Sunday, September 26, 2010

Is lavender-lined white paper something I, as a girl, should know more about?

I don't normally write about what I'm reading, mostly because I can barely even manage to update my GoodReads more than once every three months, but I feel compelled to write about Robert B. Parker's The Boxer and the Spy. And not for good reasons.

I am, for the most part, enjoying the story, and I will be booktalking it in the near future. But some the language Parker is using is just a) taking me out of the story and b) ticking me off.

First, "crap" is used and referred to as if it's a big bad word, which wouldn't seem quite as ridiculous if the main character didn't use the word "fag" quite so casually. But I'm not going to say much about that, as I have another post I'm working on that's all about swearing (you might want to skip that one, Mom).

The thing that pulled me right out of the book was a reference to the female lead taking out "a piece of lavender-lined white paper" and then, just a few pages later, using "a Sharpie with lavender ink that matched the lines on her notepaper."


I, of course, Googled "lavender-lined white paper" to see if this was really some sort of cultural phenomenon that was sweeping the nation. For that exact phrase I got exactly one hit. I'll let you guess where it came from. When I broadened the search a bit I found some more references, all to papers that included pictures of fairies, or were lavender scented, or had a pattern of lavender flowers. I did find a couple references to using lavender-lined paper in a special writing project in a middle school. But no indication that there was any particular reason why the lavenderness of the lines on the character's paper (and her matching Sharpie!), needed particular emphasis.

Except, of course, to point out that she's a girl! Who's taking notes! And isn't that adorable!

Abby, the character, is otherwise fairly well-drawn and dynamic. She's smart and assertive and can go toe-to-toe on multiple levels when talking Terry, her male counterpart. And this whole lavenderosity seems thrown in to remind us that she's actually feminine--as if those other traits of hers are somehow not feminine--and that's why Terry is in love with her. There's a very "girls can be smart, but it's even more important to them that things have pretty matching colors, and that's really why boys like them" tone to it. Barf.

I may have been a bit more tuned into these language choices because I was reading Maureen Johnson's amazing blog on gender and reading earlier (which you need to go read right now. Seriously. I'll wait. She says everything I've ever wanted to say on the subject, only better), but I've come across this before, and it's always just so. . . obnoxious. If pointing out the color of the lines on a piece of paper is the only way you can think of to point out that the character is a girl, you need to outsource the writing of female characters to someone who understands that many girls have favorite colors that aren't pastel.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps Parker was trying to allude to the fact that Abby has a minor form of OCD that only pertains to writing. And I completely understand. When I use blue-lined paper, I always make sure to use a pen of the exact same blue. When I write on white copy paper, I use invisible ink.

    If he was, in fact, trying to emphasize her feminiminimity, he should have just said Abby dotted all her i's with glittery hearts and not been so damn subtle about it.