How do you measure a book? Are you automatically attracted to slim, artsy looking volumes? The thicker, the better? Do you like your books dressed up in sexy covers and chapter headings, with those oh-so-sheer maps at the front of the book?
Lately, I seem to be picking books that are highly esteemed, written by men, and have well-defined, limited roles for the female characters. So, I think it is time I got out my ruler. Perhaps even my balance. These books have been measured and weighed and found wanting.
I want women in all their glorious roles, in every shape and size, of every age, fighting every battle imaginable, and reacting very humanely. I want them to fail, be evil, react rationally, care more about the weapon in hand than their hair. I want them ambivalent and complicated and torn by many loyalties. And they need hobbies other than visiting the spa or daydreaming about a marriage proposal.
I recently finished The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho. The tale was new and mysterious to me, about personal growth and wisdom. It was short, but with such an enchanting background and wise nuggets that I felt it was a 500-pager.
In short, a young shepherd wants to travel. In his wandering in Andalusia, Spain he meets a gypsy woman who tells him to seek his treasure at the pyramids of Egypt. He then meets an old man who tells him to follow his personal legend – seeking this treasure. He does cross the Mediterranean and into the deserts of Egypt. In those deserts, he meets several other men that are either 1) seeking their personal legend, 2) on the quest to fulfill their personal legend, or 3) have fulfilled it.
I could read this book 3 times and not absorb all the beauty, oddities, and wisdom of this book.
Yet, I don’t want to. I have no place in this story because I have a vagina. I am not the Minor Role of Dream-Interpretting Gypsy, nor am I the Other Minor Role of Romantic Interest. None of the women, few though they are, have a Personal Legend in this tale.
Next on my recent list is Robert Heinlein with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. All the women are beautiful and viewed sexually. Sure, some of them have brains and voice, but it is always coupled with good looks, perfect makeup, and nice breasts. I really enjoyed this story, once I set aside being miffed about the sexualization of all the women.The plot was intriguing and moved along at a great pace. Future tech and concepts were introduced with enough detail to visualize the environment, but didn’t bog down the tale.
And yet, I have a few questions. Since the men out-numbered the women on the moon, why aren’t they, the men, sexualized? Since the men have to compete for the attentions of the ladies, shouldn’t personal appearance play a large role in this?
I want to see the bulk of men in such a tale strut, preen, have body waxes, fuss over hair products, and even apply a light coat of makeup. I want them to worry that their thoughts and feelings won’t be considered if they can’t first grab the attention of the ladies by the bulge in their pants, sparkling teeth, and coy glances.
However, such a ruler has sharp edges, and can cut both ways.
Maybe I should just look for some well-balanced books. Suggestions?