My dad asked what the book was about, and I began to explain and then said, “Actually, you should just read it.” My dad replied, “Do you think it’s something I’d be interested in? Would it be relevant to me?” He asked in such a way that it was very clear he meant — Would it interest him, considering he is a man, and it’s a book about women written by a woman?
It's uproarious. Think of me asking that question if someone suggested I read a book by a man about a man. Like Huckleberry Finn or Crime and Punishment. I can imagine the scenario. “Yes, I’m sure it’s a good book, but do you think I’d be interested in it? Could it offer me anything? Being a story about men?”
Of course, those books aren’t exactly about being a man. They’re more about being a human. Which is something I have learned and appreciated, because I have been veritably forced to read so many books centered on another sex throughout my life.
Not so much the experience of my father.
Eventually our discussion about Three Women became focused on trying to identify any books by women about women that my dad has read, period. Our parameters for “about women” meant either starring a woman or from the perspective of a woman. My mom and I brainstormed classics that it seemed likely he, a prolific reader with a graduate degree, may have read. Pride and Prejudice? Nope. Wild? Nope. Eat, Pray, Love? Nope. Beloved? Nuh-uh. The Poisonwood Bible? No. We went on and on.
“How about Team of Rivals?” my dad suggested hopefully, referring to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s cornerstone chronicle of Lincoln’s presidency. I replied that it’s a start, but it’s just a lady writing about a bunch of powerful white guys. Not exactly on target for a book about women. After a lot of effort, we came up with H is for Hawk. No others.
This well-read, highly-educated intellectual who always has five books he’s reading stacked on the side table has lived 76 years, and we could only come up with one book he’s ever read that is by a woman, about a woman.
I don’t need to tell you, undoubtedly, how many books I have read by men about boys and men in my 36 years as a reading enthusiast, writer, English major and double-Master of literary arts. A lot. Alottalottalottalotaalot.
And you know what? It’s been no big deal. Of course I relate to males. We are not particularly different -- we are more different in class and country, instinct and desire -- more different as people, of course, than as sexes. And the things that are sometimes different about us — well, I live with and among many males and have shared a bed and home with a few, so it’s been very relevant to my life to read from acculturated masculine perspectives.
I have related to Holden Caulfield and Nick Carraway. I have related to John Steinbeck and Peter Matthiessen. The list is extremely long of males I have seen myself in as heroes, failures, fighters and outcasts. And I consider this sex fluency to be a gift. I grew up to fantasize I might be Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and Chewbacca.
This is another instance in which I see the patriarchy hurting men more than it hurts women. I grew up with the training to put myself in anybody's shoes. Anybody’s mind, anybody’s body. I had to, or what would I get out of most media, most of the movies and books and even songs I experienced?
Yet a guy like my dad isn’t sure there’s anything to get out of someone living as a woman. He’s never had the practice, which means he hasn’t had the discovery. He doesn’t know how expansive we are, how able we are to travel in and out of other’s lives, how all these others are in us and we in them. How we can choose to express those parts.
I don’t pity him, because I don’t think pity is ever particularly helpful or respectful. But I see how the dearth of The Other in his life has built a wall around him, a limitation for his life, walling folks out as much as it walls him in. And that’s no good. For any of us, together.