In which I wax melancholy.

1 Sep

So the other day, at a forum I hang out on, we were talking about books we’d read in school, and someone took a casual poll: how many books had we read that didn’t feature white male protagonists? The responses ran the gamut from a lot (from people who’d gone to girls’ schools) to none. I guess I was lucky: for twelve years of public school, I need two hands to count the number of books I read featuring protagonists who weren’t white males (plus a couple like Frankenstein, about white males but written by women).  The response that stuck out in my mind, though, was the person who mentioned that they’d read none, and while they were supposed to read Lois Lowry’s Number The Stars (still one of my favorite books since I first read it in third or fourth grade), “they got worried that the boys wouldn’t read a book about a girl”.

Let me repeat that: the one book about a female character this woman was supposed to read in twelve years of public school was pulled from the curriculum, because they were worried that the boys wouldn’t read a book about a girl. Did anyone think to ask whether the girls were interested in reading more books about boys? Did anyone think “gee, maybe this is how the female students feel all the time“? If they did, they never said it, or there weren’t enough people saying it.

(I wonder, sometimes, whether all the handwringing about how hard it is to get boys to read isn’t related to the fact that if girls want to see people like themselves in their books, they have to learn to seek books out on their own. This is far too simple an explanation to be the only one, and of course I have no evidence to back it up; it’s more an idle thought.)

This sat with me for a week or so after I read it, and I had a whole lot of rambling thoughts about how we devalue women’s stories, tying in chick lit and romance. But I couldn’t really come up with anything to tie it all together. Then, yesterday, it was announced that Disney had bought Marvel Comics, and the Washington Post wrote (emphasis mine):

Disney also gets a way to latch onto new boy fans, Iger said during a CNBC interview on Monday morning, a demographic the company has overlooked in recent years. Disney has successfully repackaged female characters such as Cinderella and Pocahontas into a “princess” line of merchandise. The move brought in more girls as fans but largely excluded boys.

Never mind that every single Pixar film has been about a male or male-coded protagonist. Never mind that girls might be interested in superheroes as well as princesses, just like they’re interested in robots falling in love and clownfish families trying to be reunited (or, for that matter, just like boys like a friend’s then-two-year-old son might be interested in pretending to be princesses). No—the only consumers Disney is interested in are the male ones.

I guess in light of the Sodini shooting it does make a little more sense: given how little women’s lives mean to our society, it’s not surprising women’s stories don’t mean anything, either.


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