Friday, July 18, 2014

Now I Get Why Harry Potter is a Boy

     First off, let me introduce myself: I’m the long-winded one.
     This is the first post of a group blog, so I figured I’d jump right in and get to the topic I’ll mostly be posting about. Gender roles. Before you drift off to sleep, let me tie it in to the whimsical fake gossip column tearing up the Internet. Officially over my HP obsession, I can now be objective and voice the opinion I’ve always held: Harry should’ve been a Harriet. That’s why I started my own middle-grade fantasy starring a girl. Seven years later, I just finished this story and I understand why JK Rowling chose to write about a boy. It’s way easier.
     Let me be clear. I write for girls. I could care less if a boy ever picks up a single book of mine. I mean, they might be too busy conquering the world, and I wouldn’t want to get in the way of that. Yet, if they ever have the urge…I’ve gotta say, Donovan Hunt is a pretty good male character.
You're in a movie and see this coming. Run!
     To put this all into context, let me cite a movie I saw years ago when I fancied myself a connoisseur of film. The Comfort of Strangers is a thriller (sort of, I guess) about a truly British couple entrapped by social etiquette into a relationship with another couple who, at first, appear merely eccentric. Trust me, if the main characters in this film had been American, there would be no movie, because they’d’ve have run for the hills the moment Christopher Walken approached (a good practice for whenever Christopher Walken approaches in a film, mind you.) 
     Instead, the couple sits meekly by sipping tea and nodding politely, as the psycho couple tells them about all the deviant things they do. This leads to nothing good. It’s not a film for children, but there is one scene that applies directly to my children’s book. The Natasha Richardson character is telling the Helen Mirren character about a women’s theatre troupe she once belonged to (before it dissipated as a result of some of the women wanting to include men.) Helen Mirren says something along the lines of: “How can you do a play with only women? I mean, what could happen?”  then—later in the convo—adds: “They’d probably be waiting for a man. And then he’d come and something would happen.”
True....but there's more to it.
     At nineteen, my response to this was WTF? Having now written my book, my response is: You’ve hit the nail right on the head, sister!
     A girl character can’t fuel a story by her lonesome, and not because she’s weak. It’s because female readers look for different things than male readers in a story—better things. It’s a strength of our gender, this curiosity about The Other. Plus, I think girls recognize reading as a forbidden fruit, the privilege having been so hard won. So if you write about a girl, be prepared to write about a boy with equal fervor. (Don’t tell me that Hermione is as developed as Harry. She’s not!) And get ready to tackle issues of gender, which is hard to do with entertainment as the goal. (Note: The Comfort of Strangers is one of the least entertaining movies I’ve ever seen. Click at your own discretion, and I'll take you to a HP fan art pic that makes you feel the same sort of ickiness.)
     In Thief’s Cipher, I’ve tried my best with a race bred to be domestic servants (a la The Stepford Wives); a coven of witches that parallels a corporation; a male character who takes on the demons of childhood abuse and a hero role in which he’s been unwillingly cast; not to mention, a lingering prophecy that amounts to an arranged marriage between the two main characters.
     Oh yeah, and by poking fun of gender roles at every opportunity. Sorry, gender roles. You’re toast.
     (Told you I was long-winded.)


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