On Sesame Street, I had Maria and Susan and the random kids who would play "One of These Things", even though a majority of the muppets were guys. But Reading Rainbow had LeVar Burton and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood had, well, Mr. Rogers -and Mr. McFeely. And he had King Friday, "lording over the lesser puppets". And later, I would watch M*A*S*H; and although it had Major Margaret Houlihan, nearly every other character was a man -even Klinger, though he pretended to be a woman. Later still, I watched Northern Exposure, which had Dr. Fleischman as the main character. And then Sports Night, which did a good job but still had men outnumbering women. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was really the first show I had ever seen where the amount of girl characters outnumbered the amount of boy characters, and in the first season, they were pretty evenly matched.
Moving out of the realm of fiction, we hit the "real" world. My bosses have been men. My politicians, both on the local and national level, have been made up of a majority of men. What does this mean? It means that this premise of "but you feel that way because you're a female and you can identify with Clinton" is true. I am a female, and I do identify with Senator Clinton. But it is also false. Because I don't identify with Clinton due to the fact that she is a woman and I am a woman. I know this because I identify with: Casey McCall. With Big Bird. With Mr. Rogers. With Barack Obama. With Hawkeye and BJ and Radar. With Huck Finn. With Lentil, and the Happy Lion. With Francios, the keeper's son. With Buffy, but also with Xander. With Frances, but also with Harold. With Woody and Marlin and Mike and Alfredo. With Batman. With Cyclops. With Harvey Dent. With Dana, but also with Josh Lyman and Sam Seaborn. And when I don't identify with a man -like, say, John McCain or John Kerry- I can still muster up outrage at the treatment they have received. And I know this because I do not identify with every woman, not even every liberal woman, and not every feminist woman.
And I've come to the realization that maybe that is a special skill; maybe women, by being sidelined for so long in reality and in fiction, have been able to extend beyond their gender in terms of who they can identify with, who they can empathize with, and whose humanity they can recognize. Not all women, certainly. Ann Coulter missed the boat. But women in general versus men in general. It explains things like how girls can read books like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and enjoy them -but boys will scoff at the idea of reading Little Women. Boys scoff at Little Women and other fiction that focuses on females because, studies say, they find it "boring". But why do they find it boring? Why don't boys run the gamut of finding issues interesting like girls do? Why can girls read John Steinbeck and Hemingway and Mark Twain, and also read Louisa May Alcott, and Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen, but boys are only interested in reading "boy" material? I think it comes down to two things.
One, I think girls are forced, often and from a young age, to identify with the default gender in society -and that default gender is not female but male. Because of the fact that boys populate so much of fiction and so much of this real world -even now, 88 years after the 19th Amendment and 30+ years after the Woman's Lib Movement that fought for things like access to the job market and equal pay for equal work- girls have learned to adapt. Girls can find that they can identify with Huck and his raft down the river. We can identify with James Thurber and his crazy family life. I can identify with the men of The Corrections. I can look up to and admire and want to write like Thomas Jefferson. We can look at politicians and identify with them when they are men, because it hasn't been that long since there were legitimate women available to identify with -and even now, there aren't all that many on the national scale. We are 68th in the world for representation of women in our Congress. And yet, "women vote in higher numbers than men, and have done so in every election since 1964". And "women have voted at higher rates than men since 1980", with "56.2% of registered women voters" going to the polls in 2000 "compared to 53.1%" of registered men voters. That means that there are a hell of a lot of women voters who have voted, time and again, and have identified with, time and again, male politicians. Because we have to; because we are socialized to. Women are, to rip blatantly off Simone de Beauvoir, the second sex -the "other" in dichotomy to the default.
Men, however, are the default sex. They are the "norm" to women being the "other". They are the primary sex. "Boys and girls"; "men and women"; "guys". "Guy" is gender neutral, because it refers to what is implicitly thought of as the default sex. Try calling out "Hey, girls (or gals)" to a mixed group of men and women, and see what happens. My guess is, the men will either not react, or react poorly. Because men have so many figures to identify with who are of their gender, they don't have to instinctively gravitate toward members of the opposite sex. Because of that, they are less likely (or able) to find something that connects them to Jo from Little Women or Lizzy from Pride and Prejudice.
And secondly, girls are being, in greater numbers, told and taught that they can be anything. There are definite caveats, like you can do everything but you have to be attractive; and men get to decide what constitutes as being attractive, and that rubric is always changing. But girls are told that they can be astronauts or explorers or housewives, and they are no longer immediately derided as being a lesbian or "butch" or unfeminine. Boys, however, are called "sissy" if they show too much of an interest in anything feminine. They are called "fag" or teased for being "gay" for doing so much as expressing an interest in the color purple or pastels. And so, boys are still overwhelmingly told -by society, by their peers- that there are certain acceptable areas and interests boys can have, but they still cannot deviate from those aligned paths. Because girls and girl interests are still seen as being "less" than boys and boy interests. So it is perfectly understandable why girls would be interested in fire trucks and guns, but the same is not true for boys interested in dance and dolls. And so, boys haven't been conditioned to be interested in fiction that centers around girls, both because they don't have to adopt girl stories in order to satiate their own need for representation and because they are taught not to be.
And those two aspects seem to bleed over into other aspects of the world. Men harass women on the street in far greater numbers than women harass men. Some men have to be told "that is somebody's sister" in order to recognize why they shouldn't treat women like less than human. And so, some men hear "take out the garbage" and see Hillary Clinton as their first wife instead of recognizing her as a fully independent human being. And it allows men of all stripes to not react in as much revulsion when such sexist comments are made. So yes. I identify with Hillary Clinton. Yes, I am a woman. And if "but you can't feel that way because you're a male and you can't identify with Clinton" is true, then I pity those men. If being a man excludes someone from recognizing or being reviled by sexist acts, then I pity them. And if a majority of men cannot be stimulated and excited and moved by fiction involving mainly females or a female story, then I pity them as well. And I also think we have to try our damnedest to make sure they one day can.