One of Those ‘Aha’ Moments

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.

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About Nancy Jane Moore

Nancy Jane Moore is a founding member of Book View Cafe. Her most recent BVC ebook is Walking Contradiction and Other Futures, a collection of her science fiction adventure stories. She also recently released Ardent Forest, a retelling of As You Like It set in post-apocalypse Texas. Other BVC e-books include Conscientious Inconsistencies, a collection of short fiction first published in print by PS Publishing; Flashes of Illumination, a collection of very short stories; and the novella Changeling, first published by Aqueduct Press. Her short stories and essays are also available in most of the BVC anthologies and her work has appeared recently in the anthologies How Beer Saved the World and Best Laid Plans.
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9 Responses to One of Those ‘Aha’ Moments

  1. Deborah says:

    I have to admit that, as far as I can recall, I’ve never identified with a male protagonist. But I was this obstinate girl who didn’t want to read about boys — I wanted to read about girls. It’s why I didn’t read much science fiction until I got into junior high; and what cured me of thinking that all SF was about boys was when I stumbled into Andre Norton’s Quest Crosstime, which had a dustjacket with a girl climbing out of a spaceship of some kind.

    But then, I was always cross-grained. I started writing because I wanted to write about girls — or, now, women.

    • I wanted to read about girls, too (and did), but it seemed to me that, especially in adult books (which I started reading when I was about 10), boys had more fun. Women were so often on the sidelines and I hate being on the sidelines.

      Which is why I write about women a lot, too.

  2. Diane Silver says:

    Good point, Nancy! An A Hah Moment, indeed. I read about boys and identified with male characters because in the 1950s that was my only choice, especially if I wanted to read about something other than girls who wanted to get married and were fixated on dating. I simply didn’t care about those characters. I still don’t. I do remember one story about a woman who travels to the moon. I remember it very clearly: She was a nurse, only there to help a doctor heal an injured astronaut. I hated that all she could be was a nurse, but I do remember the joy I felt at having a woman main character. And of course, at the end of the book she gets the handsome astronaut. I wasn’t too thrilled with that part, but at least she got to go to the moon.

  3. As a child of the ’50s I would take my favorite movie, TV show, books and rewrite them in my head and on paper exchanging me for either the hero or the smart sidekick. I didn’t want to be Kirk, I wanted to be Spock. Unless I could be a female version of Kirk with Spock as the love interest…

    I think I still do that.

  4. serialbabbler says:

    I went through and gave the same answers for each age grouping. It doesn’t change the results for male or female. (I came out as Mr. Darcy and Katniss each time.)

    Number of books read per month does not appear to make any difference either. (Of course, they’re probably collecting demographics for their own reasons.)