Gender Conventions in Fiction
You meet two people.
Person #1 loves Disney Movies; has seen every single one of them and knows all the songs by heart. Person #1 loves The Notebook and always cries at the end. Person #1 also enjoys watching series like Desperate Housewives, Gilmore Girls and Scrubs.
Person #2’s favourite movie is Sleepy Hollow; the one with the headless horseman. Person #2 barely knows any Disney movies, but instead watched Jurassic Park, Star Wars, the Matrix and Lord of the Rings when young. Person #2 also enjoys Supernatural, Fringe and Friends.
One of them is a guy, one of them a girl. Which is which?
In this case I over exaggerated a bit. Person #1 is my boyfriend. He really does cry every time he watches The Notebook. He forces me to watch Disney movies with him, and then proceeds to sing every song along. And he loves Gilmore Girls and Scrubs, but also slightly manlier series like Supernatural and Fringe – but I chose to reflect a certain side of him here.
Person #2 is me. I haven’t seen Bambi, The Lion King or Sleeping Beauty – never watched them as a kid and still haven’t. Instead I watched science-fiction and action movies like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and loved those. I revelled at the action, the explosions and suspense and battle scenes. I love how the Death Star gets blown up by shooting a missile in a random vent, and how Indiana always stops the bad guy by snapping his whip at them.
Prejudice and sexism
The thing is, I’m not a special snowflake. There are plenty of girls that are like me, that love action movies, that love videogames, that love violence in their fiction. I’m the girl that says “everyone is dying in this book, it’s SO AWESOME”. Just a quick message on Twitter confirms that there are plenty of women that like action-based fiction. Neither is my boyfriend an anomaly. I know plenty of guys that cry at movies, that love to watch “girly” series like Desperate Housewives and Gray’s Anatomy. You probably know plenty of them too. But even though it’s usually okay (if a bit weird) for a girl to love action, it’s not okay for a guy to sniffle when the main character tragically dies. Men are supposed to be masculine, women are supposed to be soft.
Gender discussions have brought many rights to women that we didn’t use to have. Women can vote, we can hold high positions in society. Yet the prejudice and sexism continues. Women don’t get paid as much as men when holding the same job position. This is absolutely insane – I still can’t understand how something like this is possible in 2013, but it’s true. Male nurses and male nannies are met with suspicion. Women engineers are eyed with distrust.
It’s important to me to point out the inequality between men and women. And it’s not just confining for women – it’s also confining for men. A man is supposed to make the living, to make the most money. When his wife makes more, he might feel inadequate because it’s not normal to make less than your wife. It’s weird for a man to be a stay-at-home dad, while his wife brings in the money. It’s weird for a woman to leave her kids behind with her husband. She’s the woman, she’s supposed to take care of the children. Is she making a career? Well, that must mean she doesn’t love her children enough, that she’s a bad mother. And that while if it would be the husband that was ascending through the corporate ladder, then he’s just trying to provide the best he can for his family.
Prejudice and fiction
And the prejudice continues throughout fiction. Just think for a second about “girl books” and “boy books”. The girl books are always pink and feature princesses and horses. The boy books are blue and feature fighting and the military. From birth we are enhancing gender roles, we are applying them where there might not be a difference.
The gender gap is carried on as we grow older. When boys get dirty from playing outside, people sigh, shake their head and say “boys will be boys”. When a girl comes home with a hole in her thights, she will be reprimanded and told that she should be more careful. In high school, girls are pushed towards drama classes and painting, boys are pushed towards physics and math.
YA author Maureen Johnson challenged her readers to gender-flip YA covers. In books, the covers are extremely important in marketing. And by making a difference between a “girl cover” and a “guy cover”, we are holding back cross-over readers. They don’t want to look silly, holding a book that’s clearly meant for the other sex. Again, I think guys are actually more the victim from this. A girl holding an action book is okay, but a guy holding a chicklit is definitely weird. Then again, a girl reading a non-fiction about guns or fishing would be considered unnatural as well.
I absolutely hate that girls are still connected with this medieval image of femininity. We’re supposed to be softer, dramatic, more in tune with our emotions. I’m none of those. Yet I know one hundred percent sure that I’m a girl. I feel like a girl. But I don’t fit in with the standard image that still permeates everything we do and produce. Men aren’t better off – they must be strong, physically and mentally, they must be brave and a bit rough around the edges. Without this, you must be gay. It must be impossible to be softer and emotional without having sexual feelings for other men.
Girls like action and boys like love stories
We’re all human, why must there be a difference?