‘how old are you inside?’
‘does your mother understand what you do for a job?’ and
‘what do you do when you are not earning money?’
These questions receive a variety of answers, some unique, some boring, but hopefully even with the boring answers, I work with the person to think more deeply and a little sidewise about the question, and we will get to a new and interesting answer for both of us.
I came up with a new one last year, which I was very proud of
‘who are your role models or people you find inspirational who are not of your gender?’
This is now my favourite question because so many people just don’t bother crossing gender lines when it comes to the people that inspire them.
I actually came up with the question because a group of women and I had been discussing our favourite films with female leads and realised that most of them were films based on books written by women. Very few original and classic movie scripts had unforgettable lead female characters unless a woman wrote the script, the movie was directed by a woman, or the actress was allowed to let her talent off the leash.
As a result of that discussion I asked a lot of women the following questions
1. Who are your favourite lead female characters in a book written by a woman? I'd be interested especially in modern characters as well as those in the classics.
2. Who are your favourite lead female characters in a film/TV show written/directed by a woman? If not written or directed by a woman, a character that has been well-acted and elevated by the talent of the actress.
3. Who are your favourite male characters in a book written by a man?
Once I got to question three of course I had my new pub/party question – who are your heroes/influences/inspirations of the opposite gender? – and I had my new and slightly disturbing insight into gender bias in popular culture. The question was designed to get past, for both men and women, the gender bias of men choosing or being directed towards 'men's stories' and women choosing or being directed towards 'women's stories' when they are developing their taste in literature and popular culture.
Ariel posted the article The Gender Coverup by Maureen Johnson at The Huffington Post to my Facebook Wall this morning and I read it with a growing sense of déjà vu.
Here, a rueful admission that female readers, especially in English Literature classes across the English-speaking world, are studying reading lists of male authors.
"Do you know how much I read about aging men and their penises and their lust for younger women and their hatred of their castrating wives? I read enough stories about male writing professors having midlife crises and lusting after young students to last me seven lifetimes. Can you imagine the reverse? Can you imagine classes in which guys read nothing but Germaine Greer, Eve Ensler, and Caryl Churchill? Can you imagine whole semesters of reading about vaginas? Again, I mean outside of a specialized class in women's literature or anything about the human reproductive system. I seriously doubt you can."
Maureen Johnson, The Gender Coverup
I may have talked about female heroes in Hollywood Films, but to reluctantly agree that my favorite part of life, the world of books, is completely gender biased, is a sad day.
I even had to have a little giggle when I read this passage, which reminded me of some of my own conclusions on women being ideologically bilingual.
"So, we're thinking about boys and girls and what they read. The assumption, as I understand it, is that females are flexible and accepting creatures who can read absolutely anything. We're like acrobats. We can tie our legs over our heads. Bring it on. There is nothing we cannot handle.
Boys, on the other hand, are much more delicately balanced. To ask them to read "girl" stories (whatever those might be) will cause the whole venture to fall apart. They are finely tuned, like Formula One cars, which require preheated fluids and warmed tires in order to operate -- as opposed to girls, who are like pickup trucks or big, family-style SUVs. We can go anywhere, through anything, on any old literary fuel you put in us."
Maureen Johnson, The Gender Coverup
This article is challenging to read as a writer who is also female, because it sets out the illogical threats to our success that our gender presents, in an already difficult area of endeavour. It also shows how shallow the experience of reading can be made for men. While women can read books by both genders about both genders, men are held back from doing the same? It’s a tragedy for male readers for sure, this strange action to keep them from meeting some of the great women of literature.
Last year, as I was asking questions of the women around me, I was pleased to be given lists and lists of beloved books with strong female characters written by wonderful female authors. I remember going home and holding my own favourite book Villette, thankful for the literary world of women who do not have to go through a midlife crisis to be lead characters. And I remember a rather smug feeling of holding a great secret in that book. No matter how important those boring, sex-obsessed men on the syllabus think they are, they can’t actually get inside my heart and displace the cool logic, heated intelligence and steely resolve of Lucy Snowe, Christabel La Motte, Lizzie Bennett and Sara Liwellan. Not a chance. Being a woman in literature is about being tough, and most men just aren’t that tough.