Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dinner Rolls with Gender

    While imparting recipes for pudding with rice in it—which I assume was invented by the British except I'm not sure where they would have gotten the rice from historically…a search through Google has advised me that they got it from the Moors in Spain around the 10th century. My universe makes sense again—my friend Becky lightly touched on a topic of gender. The main topic of discussion, if I understand her post, was that the smallness in "the context of domestic and quotidian detail" is more regularly associated with the feminine. In addition there were some comments from female commentators on Becky's post about the praise men receive for writing the domestic versus the expectation for women to comment on such things.

    I am always hesitant to get into a discussion of gender or expectations of writers as such discussion completely rub me the wrong way. When someone gives a statement that men behave in such and such way, I bristle. Generalizations of my person are quite annoying, universal rules rarely make sense if one includes the details of an individual's life. Yes, one can predict trends in large groups of people with sufficient hard analysis of statistics, but predicting the individual requires more data tags then their gender (and such exercised enter murky waters). Men comprise of 50% of the population, with a wide range of ages, races, educations, vocabularies, parents, residences, marital statuses, tastes, desires, wishes, and dreams. Even if you can predict behavior, the reason behind it can easily be obscured. The precautionary principle seems a better guide in such discussions.

How would I, as a reader, approach "domestic and quotidian detail?" Well if one holds that everyone is a novel (that one can't be summed up in a page but rather a 300-1000 pages of hard working prose), I would say that the context of the house work would matter. I enjoy history and find domestic matters from bygone eras fascinating for their exotic and arcane natures. This extends to foreign cultures as well. In more familiar waters, such domestic matters need to further the story; provide some insight into the character. If a writer invests page space to a male character's cleaning habits, it should build the story of the man. There are different ways to clean an apartment, build a piece of furniture, or grocery shop. How this is described could help to flesh out a character. I must confess a bit of eye rolling at how many male characters in novels are stereotypes when it comes to how they live alone (or interact) and I find myself generalizing that female author's don't understand men (then I remind myself that such things annoy me). There is always the possibility that the men they describe are based on the only men they have known (I am skeptical).

In the end, once my bristles have been combed down. I find myself agreeing with Becky:

 You have to write about what you care enough to write about, and it's the skill and sensitivity of the writer that makes the text "big" or "small."

I would only add that this applies to reading as well.


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