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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

A Sad Time for Feminism

I was going to open this post by commenting that it's been a sad week for feminism. I started compiling a list of recent events to refer to and quickly realised that it's pretty much impossible to slap a nice neat timeframe on all the stuff that makes me want to shout/cry/stab someone. So I'll just sum up a few choice recent moments: the whys and wherefores of 'legitimate' versus 'illegitimate' rape; a culture of sleaze at the BBC (no wait, everywhere in the 70s and 80s); freshers' week as instruction in knowing one's place and, perhaps arguably less seriously, the final nail in the coffin of 'YA lit is written for girls by girls'.

This last question is the one I'm going to focus on for now, as I have some chance of at least appearing relatively calm and rational in my arguments (and gods forbid I should seem irrational and emotional). The idea that there are fewer books 'for' boys than girls is often floated, along with the related ideas that boys 'won't' read a female protagonist and that 'boys' books may be harder to publish (as the market slice is smaller). The fabulous lady business site conducted some research into female dominance in YA, but, being unable to explore the entire market, focused on awardwinners since 2012, as these are particularly visible books which have also been recognised as high quality in some way. Their overall conclusion was that 49% of these awardwinning books had a male protagonist, and 42% were written by male authors.

It is possible (and acknowledged by the fabulous lady business team) that male-focused books (those with a male protagonist) may be more likely to be selected for awards as they are perceived as being less common. This is, of course, not the same thing as being actually less common, which is a very difficult thing to prove with the number of books that we would be talking about here. It also reminds me of teaching gender differences in language usage with sixth formers. Students are very willing to accept rather outdated stereotypes about gendered speech unquestioningly. I'm talking about ideas such as 'women share feelings while men share facts' and 'women discuss problems simply to compare experience, while men assume they're looking for solutions'. These ideas feel right to many people before looking at the evidence, perhaps in the same way that gender-based beliefs about reading and publishing appeal (boys don't read girly genres/topics; boys need a male lead character; most kids & YA fiction is written by women). But of course, we also perpetuate these beliefs by accepting them as inherently right, and that's pretty much the problem with most of these gender issues. The way people treat one another, the choices we make, all stem from our basic beliefs, which include beliefs about gender.

I sometimes feel that it was easier to be a young feminist in the late 80s and early 90s than it is for girls now. We seem no longer to have a culture in which the likes of the Savile case can easily exist, yet it is harder to argue for women's rights now, and I'm sure it's harder for girls to consider themselves feminist. They can recognise past injustices, but rarely realise for themselves how imbalanced our society and culture still is. I don't know how many times I've presented evidence to classes relating to the representation of women in the media, or cultural norms and expectations revealing themselves through texts, only to be greeted with "well, yeah, but no-one means it like that, do they?" or "okay, but I don't really read into things that much". It's particularly heartbreaking coming from bright young women. A great antidote to this is the everyday sexism project, which publishes women's experiences with misogyny and gender-based abuse and harrassment. It seems we're back in the early days of feminism's second wave, with good old-fashioned consciousness-raising. *sigh*

1 comment:

  1. This is a tough topic to comment on. The reason I say that is, re books, I hate reading books about wars, cowboy/Indians, or monster aliens. I suspect the male reader would prefer those to my choice of romantic novels. As far as the feminist movement is concerned, it's lost a lot of its impetus by winning and that's good. Groping in the workplace is no longer seen as a joke. Those people speaking out against earlier abuse in the BBC are only able to do that now because they know they won't be punished, mocked or scorned for it.

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