Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Tana French's sex-based humor

I hate the word gender because it’s so often used incorrectly, at least in America, as a puritanical or social-science-jargon substitute for sex. I can’t help thinking about the word, though, in connection with a very funny bit in Chapter One of Tana French’s first novel, In the Woods.

French’s protagonist, Rob Ryan, muses on his position as an investigator:

“I sometimes thought the brass assumed I was a good detective in the mindless pre-programmed way that some men will assume that a tall, slim, blonde woman is beautiful even if she has a face like a hyperthyroid turkey: because I have all the accessories. I have a perfect BBC accent ... they still assume that anyone with a stiff upper lip is more intelligent, better educated and generally more likely to be right. On top of that, I am tall, with a bony, rangy build that can look lean and elegant if my suit is cut just right …”
Ryan has been set to musing by the presence of a young female officer on the murder squad, and he discloses that he “disliked the Neanderthal locker-room overtones, competing cars and competing aftershaves and subtly bigoted jokes justified as `ironic’, which always made me want to go into a pedantic lecture on the subject of irony. On the whole, I preferred women to men.”

A male character created by a female author uses the presence of a woman as an occasion to shake his head at male behavior and the dopiness – and usefulness – of stereotypes male and female. I don’t know what French will do with all this over the course of this long novel, but she sure has fun with it in the opening chapter.

Can you think of any other crime writers who have similar fun with sex (or, OK, gender) roles?

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Anonymous LauraR said...

Fred Vargas, with the large(r than life) Retancourt, aiding Adamsberg with his Canadian troubles in Wash this Blood Clean from My Hands

Some interesting observations voiced by Retanscourt about being unnoticed/thought of as insignificant due to being a large woman and not conventially attractive, and using this to her advantage at times.

October 11, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

That's an excellent example. I cited Retancourt/Vargas' affecting observation on the subject when I wrote about Wash this Blood Clean from My Hands: http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/2007/07/more-wash-this-blood.html

And there's even an aspect of fairy-tale redemption when Adamsberg's brother finds Retancourt beautiful.

October 11, 2007  
Blogger Lisa said...

Sorry—this is about only the sex vs. gender (non) distinction (I should have bundled this comment with the one I left on your "what drives you crazy" post). In the books and online courses I work on, authors insist on using gender when they mean sex. And they will not allow it to be changed. Absolutely ridiculous!

October 14, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I'm tempted to suggest that you seek the right to save the authors from themselves. Since the authors are apparently god, though, your consolation will be that their names are presumably on the result, not yours.

There are appropriate uses for gender, of course, just not nearly as many as the puritans and social scientists out there believe there are.

October 14, 2007  

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