Gender stereotypes and beyond

Last updated 08:29 04/09/2012

I saw it on Facebook, on my newsfeed: "Men are idiots. Women are crazy."

It made me pause to think. I've always believed that cliches are for the lazy minded. And the reason I fell in love with reading is because it teaches you to think for yourself, to look at life from beyond your own narrow lens.

But that one status update still disturbed me - perhaps because I felt there was a tiny kernel of truth to it, just enough for the truism to be dangerous in the wrong hands.

That's why, when I met British author Chris Cleave for a friendly coffee in Ponsonby last week, it was one of the first questions I posed to him.

He was unfazed. Cleave must be used to this type of grilling by now, as his four novels all explore the human psyche to some degree. Chris Cleave

I'd just finished reading his latest novel, Gold, a story about two female Olympic sprint cyclists. Sounds a little boring on the surface if you're not into sprint cycling, but it's actually a ripping good read about female rivalry and gender wars.

"Let's look at this for a moment," said Cleave when I asked him about the "men are idiots, women are crazy" comment.

"How much of this is biology, and how much is due to upbringing and cultural expectations? There are times in my life when I've felt like I was constrained to be an idiot. When I've felt that idiocy was the only behaviour available to me. And I think women are the same. They are expected to act out in these crazy ways."

It is nerve-wracking meeting an author whose book you really like. It's a bit like going on a first date with someone you've been casually flirting with for months: you don't know what to expect, but you're also more than a little afraid that reality won't live up to the build-up.

As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Cleave was smart, engaging, observant and droll, with that dry sense of humour many Brits are famous for - all qualities you find in the best writers (and the best people).

What motivates him to write is people. He is intensely curious about human behavior, why people act the way they do, how they make decisions, the ways they can fall apart.

"The thing I've noticed about people is that we put our best faces forward, but inside is turmoil - all the time. Most people are really just hanging on. Even managing to appear normal is a huge achievement. And I think we should all acknowledge the underlying screw-up that is most people's lives."

Cleave came up with many wonderful bits of wisdom during our chat - in fact, he would probably make quite a good agony aunt.

"We achieve these spectacular knots for ourselves. It's a miracle that we're even able to hold ourselves together most of the time. I mean, it's rare for people to go off their rockers and go psycho in a shopping mall. The truth is that we do our best every day. I wanted to be honest about the mess that everybody's in and yet on some level, be positive about it."

Do you agree with Chris Cleave's observations on human behaviour? Have you read his books before?

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8 comments
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Trix   #1   09:31 am Sep 04 2012

I agree a lot more with his perspective - so many of our "scripts" are societally programmed - than such a stupid FB status.

Mind you, anyone who seriously thought there was any truth in that idiocy wouldn't be an actual friend of mine - thank goodness for the "Acquaintances" filter.

PJ   #2   10:37 am Sep 04 2012

Some great snippets in there, although there are probably other ways to frame Cleave's comment on internal turmoil and screw-ups. I'd emphasise more of an internal tension: an equilibrium of gradually shifting beliefs, balanced around the changing face of daily experience, knowledge and relationships. Obviously an endlessly subjective topic, though, and a fascinating one.

Not my usual genre of choice, but I'll keep an eye out for his books!

Ken   #3   11:21 am Sep 04 2012

He's right. "It's a miracle we're even able to hold ourselves together most of the time." There is no demarcation here between men and women. Holding ourselves together is what we do each and every day.

hooray4books   #4   02:43 pm Sep 04 2012

Very interesting subject. I'll admit that I like to 'people watch' (no, not in a creepy way) and I enjoy a good book about groups of people thrust into desperate situations and watching how the social structure within that group develops or breaks down (horror especially). I figure people can only act and behave normally (what is 'normal' anyway?) if they are presented with a situation or conversation that they are able to draw past experiences from, either positive or negative results(and then having to adapt if negative) or learning from other's experiences. Aside from that happening, people are going to behave more dramatically when presented with a new situation. But lets be honest, it'd be boring if we all cruised around in a monotonous, calm, sedated state all day.

Anairot   #5   03:38 pm Sep 04 2012

The book sounds interesting, have added it to my my always-growing TBR list. Who would you liken him to? He sounds kind of chris Bhojalian? Ian McEwan?

Russ   #6   09:09 pm Sep 04 2012

Can't agree with "It's a miracle we're even able to hold ourselves together most of the time." If it was such a miracle wouldn't that suggest that the norm is the inability to hold it all together. Whereas, the opposite appears to be true. It seems that as people and society evolve so does our ability to self-regulate and internally rationalise what we experience daily. It is our natural state to convince ourselves that we are borderline insane. This forces us to perform at our peek. A survival mechanism that has seen us become the dominant intelligence on the planet. Maybe.

AllanM   #7   12:24 pm Sep 05 2012

I disagree that most people are just hanging on putting their best face forward, while inside is turmoil all the time. Sure, some people, but not all. We do look at the world from our own perspective, so if you have internal turmoil going on, perhaps that is only what you observe in others. My own perspective is largely "here I am, take me as I am or not" and I tend to take people at their face value - which is how I expect people to see me.

I don't think we're all tortured souls.

Jody   #8   09:10 pm Sep 10 2012

Thanks I wentout and found a Chris Cleave book, and loved it - will be reading some more of his. ALso finished AGe of Miracles this weekend and loved it too!

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