On Kicking and Butts
Do you have your Secret Decoder Rings ready? I hope so, because this post opens with a Secret Message!
First you'll get a question and have to guess the answer. Then you'll get an answer and have to come up with the question--like on Jeopardy!
Q1: What do the names Ashley, Dana, Hilary, Leslie, Meredith, Schuyler, Shirley, Vivian, and Whitney have in common?
A1: They are were originally "boys' names" and are currently "girls' names"!
A2: Probably Taylor . . . and Madison. Although Madison means "son of Maud."
Q2: Which boys' names are likely to go the same way in the next ten years?
So, did you guess correctly??? =D
Now, I kind of like the edginess of giving a girl a boys' name. As a former frustrated tomboy, I even wanted one myself. And I imagine that a lot of well-meaning parents hoped this tiny bit of gender-bending would prove to be empowering to their daughters, whom they loved as much as their sons. Because it's men who have all the power, right?
Well, that was about as accurate as my own childhood belief that it's boys who have all the fun. =P
Yes, before the 1960s, men had a certain kind of power not widely available to women. And in the 1980s, boys definitely had a certain kind of fun that my family didn't think was also appropriate for girls. But what we're forgetting is that pre-feminist women had freedoms which weren't culturally acceptable for men . . . and that any male Child of the 80s caught playing with a "girls' toy" would have really freaked his parents out. It may not have been entirely fair, but contrary to the Marxist template, neither was it a clear case of one sex locking the other out of the Halls of Privilege and Happiness.
It was more likely a case of one sex thinking that the other sex was more privileged and happier, believing that the trappings of that privilege and happiness were also their source, and going after those trappings with the single-mindedness of a tank.
Do you like the word "trappings"? I've been using it ever since I read what The Last Psychiatrist had to say about women, makeup and the US senate . . .
I think the answer is supposed to be, "it's empowering to women", but you should wonder: when more women enter a field, it means less men did, and if the men stopped going there, where did they go? Why did they leave? I assume they aren't home with the kids, right?
I don't want to be cynical, but boy oh boy is it hard not to observe that at the very moment in our history when we have the most women in the Senate, Congress is perceived to be pathetic, bickering, easily manipulated and powerless, and I'll risk the blowback and say that those are all stereotypes of women. Easy, HuffPo, I know it's not causal, I am saying the reverse: that if some field keeps the trappings of power but loses actual power, women enter it in droves and men abandon it like the Roanoke Colony. Again we must ask the question: if power seeking men aren't running for Senate, where did they go? Meanwhile all the lobbyists and Wall Street bankers are men, isn't that odd? . . .
The emphasis is mine. =)
You know, back in 1994, I was wondering something similar: "If Daniel-san isn't practicing karate anymore, what is he doing?" Of course, his irrelevance to the fourth Karate Kid movie did not mean that he was no longer a "karate kid" in his own right. While his mentor was gone, maybe he came of age (Finally!), opened his own dojo, reunited with Kumiko . . . But let's not lose sight of the forest for the trees. My point is that if karate had successfully been rebranded as a girls' martial art, "What are the boys doing?" would be a legitimate question.
In fact, it would be a legitimate question if only because the answer would be what the girls would try to do next. =P
Fast forward almost twenty years. Karate may not have become "girly," but the general idea of "kicking butt" has. I don't think a modern boy would like to be called "kick-butt" (or even "kick-ass"), any more than he'd be like to be called Hilary. We know that giving boys' names to girls becomes meaningless in a generation or two, but we still imagine that giving the trappings of boyhood to girls is great progress.
Yesterday, I had a blast going through the blogs on the Kick-Butt Characters Blog Hop, noting how many of the featured books were about girl main characters and how few were about boy main characters. Some of the girls even had boys' names! (None of the boys had girls' names. Shocking.) When I was about halfway through the list, another imbalance emerged: stories with fantastic settings totally outnumbered stories with realistic settings. It was as if the cultural consensus were that girls can be as tough--or even tougher--than boys, but only in worlds dramatically different from this one. (Yeah, you know, Karl Marx thought that changing the social order was all that was necessary, too. There's a fine line between world building and wish fulfillment.)
There are a million questions we could ask at this point, but I have only one:
If boys are no longer the protagonists of Action-Adventure novels,
in which modern books can we find them?
in which modern books can we find them?
Image Sources: a) Gone with the Wind press photo, b) The Karate Kid poster, c) The Next Karate Kid poster