I’m a sucker for personality quizzes, especially when I’m goofing off on Facebook. So the other day I did the “Who In Fiction Are You?” quiz that was apparently put up in honor of Scottish Book Week.
It was impossible to answer the questions without first specifying gender, age, and the number of books you read per week. That made me wonder what difference the gender specification made, so I filled it out first as female and then as male while marking everything else the same.
When I marked female, it concluded I was Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. When I marked male, I was Dumbledore from the Harry Potter books.
That is, as a woman no longer young, I was identified as a bright kid about 8 years old. As a man of the same age and sensibilities, I was the most powerful wizard of his age.
Major gender “Aha” moment.
Now I know you’re going to say this is just a silly quiz and that one shouldn’t expect much more from things linked to on Facebook. But while that’s true, the response does point to some significant issues in a society that is obsessed with making sure everybody is the “right” gender.
Most obviously, why, given my age, was my female character so very young while the male one was so very old? Don’t get me wrong: I loved Scout when I read the book and certainly identified with her, but I’d like to think I’ve matured a bit since then. Surely there are adult female characters in fiction that I might identify with. Aren’t there?
Maybe there aren’t — or at least, maybe there aren’t many of them in the database used for that quiz.
And anyway, what does gender have to do with it when we’re talking fiction? As a reader, I’ve often identified with a male character in a story. In fact, as someone who loves adventure stories, I found it necessary, since back in my youth there weren’t a lot of adventure stories with women in lead roles. All too often the women were sex objects or someone begging their sweetheart not to do the right thing because it was dangerous.
I identified with d’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers, with Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s books, even — God help me — with James Bond in the Ian Fleming novels. I’ve tried to make up for it by writing adventure stories about women — you can see what I did with d’Artagnan in “A Mere Scutcheon,” which is available in Conscientious Inconsistencies — but as a reader I’m still stuck with the characters other authors create.
And a lot of the ones I like are male. So why do I need to specify my gender on these quizzes? Why is it so important that a woman reader be identified with a woman character and a male reader with a male one? Why do we care about gender so damn much?
It occurs to me that I should have done the same thing with the different age groups: that is, answered all the questions the same but selected different ages as well as genders. It would be interesting to see if a woman who checked the same boxes I picked would get Scout no matter how old she was and I’d be curious about whether a man would always get Dumbledore.
I can’t go back and do it with precision now, because I don’t remember what I marked. One of the other things I’ve noticed about these “tests” is that it depends on my mood which box I click. In a real test of my personality, there needs to be a box for “it depends” and a long explanation.
Something I don’t expect to find on a FB quiz.