Archive | August, 2016

Boys Don’t Cry: Sexism and Gender Representation in Publishing

15 Aug

I love reading to my niece. It’s one of my favorite things to do and last time I was at her house she picked a new book.

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It is the story of Duncan’s crayons who previously quit due to what they saw as unfair practices by Duncan. In this the crayon’s are all returning with tales of their adventures. We had a blast reading it until we got towards the end and I cringed. All the crayons in this book are clearly boys or otherwise ungendered. There is one exception.

Wait for it……

………….

……………

……………

The unused pink crayon. OF COURSE.

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In the pink crayon’s letter to Duncan she calls herself a “girl’s color” and laments the fact that Duncan has only used her once. Then she congratulates Duncan’s little sister for doing a good job of staying in the lines. Cause, you know, that’s what good little girls do.

They behave.

This is all highlighted in a really amazing article about children’s books on the Washington Post the other day. The whole thing is worth a read but the gist of it is that there a significant lack of girl representation in picture books, and that when there is, they are incredible sexist. The fact that publishing, on the whole, has a significant gender problem.

That J.K. Rowling has no middle initial but they gave her one so they could use just initials because how else were they going to sell a book to boys written by – *gasp* –  a woman!

I thought back to some of my favorite stories growing up and sure, I had Meg in Wrinkle in Time but her utter lack of self-confidence made her more of a pawn in her own story than anything else. In fact it is only through Calvin’s constant affirmations that she overcomes her insecurity. The boy tells her she can do it. So she believes it.

When I first decided to write a story about the last living descendant of Shakespeare, my main character was a boy.

I remember standing in the kitchen talking to my husband as he made dinner about my idea about this boy and his muse named Jonathan and how I wanted to incorporate Shakespare and Greek mythology when he looked at me and said, “Honey, why would you make your main character a boy? Why wouldn’t you make it a girl?”

It took someone else pointing it out before I realized that I had internalized that idea that the Hero is a Boy. So even as  a girl reader who grew up into a woman writer, I still initially went with a boy.

Maybe it’s because I grew up with this:

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and not this:

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But if my neice grows up to be a writer it will be different for her. I certainly hope so.  All the same, feminism fail, Ally.

But I didn’t forget that when I started my next book, This Is Sarah. The story started out as a ghost story – a boy haunted by his dead girlfriend and then warped into something very different – a boy broken by his girlfriend’s disappearance.

To Colin, I gave distinctly  “non-masculine” if not “feminine” traits:

  • He’s was very into his relationship with Sarah, to the point that he alienated friends.
  • She’s basically all he cares about.
  • He cries. A lot. Sobs really
  • He needs to see a therapist because he’s falling apart
  • He gets hysterical
  • And he fails the Bechdel test every single time.

He is raw and tender….traits that are steroetypically female but in actuality, as Wendi pointed out, typically human.

And as Jennie Yabroff said in her Washington Post piece:

As Monfried says, “When we read our children picture books, we’re saying, ‘There’s a world here that will give and give and give for the rest of your life.’ We should want to show our children that anybody can do anything.”

To which I’d add, we should want to show our kids that girls can be anything — and anything can be a girl.

Anything can be a girl. Because ultimately we all laugh and cry and mourn and love in similar ways. Far more similar than they are different.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

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Better Luck Next Year is officially for sale!

1 Aug

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The writer Joanna C Valente said that “A trauma is a funeral for one; there is no one to mourn you but yourself. The coffin is empty, since you are still alive, but you must fill it with something, and that becomes your former self.”

Or it becomes a book of poems.

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Better Luck Next Year is officially out and about and available to buy.

And the City Paper wrote a nice review about it saying:

Malinenko’s witty, conversational tone keeps Better Luck from veering into weepy sentimentality. When her speaker describes the sonogram of her tumor, it’s “[l]ike the red spot on Jupiter / a hurricane the size of a planet / here now / inside me” — a brilliant use of simile. When she writes of this news sinking in, “I whisper. Fuck. / The smallest hurricane of a word I know,” it’s powerfully restrained.

The reading last weekend went well. I think. I was pretty nervous and anyone who was there can attest to my incessant shaking. I’ve read poetry plenty of times but never anything as personal or as hard as this. I think I underestimated how hard it was actually going to be. I nearly lost it reading the last poem – the title track Better Luck Next Year – specifically on these lines:

 

and I took the ribbon pin off my bag

because I am not a warrior

or a survivor

but just a young women trying to live with a disease

Specifically the word warrior. The language that we use to talk about a situation – any situation – reshapes it. It frames people’s experiences. The warrior myth – and it is a myth – turns individuals into an amorphous mass stripping them of their unique experience. If you have “winners” then you, in turn have “losers.” As many obituaries read, people “lose their brave battle.” As if I could will myself into better health. As if it were just up to me. That is without a doubt the most dangerous form of magical thinking I can imagine. And it is an aspect of this experience that I feel most strongly about which is why that little word carried so much power.

In the end, I’m sorry I had to write it – that I ever had a reason to write it – but I’m so glad it exists.

So thanks to Kris and Nathan for all their hard work in turning this into a real live book. And if you do get it and read it and have a second to post your thoughts on Amazon or Goodreads, I would be eternally grateful.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

 

 

 

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