Today, this very hour, stereotypical traits of males/females, boys/girls, still tend to permeate writing. Even me, if I think the word "girl," my brain tends to conjure up a pinkish hue. Long hair, shaved legs, dresses and giggles and daintiness. Boy? Musk. Flannel? Strong, loud, gasoline and eyes I have to look up to because they're above mine in height.
It's Round Robin time, folks! I do promise that I'll blog more than just the Robins--especially soon because, by next month, I won't even be on the States' side of the Atlantic. No, I'll be hyperventilating over in Nottingham, England, traipsing through Sherwood Forest and hopefully absorbed in a charming-voiced professor as he waxes about the Italian Renaissance. This month's topic is one every writer should let wallow in their brain:
Do you feel certain genres stereotype men and women? Why do you think that happens? How do you prevent it in your writing?
I feel more like individual writers tend to stereotype, instead of pinning this on a whole genre. Honestly, and I'm sure all the others doing this Robin will bring this up too, I thought of Romance. BUT--picture me raising my pointer finger righteously in the air right here--there's a different between stereotyping and what was correct/acceptable for the era. My brain snapped right to older romance books: and it's not good when a woman, OR a man, is simply slapped into a book to be an object. Oh, she/he is gorgeous, beautiful, breathtaking! Even if she/he is clever and aloof, she/he is something to be won. And, really? Kind of snoozy.
There's a book I read in high school and I really liked it: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Embarrassment fluttered over me when people read the title, but what I remember most was how Anna moved to a boarding school in France and her new love, Ettiene St. Claire, was unlike any of the other boys I'd read about. Une, he was short. Love interests, as a general rule, are borderline the Jolly Green Giant. He was either Anna's height or only a tippy bit taller, maybe shorter, I don't remember. Usually this is a turnoff for girls. In school, my friends and I would daydream of finding "our puzzle pieces." You know, when a guy is just the right height where his chin can rest on top of your head and you just fit snugly and perfectly? Anyhoo: Deux, he was openly, staggeringly terrified of heights. It was a crippling fear which got in the way of one of Anna's sightseeing Paris dates. It was so odd to be handed a boy who showed what some would call a flaw, a weakness that could be a no-go in a relationship. He was no suave, debonair Frenchman who dazzled Anna with crepes or art or poetry. Ettiene was a normal high school guy, one who was cute but also would borderline pass out if she wanted him to climb a high building. And that's awesome because it's normal.
Gotta also gesture exasperatedly at the Dystopian genre. If I see one more "two teens must join together in a broken world" synopsis on the back of the book, I'll make this world a dystopian myself. I am all for girls being the strong, do-what-needs-to-be-done, street smart ones at long last, but can't one of them like pink? Or not turn borderline rabid in the face of a compliment? Tough doesn't always mean "not nice." And why is the only person she befriends always secretive, male, and usually jacked with abs? Where are the dystopians where a group of mixed gender friends team up, or two or more girls, or boys, or cousins/club members/rabbis? I mean, I don't live in a dystopian and I'm sure I'd clamp onto anyone cute with an XY chromosome as well, but can we mix it up a little?
While we're at it, let's knock on the Horror genre door and make it the girl who rolls her eyes and checks the spooky room (just don't make her trip and languidly wait to die, please), or better yet, the one who calls the cops. Note: the horror I've read recently has had some smart boys and girls, so good for you! Last October, I wrote a spooky novel with two best friends, a guy and the girl, and the girl acts as a rock when the boy freaks out, but the guy is smarter about the situation than the girl.
I think there's even a certain pull about the idea of a stereotype: it's comfy and safe like a worn cardigan. You know the ins and outs, so why not? I've devoured most of the Dan Brown stories with Robert Langdon, the whip-smart symbologist. Not exactly a job most would find sexy, but Brown also writes how Langdon has a swimmer's body, so he's apparently fit under all that tweed. And in every single book, he manages to find a very gorgeous lady on his arm whose life depends on him.
As for me, my novella The Christmas Lights would be very easy to accuse of being stereotypical. The boy runs off, risking life and soul to win the girl's love by scouring Europe for ways to make money. But Louis Eclat is not terribly confident or handsome or blessed with divine purpose; he even questions if marrying the heroine, Emmeline, is right anymore farther along in the book. Emmy is dutiful to her father and mother up to a point. She secretly meets with Louis's mentor and forges letters to send to her father; she is quiet and shows her frustration in ways women did in mid-1800s America, but she is still determined and strong. She is not some prize sitting meekly in wait for Louis's return; she even conspires to cross the ocean to find him, willing to dress as a cabin boy and hide in steerage so she may see him.
When I was younger, every boy had to be a selfless hero and each girl had to have it all: clever, fit, and always pretty. Now? I strive to make them real.
Time to scrabble the stereotypes; how do you go about it? While you're breaking down literary barriers, feel free to cheat and spy on these other writers to see how they do it!
Heidi M. Thomas