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From The Pudding:
My book club was reading The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. In the middle of an otherwise unremarkable plot, we found a 35-page interlude about a highly attractive fairy, describing her body in minute, eye-rolling detail.
After slogging through that book, I began paying attention to similarly stereotyped descriptions of bodies in other books. Women are all soft thighs and red lips. Men, strong muscles and rough hands.
I was frustrated by this lazy writing. I want to read books that explore the full humanity of their characters, not stories that reduce both men and women to weak stereotypes of their gender.
Before getting too upset, I wanted to see if this approach to writing was as widespread as it seemed, or if I was succumbing to selective reading. Do authors really mention particular body parts more for men than for women? Are women’s bodies described using different adjectives than those attributed to men?
. . . .
Before we get into the results of the data analysis, let’s play a game to see how well you recognize gendered descriptions.
Here are several character descriptions from actual books. For each one, select whether you think it describes a man or a woman.
We all have a mental model of how men’s and women’s bodies are described. People who answer the above quiz, on average, guess the correct gender 88% of the time.
Men and women do tend to be described in different ways. Let’s explore those trends more deeply through the data we collected.
. . . .
In other cases, that gaze is more lascivious. Consider this litany of woman-skewed body parts: hip, belly, waist, and thigh.
You don’t need a Bible verse to imagine why these might come to mind more easily for a woman than a man.
. . . .
Some of my absolute favorite books growing up were the Harry Potter series. I particularly identified with Hermione Granger, a bushy-haired know-it-all, just like me.
Hermione’s friends didn’t consider her beautiful until the fourth installment in the series, when she tamed her hair with magical products.
When I read this as a preteen, I felt embarrassed by my own curly head of hair. I’d absorbed the idea that “bushy” was not an attractive way to be described, especially for a woman.
Link to the rest, including many other hand-drawn illustrations, at The Pudding