Thursday, July 04, 2013

Gymkhanas, Gumshoes and Trophy Guys

I have been trying to work out where my Female Misogynist Asshattery comes from, and I think some of it results from progressive influences on my reading material and education while I was growing up. I often reconsider my reading material in order to speculate on where I get my ideas, because books have always been a very strong influence on how I think and how I view the world. I read a lot of books from specific genres when I was young, and they presented me with ideas about life that were contradictory and have meant that I, thankfully, stand at an ideological fault line between several projections of women and their place in the world.

I am a reader first and foremost in life, and my Dad guided a lot of the decisions I made in my formative reading years. My Dad never restricted my reading, I could read whatever I want, and I took full advantage of this fact. At home I read the books from his childhood and they were a unique set of books to grow up on, because my father grew up in the Fifties and Sixties reading mainly American horse stories for boys. In substance his books were surprisingly similar to the American and Australian horse stories for girls in my school library during the Eighties and Nineties.

Young people need to learn responsibility, leave home, travel the world and find their destiny. In the books of my father’s childhood all this was accomplished by young men owning their first horse, learning to take care of the horse and tack, travelling to the frontier with the horse and their wits and learning to be an adult in the world. I loved these stories and didn’t even noticed the overwhelmingly male protagonists; my parents had worked hard to allow us to grow up on farms with horses, so I had enough of my own experiences as the female protagonist to fill many more books!

By the time the children’s stories of my generation were being written young men bonded with cars as a sign of freedom and young women were given horses, but the horses were mostly used in gymkhanas, and gymkhanas and teenaged-girl-politicking was of no interest to me. I was saved from insipid Pony Clubs by the marvelous Girl Gumshoes of my generation though – Trixie Belden, Robin Kane, Nancy Drew and others – who were thankfully way smarter and more interesting than their male counterparts from my Dad’s books. These young women were brave, intelligent, active and very determined characters that regularly saved their male friends from harm while solving mysteries and acing their homework. I adored them.

By twelve I was convinced that anything a boy could do, I could do, especially using my brain and showing responsibility in an adult world. Then I started reading the genre that shaped my adult life – spy fiction! Dad handed me Robert Ludlum, Jack Higgins, Frederick Forsyth and John Le Carre and I never looked back. I loved the history, the action, the politics and I loved the men – Jason Bourne from the BOOK was my first teenaged crush. The strangest legacy of those books however was the role of grown women in the genre – there was only ever one female, she had very hot and fast sex with the male protagonist and then either died as collateral damage, was hideously tortured because of her contact with him or simply appeared at the end of the book as a reward.

Unfortunately for me, I was young and I absorbed ideas without questioning the problematic relationships they would have with each other as I got older. On the positive side I thought that girls could do anything boys could do, and in less violent and more intelligent ways. On the negative side I absorbed the view of women that was inherent in books with male protagonists and while I never applied those rules to myself, I did apply them to other women. Thus I arrived at my own Female Misogynist Asshattery all because my reading development was not treated with actual Asshattery!

But the good news is that from the world of books about male spies I formed my own unique perspective on sex; men were created to look pretty, satisfy me in bed and turn up as a reward after I had saved the world. Don’t ask me how THAT happened, but it did, and I quite enjoy its use of one trope to the tune of another!

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