Down With The Gender Bias In BooksMay 12, 2011 No Comments
I don’t know about you, but I read books for the story. The protagonist’s gender doesn’t matter so much as the central message and the general feeling you get when you’re reading. I like to feel inspired, enlightened or mystified, among other grand sentiments.
Thankfully, the National Post seems to be with me on this. Whereas other scholars may be picking through books starting from 1900 to 2000 to highlight examples of gender bias, Irene Gammel, an English professor at Ryerson University, Toronto, says:
- Our relationship to gender has become much more fluid and the concept of gender is much less polarized than it was a hundred, or even fifty, years ago. We ultimately read because of the aesthetic experience, because we are able to immerse ourselves in a new world. We don’t just read because we see our identity reflected in a book. A good book is an adventure.
How eloquent. I finally feel like someone is on the same wavelength here. We can drone on and on about gender bias in children’s books, but as I see it, academics are wasting too much time looking at the numbers and not enough time looking at the stories.
Yes, out of 6,000 books, 57 percent had a central male character and only 31 percent had a female protagonist, according to a study published in Gender and Society. Big deal. Certainly the scales are imbalanced where I’d like to see them even, but there are so many books out there for young people to read. Parents can choose what they want to expose their children to if they’re concerned that they’re going they’re going to feel the effects of gender imbalance as they grow up.
It’s weird though. I’ve been an avid reader my whole life and I don’t remember ever saying to my mom, “Why are all the characters male, Mommy?” I must concur that “children do not identify solely with gender.”
But I still want to put dynamite in the middle of the debate. What do I see after the explosion? Strong female characters that lead. Buried in the rubble I see heroines that young women can look up to.
Long after I finished The Hunger Games trilogy I still talk about it at any chance that I get. Peeta is great and good and we see how much he sacrifices to save the woman he loves, but Katniss Everdeen is “da bomb” if you know what I’m saying.
Even her name is cool. That’s not what makes her a hero in the novel, but its uniqueness certainly helps set her apart. Out of all the characters’ names that stick out in my head when I think about the mountain of books I’ve climbed (with no hope of ever getting to the peak), I know I’ll always remember this one.
Are there criticisms out there of Katniss? Yes. Does she sometimes seem that her heroism is by accident? Yes. All the arguments in the world couldn’t destroy my sense of bliss when I think of Katniss. She can be clueless sometimes, but we all have our flaws. We do still love Cher from the hit movie Clueless. I don’t think I know a woman who doesn’t admit to secretly adoring that movie.
From the moment Katniss takes her little sister’s place to fight gladiator-style in the Capitol’s grisly arena of death, I fell in love. She risks it all for someone she loves. Really, what could make a better story than setting it up with the two huge elements of love and sacrifice? Now that’s good shyza.
I could keep going and talk about her memorial to Rue, which is a clear-cut moment where Katniss rebels against the Capitol’s politics, but I will put Katniss to rest by saying that she’s a kick-ass female character. She only becomes stronger throughout the series, finally becoming a symbol for District 13′s rebellion against the tyrannies of the Capitol.
Like Katniss, Tally Youngblood in Westerfeld’s Uglies series shines a light on female strength and bravery and also becomes a symbol of the rebellion. She journeys to the Smoke by herself where everyone else had the support of friends to make it to the hideout where uglies have escaped to in rejection of becoming pretty (undergoing a full-blown plastic surgery operation when you’re sixteen and basically getting brainwashed by the state to pacify the people).
She’s also willing to do the dirty work. But more than sawing through the thickest trees and foraging for herself, Tally is a unique thinker among the bunch and really understands the whole purpose behind the Smoke. She’s been brainwashed to believe she’s ugly and she flip-flops wondering if she still does want to be pretty, but she’s quick to understand that pretty has a price.
And then there’s Lyra Silvertongue. In the Golden Compass, Lyra is the key to the universe. If this isn’t a strong representation of a female character, I don’t know what is. She also may not know how significant she is in the series, but the readers do. She’s physically strong as well as curious and clever — characteristics a young women can admire and emulate in her real life.
To follow the scholars and add up numbers to say something significant, I want to point out that that’s nine books in total that I’ve mentioned where a female character is strong and stand-alone. There are male characters as well, but the female heroines take you through each series and keep your attention. Big time.
If I was enthralled as an adult, just think about the impact these strong representations have on young ladies. The Hunger Games has become such a powerful force in the book biz that it’s been made into a major motion screen play. Even Lainey Gossip is talking about it.
I’m all for equality but it’s not like there are no female characters to look up to. There are TONS. If you don’t like the selection, tell your own stories that you think are appropriate. Or stick with The Paper Bag Princess.
Above all else, let’s feed young minds and give them the gift of imagination — no matter what form that comes in.
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