it.

      But the fact is her publishers believed that people would not read her books because of her gender. They thought, either based on previous experience or a bit of sexist insanity, that the books wouldn't sell as well because they were written by a woman.

      It also begs another question, one that Maureen Johnson was getting at - how well would the books have sold if they had been about a girl named Harriet Potter (with the only difference being the gender of the main character)? How would they have been marketed and jacketed? Would the publisher still have asked that she go by "J. K. Rowling," or would her name have been Joanne (or Jo) Rowling on the cover?

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Not a 100% endorsement (I think it's a bit harsh on Jo in places) but related: In praise of Joanne Rowling’s Hermione Granger series.

  8. I'm willing to bet that a lot of women and girls can relate to what you've written.

    I grew up with almost the opposite situation in that I didn't prefer the "girly" stuff, so I felt ashamed that I wasn't a "real girl." I loved my Star Wars action figures and Return of the Jedi Sheets, I played video games and I read science fiction and fantasy. But, I felt I had to hide all of that or be laughed at because they were "boy things."

    And then there was all the pressure to conform, to care about things like clothes and hair and make-up. I mean, I liked those things, but I just didn't CARE about them, they weren't my focus and I hated that I was always on the outside. I didn't fit in with the girls, exactly, and I wasn't a boy. At the same time, I was acutely aware that the "girly" stuff was considered "less" or "inferior." It's oppressive - all of it, the gender rules.

    As for what you write - never denigrate yourself for writing what you love. That's all you can do, anyway, write what is in your heart and soul. There's nothing inferior about that. A good story is a good story.

  9. Great post. But ... please don't apologize for calling a woman "lovely." Yes, being lovely is feminine, and being feminine is wonderful.

  10. Yeah- I totally get what you're saying. There are so many good guys out there who simply don't get this. A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a cinematographer (super nice guy) who thinks that there are few female directors in Hollywood simply because women "aren't designed" to be interested in mechanics/the way things work. I almost didn't know what to say because that theory is sooooo stupid.

    It seems that this perception of certain things as exclusively feminine and other things as masculine can affect girls one of two ways: make them cling to what they know as feminine so as to be accepted OR readily accept what's viewed as masculine while dismissing feminine stuff to avoid the stigma that comes with being a "girly girl."

    I guess the direction in which the girl chooses to go has a lot to do with her personality and the culture in which she grows up.

    Growing up, I was torn between these two choices. Like you, I had tons of crushes, was in love with all of the Disney Princess crap (it feels almost sacrilegious to call it crap) and yet felt the need to declare my love of all things Sci Fi when I was around my brother and his friends. I was afraid of being taunted for my liking "girly" stuff.

    I used to take French in School and I couldn't figure out why some words were feminine and other words were masculine. My teacher didn't know either (or maybe she did know and was just tired of teaching French to sarcastic High School kids)- well, I wonder the same thing about life in general. Why do we feel the need to categorize everything as either feminine and masculine? It's kind of dumb to assume that a little girl wouldn't want to play with a toy dump truck just because she's a little girl or that a little boy wouldn't like to wear a shiny bracelet just because he's a little boy. When we try to categorize everything (by gender or by race) we only end up stunting our growth as a culture.

    If girls weren't expected to like what's "feminine" and reject "masculine" interests, there would be tons more female directors in Hollywood. God knows what kind of great movies we haven't seen because ten years ago some little girl gave up on the idea of pursuing an interest in a field that's "for boys".

    Thanks for your post- and I have no qualms about calling it smart AND lovely : )

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  17. I COMPLETELY relate to what you and Maureen have both said regarding gender roles in literature (of both the main character and author) and I might be part of the problem too because I am choosing to go by my initials instead of my girl name mainly for marketing reasons. Hahaha like it's my Indian name or something - "Author with Boobs & Lady Bits" but anyway, I've been struggling with the idea of making my main character a girl or a boy just because I think having her be a male would help me sell more books after I'm published. I hate that I have to think like this and consider it, but I'm trying to SELL as well as WRITE, and that involves making my product as widely appealing as possible. I've decided to be brave and keep my character a girl, although she still has a traditionally masculine name - Taylor - but I don't care. I love her as she is, and can't picture her being a boy. The blog post I wrote on this just yesterday is here: It outlines my thoughts and why I'm deciding to keep her as a female. As far as the teachers in high school making us read mostly male authors goes - I was in high school long before Harry Potter came into its hayday of popularity, but I think that we mainly read works by men because those are the "classics". There are naturally more male authors from these time periods because women were viewed completely differently and given different educational opportunities than men. I read a lot of Shakespear, Homer, Dostoevsky, etc, but we also got some of the Bronte' sisters in, and a little Jane Austen, plus Mary Shelley. Basically, all of those have been done so much that the teachers don't have to create new lesson plans and these are already part of the curriculum. I have no idea how much flexibility an English teacher has to choose what works the classes will cover, but hopefully a few more lady writers will make it in soon.

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  21. A very articulate post. There is a weird stigma associated with literature and gender. I was an English Major and constantly was one of three males in class. However, a majority of the authors we read were male. As someone that is trying to keep developing as a writer and hopefully self publish in the future, you have been a big inspiration!

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  25. Guys view:
    In the past, I would say equality was not there. But seriously? Today I sometimes feel oppressed as a guy. Woman equality in most 1st world countries has come the distance and most have won the overall fight.

    I am not sure in US of A, but in Singapore, ladies can be scary. In law, it is always the guy's fault unless proven absolutely. Not only that, most ladies in Singapore know their right and are not afraid to inform everyone.

    A lot of them are protected by their parents. While most guys are keep on being bombarded from a early age that family is important, protect the family, filial piety, etc.

    Funnily in Singapore we are getting a role reversal situation in which more guys are more family orientated and more ladies are more work orientated.

    It is true every where that there will be bigotry but I think it various from person to person, from topic to topic and from culture to culture and seriously it is not one directional.

    But as for Lit in school, you all got to agree or at least acknowledge that preferences vary from person to person and if the person selecting your books to study is a guy... Guess what, most of the books you will be studying will most likely be what he/she likes. Also it does not help that in ancient times most if not all writers were guys. Get a teacher who is a lady, and the opposite would happen (except maybe ladies are more empathetic/non-clueless and thus more fair?).

    My lit teacher for O levels was a older man with strange ideas and he choose a female African writer and the Macbeth. Now Macbeth I loved, but the African book I was like WT!!!

    It was the strangest book I ever read, not because the author was a female, but because seriously I could not relate one bit to the African outlook.

    So seriously is it a gender cover up or just the simple unchecked, uninformed preferences of single people that just might not have thought anything about their selection?

    As a reader of both female and guy writers, both action and romance. I must say that at least where I am (Singapore) while not equal in everything both ways the gender equality is from my view point no longer a major issue for the modern age as it was once in the olden eras.

    Also there is the serious issue that guys and girls like different things. Take movies for example and the strong female lead. I know ladies complain these leads are sexuallised. But think from a $$$ point of view.

    Girls like strong female leads + Guys like hot woman = Hot strong female lead. It is really that simple.

    In the end, while I got to admit that ultra feminism and male bigotry are both alive and well in "special people" and that will not end till the end of time. I seriously do not think there is any more gender cover up. Just individuals that do things for various reasons, be it money, because that has always been how it was done, to protect their job, or because they themselves are bigots.

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  27. Depeche Mode once song 'People are people so why can't we be?' The truth's okay to be girly, or boyish, regardless of gender. People get too hung up on putting people and things in check boxes, and it's that what p*ssess me off. It's one life, as far as we know, so peope just have to be who they are. I think you are right, there are gaps that need to be addressed.

    I've never thought that a woman president or prime minister was any different to a male one. I don't understand why people - and society in general view differences as weaknesses - i.e. you're a woman, therefore you cannot do that, and vice versa for a man. It's stupid. All these years of human growth and supposed evolution. If anything, we're going backwards. Rant away Amanda, you may make a difference and I hope that you succeed.