This was a small-ish school, and I spoke to the 3-8 grades. It wasn’t until I was partway into my presentation that I realized that the back rows of the older grades were all girls.
Later a teacher told me, “The administration only gave permission to the middle school girls to leave class for your assembly. I have a boy student who is a huge fan of SPIRIT ANIMALS. I got special permission for him to come, but he was too embarrassed.”
“Because the administration had already shown that they believed my presentation would only be for girls?”
“Yes,” she said.
I tried not to explode in front of the children.
Where does the idea that women are inferior creative artists come from? You’re seeing some of the introduction and enforcement of that position in action. Hale goes on to explain that she’s mystified by this kind of segregation:
Let’s be clear: I do not talk about “girl” stuff. I do not talk about body parts. I do not do a “Your Menstrual Cycle and You!” presentation. I talk about books and writing, reading, rejections and moving through them, how to come up with story ideas. But because I’m a woman, because some of my books have pictures of girls on the cover, because some of my books have “princess” in the title, I’m stamped as “for girls only.” However, the male writers who have boys on their covers speak to the entire school.
This has happened a few times before. I don’t believe it’s ever happened in an elementary school—just middle school or high school.
I remember one middle school 2-3 years ago that I was going to visit while on tour. I heard in advance that they planned to pull the girls out of class for my assembly but not the boys. I’d dealt with that in the past and didn’t want to be a part of perpetuating the myth that women only have things of interest to say to girls while men’s voices are universally important. I told the publicist that this was something I wasn’t comfortable with and to please ask them to invite the boys as well as girls. I thought it was taken care of. When I got there, the administration told me with shrugs that they’d heard I didn’t want a segregated audience but that’s just how it was going to be. Should I have refused? Embarrassed the bookstore, let down the girls who had been looking forward to my visit? I did the presentation. But I felt sick to my stomach. Later I asked what other authors had visited. They’d had a male writer. For his assembly, both boys and girls had been invited.
Of course! Because it’s very, very important for girls and women to read about male subjectivities, and not at all important for boys and men to learn about the thinking and experiences of girls or women. Hale writes, “To a culture that tells boys and men, it doesn’t matter how the girl feels, what she wants. You don’t have to wonder. She is here to please you. She is here to do what you want. No one expects you to have to empathize with girls and women. As far as you need be concerned, they have no interior life.” Read the whole thing–it’s not entirely despairing, only mostly.
The world of shame around aesthetic preferences Hale evokes in middle school reminded me of an experience I had more than 30 years ago. In junior high, I discovered the Go-Gos, an all female pop band that was part of the rising U.S. New Wave. They weren’t just on MTV, but also on broadcast music programs like Solid Gold and top-40 radio stations. I loved the Go-Gos! But later that year when I got to high school, I learned from the boys there that the Go-Gos were stupid and uncool, mostly because they were women I now see in retrospect.
How stupid of me. The Go-Gos were fun, clever, and very successful. How much more successful would they have been if tweens and teens like me hadn’t been bullied out of our love for them? I still remember this Solid Gold performance, and that I had propped up a cassette tape recorder next to our television set to record this song: