Extracts from an English essay on gender I just finished, helpfully informed by My Little Pony:
20. To what extent do women read and write differently from men? Is there a coherent tradition of female authored literature embodied in genres such as the female Gothic? Are there valid generalizations we can make about female authored literature and criticism or does any such analysis run the risk of essentialism?
Gendered analysis of literature is frequently a self defeating endeavour because it exists to argue or react to increasingly obsolete cultural stereotypes, which often go unexamined or unchallenged even as elaborate arguments are built upon them. Any number of arbitrary claims can be made about female or male authored work, saying that females are more caring and compassionate, or males more proud and dominating and so on, and a plethora of examples can be collected to prove that this is the case. However, the body of the world’s literature is so enormously vast that examples can be found to support any position one cares to argue, and the people who write these pieces are an immensely varied group differentiated far more by their individual personalities and surrounding circumstances than their gender. In a sense, focusing relentlessly on binary question of gender is to boil down the immense complexity of human sexuality to a simple yes/no equation, a process as crude and unhelpful as if you were to define all literature in terms of monarchical or democratic.
In the modern world, cultural restrictions about gender and sexuality have become extremely relaxed compared to their historical positions. Females have vastly increased independence, social standing, sexual freedom and political power. A range of sexualities are increasingly publically accepted beyond just heterosexuality and homosexuality, but also transgender, androgyne, agendered, demisexuality and so on. These categories blur the already blurry male/female line and make gendered analysis even more obsolete than it already is. Is a male-transgendered-female examined in terms of female writing? Does an asexual woman read and write differently from men? Are there any valid generalisations about gender we can make about a group containing homosexuals, bisexuals, transgenders and hetrosexuals? What is the definition of ‘woman’? The question is far more complex than might be imagined. Perhaps the only safe way to ask the question is “Do you have a Y chromosome?”
At that point, the question of gendered writing becomes purely absurd. How does the Y chromosome affect how you read and write? How does the genetic mutation in your lymph node affect your appreciation of sonnets? Does the fact that your genetics produce dark skin make you incapable of appreciating War and Peace? We have reached the point when we are arguing how brain chemistry affects our relationship with the English language, the point where we are arguing the completely ascientific view that women’s brains are wired inherently differently than men’s and never the two shall cross, and generally immersing ourselves in the reprehensible cultural morass of history.
These sexualities and complexities have always existed and have been hidden for fear of cultural retaliation. The recent vast growth of the LGBTA community isn’t a result of modern society pushing people to new orientations; it is a mask too long worn being taken off, raising with it elaborate historical questions. Was Napoleon transgender? Should we revisit all the policies of Imperial Bonapartist France with regards to female psychology? What should we do if we can’t tell if a writer is male or female from a piece of writing? In the event of a male writing feminine My Little Pony fanfiction what set of stereotypes shall we refer to?
No, these questions are self defeating, divisive and a pointless attempt to put labels on a topic as fluid as water and as vast as the ocean. Females do not read and write differently from males. Individuals read and write differently from each other. What gender means for each individual is a unique and personal question that can not and should not be generalised. There are much more important questions and factors, from individual orientation to cultural conditioning, that inform who people are and how they respond to language and literature than the question of what is going on in their pants.
There are a lot of different ways to be a girl.