Monday, May 16, 2016

Fun with gender

Well, not exactly fun, but some interesting observations.

I sub during the day for teenagers in high school, but late afternoon-night, I tutor younger kids.  They like to tease me, so when I recently addressed a group of boys and girls sitting at my table as "guys", the girls pointed out that they weren't "guys."  I agreed with them, but pointed out that English is predisposed to considering maleness to be default, and female is "different."  How so? 

If I address a mixed group, saying, "How are you guys today?"  the girls will know that I'm including them in that question, and no one will take offense.  But if I was to address the group saying, "How are you girls today?" the boys would feel excluded.  Or worse yet, they'd be insulted.  Um...why?  Why is it OK for girls to be called "guys", but if boys are called "girls", it's an insult?  Why is tomboy a good thing, but the boy equivalent is sissy, which is not? Why is "Daddy's girl" a good thing, but "Mama's boy" is not?  My husband says I analyze things too much, but I point out to him that I'm an English teacher, and that's what we are trained to do.  Plus I think issues like this are fascinating. And being a feminist, I'm always ready to argue about how even our language enforces artificial rules that I don't agree with.

I thought about all of this after renting a cute movie last night.  I totally enjoyed watching it, and it was only this morning that I thought of the fact that there was only 1 female in the movie, and she only has a bit role.  It's called Big Game, and stars Samuel L. Jackson as the President of the United States. He's on his way on Air Force One to a conference in Oslo, but when there is plane trouble over some mountains, he is stuffed into an escape pod and shoved out of the plane. In the meantime, a young Finnish boy, Oskari, is turning 13 the next day.  His father and all of the men in their village, who are all hunters, accompany him to the edge of the forest, to wish him well as he has to spend the night alone.  He is to return the next morning with a trophy of what he hunted during the night, to prove that he is now a man.

Of course there is betrayal of the president involved, by multiple people.  And there is a deranged man who intends to hunt him, thus he is the "big game."  The boy finds the president, and the rest of the story involves how they learn to trust each other, as the boy uses his innate knowledge of the forest and his bravery and intelligence to keep the POTUS alive. And when he turns up the next day at the prearranged place, all of the village men are kneeling in front of the US SWAT team holding rifles on them, since they have no idea what each other are doing there. But the "trophy" the boy brings in impresses everyone.

When I commented to my husband that the paucity of females was a bit disturbing, he reminded me that it was a "coming of age" movie about the boy, so of course, there wasn't any need for any female characters.  I asked if he could remember us ever watching any female "coming of age" movies.  We were both hard-pressed to think of any.  So why is it expected and usual for a movie to have only male characters?

Have you ever heard of the Bechdel Test, invented by lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel? To pass the test, a work (novel, story, play or film) has to include at least two female characters who talk to each other about something other than men. So few movies pass this test, that if you were to use this as your criteria, you wouldn't get to see many movies at all!

This is why I write my books with strong female characters.  I won't even read, let along write, a story about a simpering young innocent with no ability to take care of herself.  So if you want to read about strong females who are busy leading their own lives, who meet equally strong men who are attracted to strong females, then please head to my website: http://www.fionamcgier.com

My female spy story, Secret Love, has had its final edit.  I'm just waiting for the expected publishing date for this, one of my favorites, to be re-published in a new, improved form.  Maybe next month I'll have more news?  Until then, what do you think of the Bechdel test?  Have you ever heard of it?  Do any media presentations you watch pass it?

1 comment:

Tina Donahue said...

I agree with you, Fiona, the female character has to be strong. That 'good girl' stuff - don't make any waves - has to go.