I woke up this morning to find Andrew Smith, author of Grasshopper Jungle and The Alex Crow, completely eradicated from social media. A little more digging revealed the cause: he had been accused of being sexist following an interview in Vice, in which upon being asked about the lack of females in his book, he responded thus:
I was raised in a family with four boys, and I absolutely did not know anything about girls at all. I have a daughter now; she’s 17. When she was born, that was the first girl I ever had in my life. I consider myself completely ignorant to all things woman and female. I’m trying to be better though.
Much criticism has been made – rightly or wrongly – at Andrew’s portrayal of women as “other” or “alien”. As this post on BookRiot notes, the idea as the female as an outsider is hardly new. It’s been around for donkey’s years – “men are from mars and women are from venus,” and like all 0ld sayings, it has a ring of truth. A ring – that’s all. It’s ridiculous to suggest that men and women operate in parallel; we know it’s simply not true, based on the very simple facts of brain chemistry and hormones. But I think what’s important is that it shouldn’t stop us trying to understand each other. Regardless of our differences – or indeed similarities – there must never be a point where we give up. And I don’t think Andrew was suggesting we should – given that he says, “I’m trying to be better”.
So what was Andrew trying to say when he gave that response? All we can do is second-guess. But I truly do believe he wasn’t intentionally being sexist. I think Andrew spent many of his formative years in the company of boys and men – that much is clear from his comments – and I think, for that reason, he is drawn to write about relationships between boys, between brothers. (He recently stated on Facebook that the father/son relationship in 100 Sideways Miles is based on his relationship with his son) I don’t think that is in and of itself, a sexist thing; writing is an extremely personal thing to do, and I don’t think we can judge authors on what they don’t write about: otherwise every author would be guilty of being racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, ageist or even sexist. Are books about those topics important? Yes; incredibly. Must every author be committed to all of them? Certainly not.
In either case – and I really do think we cannot come to any real conclusions; text media is great but can so often lead to miscommunications, and Andrew’s response was so short that it’s hard to take much away – we should be kind, generous and forgiving in our response. I understand the real pain of sexism – and I’m not here to diminish your upset and anger, but I come to the table knowing that not one of us is perfect. We all make mistakes. We all say stupid things.
Books are about the sum experiences of being human. And some experiences are about fraternity, in the loosest sense, and others are about sororities. Both are incredibly important; and yes, we definitely need more books about sisterhood, and we do need to stop sexism in boys who don’t want to or feel they can’t relate to female protagonists. A thousand times yes. But let’s not load ALL the blame on Andrew Smith whose real intention was probably not to be sexist.