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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Girly stuff

My husband likes to read. But the books he picks! All those violent Nordic thrillers! All those biographies of rock musicians! All those scary tomes on climate change! I’ll stick with my contemporary domestic fiction, Regency romance novels, and atmospheric but relatively non-violent mysteries, thank you very much. All of which are just as likely to be edgy, well-written, and thought-provoking as his books are, by the way. Just saying.

 

Do I sound a teensy bit defensive? Perhaps that’s because I’ve received some of the same cultural messages as George Washington University sophomore Andrea Mendoza-Melchor, whose piece in the student newspaper recently crossed my desk.

 

Apparently, Mendoza-Melchor encounters a lot of snickering and judgment when she confesses her love for such stereotypically female domains as fashion and Taylor Swift music. (“When I went to the Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour movie,” she notes, “people were rolling their eyes or making faces as I sang along in the theater, which I tried to do quietly so as to not bother anyone.”)

 

Also scorned: Mendoza-Melchor’s love for Jane Austen novels and adaptations. “People question why I like these renowned books that are classic literature today,” she writes. “One of my favorite teachers told me Jane Austen’s books were for ‘silly, little girls.’ ”

 

OK, so that teacher was an idiot who I devoutly hope wasn’t standing in front of an English class. (And incidentally, scholars like Claudia Johnson and Devoney Looser have shown that the classification of Austen’s work as particularly suitable for young women is a relatively recent development.)

 

But the attitude that teacher expressed is not as uncommon as we might wish. As Mendoza-Melchor puts it, “Somehow, ‘girly’ interests aren’t as acceptable. . . . Interests that aren’t considered traditionally masculine are often cast aside as trivial.”

 

In my work on Austen fandom, I saw this kind of trivialization frequently—for instance, in press coverage that snickered at the bonnets on display at Austen gatherings, as if cosplay were incompatible with serious literary criticism. Nor is this kind of mean-spiritedness solely a male province: A decade ago, the novelist Joanna Trollope, who really should know better, poked fun at American Janeites in much the same register.

 

A similar type of trivialization and infantilization surely informed the production design in the (female-directed) movie Austenland, whose heroine sleeps in a frilly, chintz-covered bedroom where the life-size Colin Firth cutout shares space with antique dolls and a giant dollhouse. Message to filmmakers: Even people who no longer play with dolls like Jane Austen!

 

So I get where Mendoza-Melchor is coming from, and I applaud her willingness to stand up for her own fandom and name the misogyny that underlies all that sneering at supposed “girliness.”


But Andrea, honey: Logic suggests that people who have paid money to see a Taylor Swift concert movie are not rolling their eyes at you because of your enthusiasm for the music of Taylor Swift. They are rolling their eyes at you because they came to hear Taylor's songs performed by Taylor, not by Andrea. So don’t sing along—even quietly--when you’re in a public movie theater! Save that for when you’re watching alone at home.

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