Gender Essentialism is Dumb – Mmmkay?

Cover of the revised edition of The Tower Trea...

Cover of the revised edition of The Tower Treasure, the first Hardy Boys mystery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, there are books, there will be books, and there ever have been books written that the target audience was male, female, fish, monkeys, tall, short, skinny, fat, gay, straight, or addicted to marshmallows.  A target demographic is one thing, I’m not entirely sure it’s a good thing, but fuck it, sometimes you’re writing for contract and also a lot of times the book is for anyone gives a rat’s arse and it’s the marketing team that decides things like this – many of the better TSR novels would be in this category.

There is a certain group on Goodreads … no, I’m not providing a link, not out of a twisted sense of good manners or professionalism, just because I’m too lazy to go find it … for fans of space opera.  Hey, cool right?  No, sadly not.

Long story short, there’s two mods, but one has walked off the edge of the Earth and the other … … … I’m just going to go with, she must have a quantum modem and is actually accessing the internet from, not only the 1950s, but from Leave it to Beaver or similar.  Seriously, her ideas regarding stuff for men, stuff for women … it’s not “books of greater appeal to …” or “books written for …”, were that the case, whatever, that’s just acknowledging certain statistical details.  No she’s guilty of a remarkable degree of gender essentialism toward both the men and women it’s hardly any wonder the group is something on the order of 30 people, slow growing, and has maybe 4 active people.

If you care, go find out.  I’ll conclude this portion of things by saying that both men and women have called her and her all of like one supporter on this sort of thing and everyone just gave up.  Fuck, I elected only to join the group in the hopes that I’d found the magical formula to speak the point to her.  Thanks to a quirk in the Goodreads app, I learnt this morning that, nope, she’s still missing the point by the same margin that Pluto-Charon will always miss Neptune when their orbits “cross” every century or so.

So I will speak my mind here:  There are no boys’ toys, no girls’ toys, no girls’ clothes, no boys’ clothes, no boys’ fiction, not girls’ fiction, none of that. Yes there are things made with them in mind, e.g. the clothing for girls is often cut in such a fashion as to flatter the feminine body and looks horrible on boys/men, but nothing says they can’t wear it if they like beyond a few social expectations, but social expectations aren’t laws; and by that plenty of them do, in public even.

Thing is, Heinlein‘s old Juvies were written (and more importantly EDITED, at times the females were treated with greater equality and the editors made him change it – the contract came from the Boy Scouts of America, after all) for the YA boy demographic, same as Hardy Boys, and various other books … all of which are just as much enjoyed by girls.  As many girls?  Well, no, not really.  I don’t think, though, that it’s a difference between boys and girls, I think it’s just that there’s different societal expectations:  if you market something to little boys in exclusion to the little girls we’ve got a society where there are girls who will steer away from the book/toy/other and their parents will for no reason I can fathom enforce this idea (don’t believe me?  Go to the US South and stand in a toy store or the toy department for twenty minutes some time).

Marketing, though, is a murky and weird place full of outdated ideas, lunacy, puns, and other things that make me think that your average marketing and PR department ought to be locked up in an insane asylum.

It’s the things that this marketing plays on that’s the true horror.  Gender Essentialism!  The idea that women want romance in their stories, angst, drama!  That guys wouldn’t want this and, in fact, they are referred to by the mod of insanity on that Goodreads group as, and I quote, “girl cooties” – yes, a presumably grown adult and purportedly married mother of children old enough to read used the word cooties, as a hipster who needs a dictionary would say, unironically!

I’m sorry, I know more than a few women who don’t want or at least do not require this romantic aspect to their stories.  They might not mind a minor romantic sub-plot, or even just subtext, but they don’t want it to be what the story is about.  I know men who … suffice to say I know men who dragged their wives/girlfriends to Mama Mia! and Letters to Juliette.  Nuff said?

There are women who enjoyed Pacific Rim, last I checked male & female alike enjoy Star Wars and generally for the same reasons:  Ewoks and lightsabres.

The distinction between target demographic and gender essentialism is this:  the former plays off the existence of the latter.  Nerf guns, until the recent popularity of stories like Divergent and Hunger Games marketed their guns to boys, because the essentialism said girls don’t like guns and boys do – this is an over simplification of the actual fact of boys are encouraged to play with toy guns and girls are not.  Now there’s the Rebelle line, which is actually (I think) loads cooler than the long-standing N-Strike line.

This is important.  Gender essentialism says that a girl would never want a Nerf gun – or now as things shift slightly, that they wouldn’t want one that wasn’t pretty colours with glitter on – and a boy wouldn’t want a Barbie or baby doll.  Reality says that is nothing of the sort.  Marketing says, the most efficient use of our energy is to try to appeal the Nerf gun to boys (and that a new pretty line should be made for girls), that the dolls should be tailored to appeal to the feminine.

Thing is even the marketing is insanity, never mind the essentialism.  Some of the most amazingly romantic things I’ve read we written by a man, Dennis L McKiernan (whose books I cannot recommend highly enough).  His novel Dragondoom has not yet failed to make me cry.

It says that women can’t write a good adventure.  This discounts the phenomenal work of both Andre Norton (who, I might add, managed to have quite a writing career for a number of years before anyone who enjoyed her books knew her gender) and Elaine Cunningham.

Thing is, look at all the girls who love the Harry Potter series.  If you think it’s for anything romantic, you’re out of your gourd, there’s no relationship stuff in there until like the 4th book or so.  Also it’s not all identifying with Hermione (I, for one, identified quite well with Harry, Luna and Ginny) for those girls.  Plenty of them identified with the Weasley twins, or Ron, or Harry, or Neville, and so on.  And in case you missed the tropes, Harry Potter is boys’ fiction!  No shit, it’s why the by-line is J K Rowling when Ms Jo Rowling has no middle initial – that’s marketing to the gender essentialism that says that boys won’t want a boys fiction written by a woman.  A rant for another day is to point out that it was also a dead sub-genre of boys’ fiction, and wasn’t expected to sell for shit – see what I mean about marketing people all being fucking retarded?  (If you are a professional marketing person, please click here for my sincerest apologies for offending you with that statement).

This ties in with some of the root of the whole “Fake Geek Girl” bullshit (Note:  bullshit is called on the chauvinistic asshats who see a set of tits and their already three-quarter retard selves go full retard not on the girls and women complaining).  Women and men are not so terribly different.  We have different instincts, yes, and those instincts may lead to a slight discrepancy between our tastes in entertainment if we could get an otherwise genderless society and survey the population entire I am willing to believe that the ones whose brains are wired up for Male would show some statistical preference for violence, weapons, the chase and the hunt while more of the girls might be inclined to something, not so much with the emotional, but rather more about the characters and their social interactions.  This leaning I’d just as readily believe would not exist, assumes base biological instinct impacts our entertainment preferences, and is making an arbitrary guess at how the function of the males in primate societies (of which ours is a bizzare example, given that we are primates) versus the females paired against a few other bisexual social animals such as dolphins, horses, dogs, and lions.

I’ve reached a thousand and a half words.  I’m going to quit, because, like the mod on that Goodreads group, if you haven’t got the idea by now, you won’t.  Odds are anyone going to get it did so upon reading the title, everyone else … Start at the title, read it slowly, think about it carefully, then read the post slowly and carefully – get someone to sound out and explain the bigger words for you (I’m sorry, I used such complex and large words like “and”, “the”, “in” and so forth, that was inconsiderate of me) and then just think about it, assuming you’ve the capacity to engage in such an activity.

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