I promise to overcompensate with cat pictures in the near future.
This essay got forwarded around my Twitter feed, but it almost exactly sums up how I feel about gender and literature and is well worth the read. It’s specifically about the recent argument that boys aren’t interested in reading (allegedly because there aren’t enough “boy books”).
This paragraph almost made me say “Amen!” aloud:
“Perhaps we still need to consider the fact that female stories are consistently undervalued, labeled as “commercial,” “light,” “fluffy,” and “breezy,” even if they are about the very same topics that a man might write about. If we sell more, it is simply because we produce candy—and who doesn’t like candy? We’re the high fructose corn syrup of literature, even when our products are the same. It’s okay to sell the girls as long as we have some men to provide protein.”
In college, when I was going through my brief phase where I thought I wanted to be an English teacher, I took a class on teaching writing during which we spent a lot of time discussing gender and education. I wrote a paper about how gender plays into test scores. There had been a couple of studies that showed that test graders (of standardized writing tests) tended to give higher grades to students they thought were female. (And this was for tests with no names attached, so there was no way for the grader to know the gender of the student. They guessed based on vocabulary and handwriting.) I am fairly certain that the main reason boys are struggling in language arts is that everyone still buys this myth that girls are only good at language arts (“Math is hard!”) and boys are only good at math and science. Thus, teachers (and there are studies that back me up on this, also) tend to call on girls and reward girls more in English classes. Inversely, girls are trained (no, seriously, TRAINED) to think they’re bad at math and science, thus they don’t try as hard and chalk up their failures to gender. I don’t think either gender is inherently better or more suited to any particular discipline.
I mean, I had an English teacher in high school who had me read Austen and Charlotte Bronte and Kate Chopin in addition to Hawthorne and Salinger and whoever else. Then I sought out English classes in college in which non-white-guy authors were well-represented. I wouldn’t have studied them otherwise. But we’re worried that there aren’t enough books for boys? Really?
When I was in college, there was a whole dealie about how more women than men were getting degrees. Egads! Men are not finishing college! Whatever are we to do?! This was in the late 90s, during the dot-com boom, so the explanation at the time was that dudes were getting well-paying tech jobs right out of college instead earning degrees, but the ladies (who can’t do tech because they’re bad at math and science, remember) were still spending time in Liberal Arts Lala Land. (So, like, yeah, more women were earning degrees than men, but it wasn’t like those degrees had any value!) Then when the bubble burst and the economy declined after 9/11, it was explained that boys are just so delicate and had fragile egos and couldn’t handle school and girls were better suited for academia, they were just too good at that thing they weren’t supposed to be good at less than a century ago. Girls are better at something than boys are, and that just goes against nature, so crisis!
Maybe it is true that male students are struggling; I actually don’t doubt that this is the case. But as with that PW article yesterday wondering if the lack of men in publishing was a be a problem, I think the answer is more in how we focus on gender in the classroom (or in the publishing industry) and not on the kinds of books being produced. (And don’t even get me started. Yeah, publishing is a female-dominated industry. You know why? Because women have historically been more willing to suck it up and take a lower paying job than men are. Also, there are more women English majors because, remember, girls are good at English but boys are not. You want men to work in publishing? Pay better salaries and stop letting gender bias impede on education. Except, honestly? Who cares? Does it actually make a bit of difference if your magnum opus is edited by a man or a woman? Also, remember the whole Franzen Feud?)
[Speaking of feminism, my boss just came across an envelope and then started laughing hysterically. This actually came out of her mouth: “If you ladies want to read something hysterical, you should take a look at this. I was the head of consciousness raising for the New York NOW chapter in 1974.” It’s guidelines for having meetings. First chapter: “What is a lesbian?”]
I had a moment this morning wherein it occurred to me that I’m being really cynical. My mother invited me to go to a 9/11 memorial run by a Buddhist organization, a floating lantern ceremony off one of the piers near Houston Street, and I found that I actively did not want to go.
I think the great tragedy here is that I’ve let others corrupt my memory. Put aside the day itself. I mean, blah blah I was living in MA blah took two days to track down everyone I knew in Manhattan blah blah Mom was working downtown and saw the whole thing blah blah PTSD blah panic attacks blah. The one memory that popped into my head first when the whole memorial rigamarole came up again this year was going to a candlelight vigil with my friend J. and sitting on a lawn somewhere on the UMass campus and feeling kind of numb—by then, I’d gotten in touch with my mother and talked to my then-boyfriend even though things between us weren’t so great (we broke up 3 weeks later, in point of fact) but had yet to hear from a childhood friend of mine who was living in the Village and I was freaked out and missing him—but I was so touched by everyone coming together to collectively mourn.
Just as I was touched on my first trip back to the city, that October. My mom and I had dinner near Grand Central and argued about politics—I was on kind of a anti-war “Give Peace a Chance” kick and she thought we should be tearing up Afghanistan to find bin Laden—and I remember that a) Grand Central was full of National Guardsmen with machine guns, which freaked me right out, and b) that every conceivable surface was covered in posters and photos of missing people. That was maybe the first moment it was real.
I got my first post-college job in July of ‘02, on 42nd Street. I was nervous about being in the city on 9/11/02. I cried when, on my walk to work, I passed a construction site (now that Price Waterhouse Cooper building on 42nd and Madison) and the workers there unfurled an American flag that was probably 30 feet across and let it hang there. Everyone in the vicinity clapped.
I saw Ground Zero for the first time by accident. This was probably in ‘03 sometime. I’d gone to a party the night before and been dropped off near the Fulton St. subway station, but the station was closed for some reason, so I wound up wandering around until I found another. And the thought process went, “Hey, what’s that fence for… oh.”
I think it started going wrong around that time. Friends of mine came to visit that fall and wanted to see the site, so we went. I was disgusted by the guy who was sitting there with a card table, right there on the sidewalk in front of the fence, selling cheap plastic knickknacks. Tourists were lining up to take smiley photos in front of the fence.
And this year, with the whole TERROR MOSQUE thing, I just wanted to wash my hands of the whole shebang. Because this thing, the place where so many people died, this memory I have of my friends, of the city coming together, of some of the worst fear I have ever known standing at a pay phone in Amherst, MA, trying to get my mother on the phone only to get the “All Circuits Are Busy” message—and when I finally got her on the phone, the dazed quality in her voice as she said, “Yeah, I can see the whole thing from my window”—and the guy I knew sort of peripherally who was in one of those planes that crashed into the WTC… a bunch of people who don’t even live here, who don’t know, who don’t understand have turned my memory into something political.
I could not give less of a shit about whether Park51 gets built. I’m pretty sure that once the midterm elections are done and it is no longer politically relevant, fervor over it will die down, and, as all things in New York go, commerce will rule the day and construction will go on as planned and no one will notice when it opens. And the people who have corrupted my memory will go back to their lives in Indiana or wherever and find the next thing to muster up righteous anger about, but I’ll still be here in New York, studiously avoiding footage of the towers on fire lest it invoke a panic attack and mourning the loss both of the buildings and all those people and of the sense of community that ran rampant everywhere in the wake of the tragedy.
Not to get maudlin. I wasn’t even going to write about 9/11 this year, but I guess I was more angry and upset (and cynical) than I thought. End catharsis.
I have a weekend of doing creative things planned, primarily using my long weekend and empty apartment to write a whole lot, but staying home and not talking to people has a way of making me crazy, so I might channel that energy by posting a lot. (I already feel a little restless and the weekend is just beginning!)
For the sake of having some content, I just spent the afternoon watching the VH1 countdown of the best songs of the 90s which is an interesting contrast to Pitchfork’s list. I don’t feel qualified to weigh in, because I came of age in the 90s, so a lot of these songs, for good or ill, are tied into memories, formative moments. I bet I have more memories tied to songs everybody hates now than songs that are universally revered.