The reading iceberg: promoting ‘serious’ male narratives over ‘trivial’ female narratives starts at school

A timely article in light of our current posts featuring the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge:
A woman’s place | Sexism in literature
by Jane Sullivan | The Age

Blogger Elizabeth Lhuede writes: “It took me years to realise that I had been educated to privilege men’s writing over women’s. Like a lot of girls educated in the ’70s and ’80s, I grew up reading a canon of ‘great literature’ written by men (and, primarily, for men) … At school we read almost exclusively male writers … our one woman author was Jane Austen.”

The trend continued at university, though more women authors were studied.

“Without realising it, I was being educated into the view that ‘good’ writing focused on something other than [what were then primarily] women’s interests and concerns — relationships, domesticity, ‘feelings’, the woman’s point of view (except as rendered by ‘masters’ like Henry James and D.H. Lawrence).  Subject matter concerning women was regarded as trivial, ephemeral, sloppy and sentimental,” Luehde writes.

This is a description of education that V.S. Naipaul would recognise as I do. I know it’s changed since then. Feminist theory has had an impact on university courses, for example. And yet, how can you get past that at primary school level  boys will read books by men but are dragged reluctantly to books by women, while girls will read books by anyone? Boys need a male protagonist while girls will go with either gender?

Where would J.K.Rowling have got to, I wonder, if she’d written as Joan Rowling about the wizard heroine called Hermione?

This is where the reading iceberg starts growing: at school. This is where we form our beliefs and prejudices. Later in life we often change our minds or other people try to persuade us to think otherwise but first impressions run deep.

via Kerryn Goldsworthy on FB

Categories: arts & entertainment, education, gender & feminism

Tags: , , ,

10 replies

  1. If Hermione Potter had otherwise followed the same storyline, I bet a lot more readers would have pegged how much help and special perks came “her” way.

  2. Going from the movies only, I think they would have also pegged how much background assistance she got from her good friend Harry who seemed to study twice as hard and save her from herself quite a few times.

  3. Wait, Hermione isn’t the main character of those Hogwarts books? I feel so empty inside…
    I’m glad this article got in The Age, it will hopefully bring the issue up in the minds of those who hadn’t thought about it before. For those looking for books for young people (I almost wrote girls, damn social conditioning!) books by Tamora Pierce and Karen Healey are all excellent places to start.

  4. My own little act of resistance is to try to ensure that every book I give to any child of my acquaintance, of any gender, has a non-male protagonist, non-male author, non-male illustrator, or some combination of the above.

  5. And how Harry Granger did it on his own strength, whilst under the shadow of The Chosen One, and how the Chosen One spent all her time whining, and had buckets of gold at Gringots, and an awesome rich werewolf uncle, and the head of the school on her side, probably because she was flirting, and most of what she achieved was because the author wrote her up as the Chosen One, when she was her own biggest problem.

  6. Scott Westerfield, ugly series. Hoverboards.

  7. This is so true. The Sun Herald newspaper has a section called something like ‘books that changed me’. It’s written by various celebrities and authors and it mentions 5 or 6 books that had a great influence on the person. Male contributors invariably mention books with male authorsalmost exclusively. I’ve noticed female contributors also have an overbalance of books with male authors. Pisses me off.

  8. I’ve read V.S. Naipaul. He’s not that good.

  9. Thanks for this, fantastic post, and a real concern. The sidelining of books with female authors/protagonists in school is worrying, it is just one way that gender is essentialized. I expect this will continue with the ongoing concern over boy’s literacy and the need to engage boys with reading through ‘masculinizing’ English and related subjects.

  10. It seems in built into the system that only the elites ever get access to properly developed investigation instruction and meaningful understanding of social science and arts/humanities, at tertiary level.
    There is little significant introduction of the masses to cultural issue at earlier stages of schooling and the clue is in the sort of paranoia that has just had redneck authorities in Arizona, USA, ban Shakespeare and others from school curricula in schools on the basis it that signs of alleged”liberalism” may be “offensive” to conservatives.
    Am actually angry at the system. Did not get to read “Jane Eyre” till my adventures as manured aged student, introduced to me to a novel that is the equal of anything produced by writers in the nineteenth century. Too many home truths in it, you’d expect..

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