When my husband and I married, he shrunk his collection of books by about 80% in order to move across the Pacific, and recently I noticed the majority of his books are by male authors. If you think about it, books written by women are all too often considered “women’s lit” and movies directed by women or written by them are often considered “chick flicks”… while books written by men and movies directed by men are just considered, well, movies. As women we are expected to identify with men and yet men are not expected to identify with art created by women. Yes there are exceptions in every genre, but let’s remember that Harry Potter didn’t get published until JK Rowling made her first name into initials so that her books would not be seen as catering to girls (even though the main character was a boy), and even though there are so many strong male characters in Shonda Rhimes’ many television series, the shows are often referred to as ones for women. And it’s often not until a woman directs a movie that is completely male-centric, and often with a lot of violence – like Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty – does she get the accolades and taken seriously as a leader in her craft. Girls are encouraged to read all authors yet boys are not… And if you don’t think that’s true, look at the bookshelves of the men you love and tell me what the percentage of female authors are on his bookshelf.
And it’s super easy to oversimplify the topic and say that, well the man in my life just doesn’t like certain genres of books or movies, or refer to female-dominated movies as ones that he likes but would never admit to his friends (which insults an entire gender of women, insinuating that if something was created by a woman that it is somehow something to be embarrassed by when a man “admits” to liking it…yet if a woman likes an action flick she is considered cool…kind of like the horrific tomboy stereotype for girls and sissy boy stereotype for boys), and I call bullshit on that.
When I introduced my feminist husband to the concept that he really did not have that much knowledge of female authors, initially he balked at what I said and try to name a couple of women whose books he’d read…as many do when initially defending something like this. But it’s okay to admit that you have missed an entire gender or ethnicity as a reader or filmgoer, and then make it your focus to do better. That is something that is truly badass.
So every other book that he reads is now one by a woman, adding so much more depth to his repertoire as a reader and introducing so many great writers. He has now learned about the great words of Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou and Elizabeth Gilbert, and that’s just the start. And I have turned the tables on myself as well to challenge what I have not exposed myself to as a reader, reading more works by great black men (beyond Walter Mosley, I realized that I’ve leaned much more heavily on the works of black women) like WEB Dubois and Langston Hughes and Malcolm X to name a few. I have not read enough by Latinx or Native American or Asian authors and I need to do better. Hell, until I met my husband, I had never read any Australian authors, so he immediately got me started on a couple writers from his home country. Just tonight when I was talking to him about this blog post, I talked to him about reading Bill Bryson as I had always assumed he was Australian because of In a Sunburned Country. Oy! My ignorance!
Anyhow, so I’m guessing we’re not the only ones who could be expanding their repertoires, whether it be gender or ethnicity or…? And since I know I can do better, I’m betting that we all can. So with that, Dan has written this guest blog post about five women who have inspired him in his life, and why… and it was really cool to learn who came to mind. I hope you enjoy it, and it makes you think about your own preconceived notions when it comes to gender, and how you might be able to open yourself up going forward – whether it be books or movies or whatever else floats your boat…
…my sweetheart, the writer…
Emma Goldman is someone I’ve always admired and this goes back to the years I dabbled in anarchist political philosophy. Operating in the late 19th early 20th century she fought for many issues. She fought strongly for and became a direct action advocate for women having access to birth control. She spent a couple of weeks in jail for distributing ‘lewd and lascivious information’, as a woman taking control over her own self was something obviously unseemly (a lot of that crap is still around today). She also railed against discrimination towards gays and lesbians. “It is a tragedy, I feel, that people of a different sexual type are caught in a world which shows so little understanding for homosexuals and is so crassly indifferent to the various gradations and variations of gender and their great significance in life.”
Edna Walling was an early to mid 20th landscape designer who had the audacity to move away from the English-dominated design principles current in Australia to locally-inspired design. Nobody at the time considered using Australian plants in landscaping…but she did. By doing this and having a lot of native groundcovers, she created gardens that used far less water than their European counterparts. I loved her because she gave me some great ideas about landscaping projects I undertook in Australia (and a few here as well). Great stuff for a sun-parched land, plus she was educated at the same horticultural college I went to and spent her final years in my childhood hometown in Queensland. “Nature is our greatest teacher.”
Grace Hopper is an important one whom I’ve known about her for awhile. She was a brilliant mathematician and at the forefront of programming languages, working on the Mark 1 during the end of WWII. She developed COBOL, a far easier language to grasp than binary code. 1’s and 0’s became if’s/then’s. In a world dominated by brogrammers, she was the one. As part of her legacy to encourage women to enter and stay in technology, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is held annually. “I’ve always been more interested in the future than in the past.”
Mrs Moore was my third and fourth grade teacher at Buderim State School, and the most memorable out of all of my teachers. She realized that I loved words and encouraged me both in and out of school to read stuff that was way beyond my grade level. Though she wanted me to work harder at mathematics, she saw my talents elsewhere and would stop me in the streets outside school asking me if I had read stuff he had asked me to. I figured to get her off my case (and embarrassing me in front of family and friends) I would. And I did. And I liked it. And thus began a love affair with reading…
Amelia Earhart…How could I not mention her? She was in the flying game from the start and ignored those who felt women should stay on the ground. She was the first president of the Ninety Nines, an international organization for women pilots and consistently advocated for them in a traditionally male area. Amongst the many records she broke in the 1920’s and 1930’s, she was the first woman to fly across both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans solo before going missing after leaving New Guinea. “There’s more to life than being a passenger.”
So, why am I writing about this? Well, why not? This is only a small sample of women who have inspired me through my life and I think it is important as a man to acknowledge that. Too often in literature, film, science, government, technology and a squillion other areas, women have taken a back seat to patriarchy. It is a male-dominated racket still and we are doing ourselves and future generations a great disservice by ignoring, closing doors to or outright fighting against a wealth of knowledge that we human beings desperately need.
I myself have lived part of this privileged life (and don’t fool yourself gents, it is privileged no matter where you are), and I look through a lot of the books I have read. Easily 90% of them have been by male authors. Most of the films I have devoured over the years have been by male directors, generally concentrating on men doing men stuff.
I read critiques of these books and films and a great many are by females, who provide some incredible insights (read some Pauline Kael if you want to go deep into film criticism), but I don’t see a hell of a lot of stuff the opposite way. I still here snide comments by people who should fucking well know better that the film was a “chick flick” or a “female book” or “girl stuff”(sub text is that the film or book is somehow less important or less appealing as it only will get a female audience. Further sub text is that all women are somehow still girls, and therefore not grown up. Ipso facto that work is small and insignificant).
As a thought experiment, what if all women decided that films or books by men were small and insignificant? What if the important messages that some films or books make were just seen as fluff and cutesy boy stuff?
It doesn’t matter what side of the political fence people decide to sit I have, and still see a great disparity in public discourse. I’m not talking lofty political stuff, I’m talking everyday political stuff that impacts women directly. The clowns currently holding the public purse have decided that Planned Parenthood could use a shakedown and that any money going into it is paltry to say the least. Anyone who opposes this is usually slapped down with contumely and vituperation by those who have tightened their financial fists. Emma Goldman would indeed roll in her grave at such craven and asinine foolishness. But while wiser heads of the past roll in their graves, those who are living need to get off their collective arses and let those crusty old farts know that this is not the fifteenth century. Us men no longer (and never fucking well should have) can lay claim to another human beings body.
So, a challenge. Men, if you reading this, good. Be better. Think of women in your life. Those who have inspired you, those you think are great, whether you know them or not. If you don’t get out there and actively seek them out. Read books by women. And i mean books. If you’re a movie man seek out female directors/producers/writers. If you’re a of a scientific bent, go further than Einstein. There are plenty of important women who have made great advances in science. Tell your mates about them and ask them to do the same. It’s a good thing.