Not until I was eighteen and safely tucked away at college did I get the nerve to wish my father a Happy Motherfuckers’ Day, though I had conceived of this naughty pun somewhere back in middle school. Fortunately he thought it was funny, and now I wish him a Happy Motherfuckers’ Day ever year.
You see why my father and I get along.
I have been thinking about gender a lot lately.
Er… that’s misleading. I’ve been thinking about gender nearly my whole life, starting when I was a naked heathen child in Mississippi. Mississippi is not a good place for people like me, who prefer the climes of, say, Siberia, or Saskatchewan. Mississippi is not a good place for anybody, now that you mention it.
The nakedness was a result of the heat. I ran around in undies or less, save for those times when we went out in public. It’s still my preferred clothing style. Unfortunately the dress code at the library is rather conservative, i.e., clothes must be worn at all times. I spent every possible Mississippi moment in our plastic pool outside, and I sported an unfashionable but practical short bowl cut, which prevented heat rashes from growing on my neck.
“Short hair on a five year old,” in this country, means “boy.” Hence the beginnings of my gender issues. I was upset every time a stranger would compliment my mother on her lovely little boy. Couldn’t they sense the girlness emanating from me?
Nowadays, I generally hover solidly on the feminine side of the gender spectrum, at least on the outside: I frequently wear gendered clothing (skirts, dresses, feminine shoes) and I sometimes wear makeup, though for over a year now I’ve sported a short haircut; I’m curvy enough that no one will ever mistake me for a male.
I love wearing skirts. They’re so comfy! I feel for the fellas out there; unless they are imminently likely to pick up some bagpipes, they can’t be caught dead in a skirt.
Other bits of the female gender appearance are less pleasing to me. I hate shaving my legs. I don’t mind having smooth legs, but I despise the chore and I resent that society expects me to.
I truly hate shaving my, ahem, “bikini line.” What a lousy euphemism. It’s a crotch, or a groin, or any number of other descriptive terms, but I do not wear bikinis. By that logic I don’t think I have a bikini line.
But last night, after years of glorious, untamed pubic hair growth, I took a razor to my poor vulnerable groin. Because of some stupid societal norm that makes no sense whatsoever, women can’t go swimming with pubic hair visible outside their swimsuits. As there will be a pool at my hotel in DC this coming weekend, I’d like the option to go swimming.
I rummaged in my old, old, old swimming suit pieces last night and finally found a combination that doesn’t recall a bovine. Not too much, anyway. There’s a modest orange top and… well, I really didn’t have any bottoms to go with it. Things could have become very frustrating, until I decided to look in my underwear drawer. Lo and behold, I found a pair of green Lycra undies, a lovely match to the orange swimmie tank top. There’s no way anyone’s ever going to know that I’m wearing underwear rather than a proper swimsuit bottom. Unless they, um, read this.
So anyway. I shaved. My girl parts look naked. I don’t like it.
And then there’s the razor burn. Yeeouch.
But as I was trying to say, I’ve spent my whole life thinking about gender. Thought about it when I was young, thought about it in college as a Women’s Studies major, thought about it in grad school, think about it now, in my personal and my professional life both. Doesn’t hurt that I’m writing a book about women’s nonfiction. That makes me think about it, too. And the nonfiction book I’m reading at the moment is a lovely examination of sex and gender. Woman: An Intimate Geography, by Natalie Angiers, looks at the biology of women. The prose is luscious and witty. Ms. Angiers could write about basket weaving or yaks and I’d read it.
Persepolis and I had a conversation about gender and genre the other day at work. She mentioned that two genres were flying off the shelves of her obscenely popular book display, Beach Reads.
Romance was one of the genres. I know who reads those. But the other genre was Thrillers.
“Hmmm,” I wondered. “What defines the Thriller reader? Male, female? Young, old? White, black, in between?”
“It’s everyone,” said Persepolis. “Everyone likes a good Thriller.”
I think she’s right. Thrillers may be the most crowd-pleasing genre out there. Everyone likes a good story, the defining characteristic of the Thriller. But they often have good characters, a swift pace, and accessible language. The typical Thriller doesn’t make a lot of intellectual demands of the reader, and it often delivers an interesting setting, a suspenseful atmosphere, and maybe a love interest or two. Yay for Thrillers. It’s probably the most gender-neutral genre out there.
Later that day we talked about Southern Literature. Persepolis asked a startling question: “Who are the new voices in Southern Lit from the past ten years?” And, darn it, we were stumped.
“Bastard Out of Carolina!” I yelled at one point, only to discover that it was published in 1992. Niet!
I finally found one, Cold Mountain. But the question made me think about Southern Lit. I think it’s dying. There are still authors writing Southern Lit (Clyde Edgerton, T. R. Pearson– blech–, Kaye Gibbons), but there aren’t many new folks going at it.
I think it’s a dying genre, just like the Western is slowly but surely dying. We all know that Westerns were primarily read by men, which made me wonder: was Southern Lit the female answer to the Western? Strong sense of setting, violence (though oftentimes emotional rather than physical), compelling, often tragic figures…
I’m not sure who the readers of Southern Lit are, or were. I may never know.
Enough speculating over a dying genre. Time to work on mustering excitement for a growing genre, Women’s Nonfiction. Go, Women’s Nonfiction, go! Woohoo! Hooray for Women’s Nonfiction!
Makes you want to pre-order my book, doesn’t it?