Friday, September 6, 2013

Macho, Macho Reading List

As the mother of a teenager, I am intimately acquainted with an oh-so-common adolescent physical manifestation, known as ... the eye roll. Make a suggestion? Eye roll. Make an observation? Eye roll. Make (heaven forbid) a point of constructive criticism? 


Often these — most unwelcome — filial reactions come when I least expect them. And, as you can imagine, I avoid them when I can. My dearest daughter, meanwhile, probably wants to spare me her disdain. She probably has my best interests at heart. Right? Of course, right.

That must be why she insisted that I sign the packet her 10th grade Honors English teacher sent home before I actually read it.

You see, my daughter knows me well enough to know that the contents of said package would put me back on my feminist soapbox once again and my subsequent rant would trigger the dreaded eye roll.

The packet explained her new teacher's expectations. It walked through requirements and supplies, tests and quizzes, types of papers. And, it included the year's reading list.

Aye, there's the rub.

Dracula, A Tale of Two Cities, The Catcher in the Rye, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Maus, 1984, and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

A quick quiz: What do these titles have in common? Classics, yes. Long and boring, arguably. Outdated, mainly. But, no. Sorry. The answer I'm looking for is this ... 

They were all written by men. White men, as a matter of fact. 

Surprise, surprise.


I'm so tired of this. It's 2013, people. I'm not criticizing any specific title on this list (although I could, happily, believe me). My point is that out of ten months and eight titles, they can't devote a single selection to a woman? Or a person of color?

When I work with advertising clients (in my day job, running a direct marketing agency), I always stress "Sell what they want, not what you have." It seems to me that the school system in my comfortable little suburb should apply this precept to its English curriculum. 

Who takes Honors English? Mostly girls. 65% at last count (and not just in my town, pretty much everywhere). 

Where are the admirable women characters? (Lady Macbeth, really?) Where are the women coming of age? (Holden Caulfield's hooker, maybe?) Where are the themes and topics and settings that matter to a class of fifteen- and sixteen-year old girls? (Vampires, war, assassinations, totalitarian regimes, an albatross?)

Where, oh where, are the women authors?

According to the handout that I dutifully signed, the theme of Honors 10 English is "Defining the Classic." I'm down with that. I really am. Here, then, is a list of indisputable classics by women. In no particular order as each title is as wondrous and wonderful as the next:

The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Group by Mary McCarthy
Beloved by Toni Morrison
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Play It as it Lays by Joan Didion
Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
West with the Night by Beryl Markham
Middlemarch by George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans)
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (Karen von Blixen-Finecke) 
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

Take your pick. 

Or, better yet, add your suggestions to the comments below.

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