I’m Sexist

But I don’t mean to be.

And that’s why it pisses me off when people tell me there’s no reason for feminism or that feminism should be dead. Here’s a story.

I come from the Harry Potter generation. When I started the series, only three books had been published and I was about 11. The final book was released when I was in my late teens or early twenties, and it felt like the end of my childhood.

I remember when I read the first book. It was Christmas, snowy outside. My brother had to beg me to leave Harry for a few hours to try our luck on our parents’ old cross country skis. (We had no luck.) I made him wait until the end of the first Quidditch match, and I remember thinking about Golden Snitches and Lee Jordan the entire time I failed at skiing.

I remember this for a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones is because I was certain J. K. Rowling was a man. Any author who wrote about sports, who invented a sport, had to be a man.

I also noted that Harry was a boy, and my 11 year old self knew that men wrote about men, and only sometimes women, but women always wrote about women. (I was pretty sure I was worldly. I was not.)

Harry Potter was also a good book. It wasn’t a love story. I was pretty sure that women couldn’t write books that were well-paced with lots of action. I was pretty sure that all books written by women had fairly low action and lots of emotions, and that the plot stopped so the characters could mull around and talk. I liked books like this well enough, but they weren’t Great, like Harry Potter. Only men could write Great Books.

This is pretty obviously bullshit.

Harry Potter

But it took me awhile to realize this, and it took me longer to realize how deep rooted these beliefs ran. I still can’t tell you why I have them or where they came from.

I found out J. K. Rowling was a woman after an Internet search. (The Internet was still pretty new, and J. K. Rowling was one of the first things I Googled…before Google was a verb.) J. K. Rowling wasn’t only a woman, but she’d hidden her gender on purpose. And weirdly, that’s what bothered me the most. She wrote under her initials specifically to hide her gender, and I felt duped. I didn’t reflect on my feelings about this, or what those feelings said about me or the world. Instead, I spent my time feeling righteously outraged in the way of 11-year-olds. And really pissed that I was so invested in Harry that I’d read more of his books even though I’d been “lied to.” Weirdly, I felt like she was furthering the exact sort of sexism she was fighting against (as if my own misconceptions about her gender didn’t prove the usefulness of her writing under her initials). I believed that being aware of something automatically meant you had to fight it.

It took me a long time to admit what you’ve probably already figured out. Had JKR written Harry Potter under her real, female name, I probably would not have read it. Or, had I read it, I would have found fault with it, judging it more harshly and picking Hermione apart. I would have found fault because she was a woman where I found no fault when I thought she was a man.

This is really screwed up.

It’s more screwed up because I was a young girl who wanted to be a writer. I’d glass ceiling’d myself. I’d absorbed that young male characters were standard and that a character needed a reason to be a woman. Female wasn’t a default setting. What bothers me most now, as an adult, is that this didn’t bother me as a kid. After I’d come to terms with J. K. Rowling’s trickery, I decided to copy it and use my own initials to hide my gender. I continued to write male characters unless I had a Reason to write a female, and I continued to believe that female writers weren’t, and couldn’t be, as good as male authors. It took me a long time to realize that the women writers I loved were not the Exception to the rule, but that the rule itself was ludicrous.

So, let’s raise our beer glasses (because women can enjoy beer, too. This chick used to believe wine was for girls and beer was for boys) to the kick-ass female authors who got us through our childhood’s. I’ll start. Here’s to Megan Whalen Turner, Robin McKinley, and, Queen of the Realm, J. K. Rowling.


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