Disclaimer: The opinion in this article is entirely the writer’s and has nothing to do with Rojak Daily or anyone else.
Forget what Oscar Wilde said about women being meant for loving, not for understanding. We’re not all that complicated.
In this column, I will reveal a simple secret to understanding women, but it won’t be a step-by-step guide.
It will include stories, some data and references to researches as well as opinions based on personal and not-so-personal experiences, amongst which a perceptive person might find the secret to understanding women.
I said we’re not complicated, not that it doesn’t require work to understand us.
Consider this practice and if you get through the full article, you might just discover that one thing that could help you begin to unravel the mysteries of the female minds.
Women and fiction
Let me start by recounting a true event.
A few weeks ago, I was going through the list of recorded movies on Astro decoder with a male family member, looking for something to watch, when we came across “On the Basis of Sex” on the list.
The reaction of the other person to this was something along the lines of “Is this one of those feminist movies? I don’t want to watch a feminist movie.”
Instead of asking what’s wrong with a “feminist” movie (it’s always harder with family for some reason), I started explaining that the movie was based on the life and early cases of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG).
Which is the truth. But it is also true that RBG’s story is very much about feminism. Why should that translate to “not of interest to men”?
Why am I even telling you this? I’ll get to that eventually.
Did you know the number of women in television and movies in the West is terribly low although it has improved in recent years?
According to Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film
’s Celluloid Ceiling report
that looks at the top 100 and 250 grossing films (in English), “Women comprised 21 per cent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 100 grossing films, up from 20 per cent in 2019.
“Women working in these roles on the top 250 grossing films experienced a slight increase from 21 per cent in 2019 to 23 per cent in 2020.”
The report also showed that 80 per cent of top 250 grossing films had no women directors, 73 per cent had no women writers, 41 per cent had no women executive producers, 26 per cent had no women producers, 72 per cent had no women editors and a whopping 94 per cent had no women cinematographers. Overall, 67 per cent of films had fewer than five women in the roles mention.
Google the top 250 top grossing films and you’ll find only a few them have female protagonist(s). Among those, you’ll be hard-pressed to find more than a handful which, if written as a book, would be considered as “women’s fiction”.
Which brings me to books and what I think is the very problematic existence of the term “women’s fiction”.
Goodreads defines this as “an umbrella term for books that are marketed to female readers, and includes many mainstream novels, romantic fiction, ‘chick lit’, and other sub genres. It is distinct from Women's writing, which refers to literature written by (rather than promoted to) women. There exists no comparable label in English for works of fiction that are marketed to males.
Why is it problematic? Because we’re literally brushing off thousands of books that "speaks" to women as unworthy of the attention of men.
The books and authors listed under this term includes 'Eat, Pray, Love' by Elizabeth Gilbert, 'Me Before You' by Jojo Moyes, 'My Sister. The Serial Killer' by Oyinkan Braithwaite, pretty much every book by the likes of Jodi Picoult, Nora Roberts and Daniel Steel whose work covers a myriad of topic ranging from child molestation and other crimes to ethical questions pertaining to medical issues and the toll that diseases take on people and families, as well as love and romance.
What makes these topics uninteresting to men? Is it because the books often describe and include emotions?
Toxic masculinity much?
Even when books written by women are not categorised under “women’s fiction”, men don’t usually read them. Put a female as a protagonist, forget about getting most men to read it.
There are way more male authors who get published and reviewed compared to female authors. This is despite 80 per cent of fiction readers being female and researches consistently showing that women (and girls) read more than their male counterparts.
There are plenty of researches and articles that points this out.
Here’s one by The Guardian
that shows that among the top 100 children’s book in 2017, it is twice as likely for a male character to be the lead character, 73 per cent of books that portrays animals as the main characters identify them as male, male characters get more dialogues and male characters are also eight times more likely to be portrayed as villains. That’s how deeply rooted casual sexism is in publishing.
There’s also the fact that for centuries, female authors have had to hide behind male names and even in recent times authors like JK Rowling and Alex Kava (whose real name is Sharon Kava) used more gender-neutral and pen names to sell their novels. This is just so that their stories will be considered worthy enough to be published and read by any gender.
Representation, mansplaining and ‘menalists’
I’m not going to touch too much about the topic of representation in politics, STEM, workplaces and everywhere else.
We already know that representation in pretty much every area is lacking and it’s not as relevant to the point I’m trying to make here.
However, I will write about the lack of platform for women, especially those with the relevant expertise, to showcase their knowledge and that too without being mansplained to or having their credibility questioned.
Ever noticed panels, even those speaking on issues pertaining to women, with only men in them? This is also known as menalists.
When this happens and someone points out the lack of female presence, do you also notice that people are quick to question if there are any women qualified enough to be on the panel? Nobody really asks that about the men, though.
Same thing happens when Malaysians demand for better women representation in the government and other sectors. The same people who accept any male MPs becoming a part of the cabinet regardless of their backgrounds suddenly want to know if the women are capable of carrying such a burden.
What has any of these got to with understanding women?
If you haven’t been able to guess what I’m trying to get at, here it is in plain English: listen to what women have to say.
Whether it is in the form of fiction or non-fiction; verbal, visual or in writing; at home, at work, at a seminar, or anywhere really.
Are the women in your house constantly nagging at you? Listen to what they are saying and figure out why they are doing it in the first place. You think nagging is fun, is it? It's not so there's definitely a reason for it.
Want to know how to get a girl, read romance novels. It’s a million-dollar industry for a reason. However, if you choose to read fiction (there are romance books based on true stories) do keep in mind that it's not always an accurate representation of real life lah
Want to know why your wife who just gave birth is always tired and angry? Watch ‘Tully’, read a book about post-partum depression or just talk to your partner about what she’s going through and learn how you can pull more weight if you’re not doing all you can already.
Want to know why countries with women leaders seem to have handled COVID-19 pandemics better than others? Learn about them and their leadership style so you too could do better.
Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her 2009 TedTalk “The Danger of a Single Story”
beautifully explains how being exposed to only “a single story” can make people generalise and make assumptions of a group of people that aren’t necessarily true.
She also speaks about how politics and cultural power can affect a narrative. Adichie gave her own example of this, but I can personally think of so many that’s closer to home.
If you don’t listen to our stories, our views and our experiences, you will never understand us. If you don’t question patriarchy and how it negatively impacts all genders but especially women, you will never get why women go to the toilet in groups, what we mean when we say things like “men are trash” or why we get so angry about certain things.
I hope this helps.
To all the women out there, Happy International Women's Day!