Let’s Talk About…Andrew Smith and Sexism

March 11, 2015 Lets Talk About 14

Today, an interview came to my attention, an interview concerning one of my favorite authors, Andrew Smith, who just released his newest book, The Alex Crow, yesterday. The interview seemed to be going quite well until the last question. And then things seemed to sort of…implode. Take a look.

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So basically what happened is this: Andrew Smith answers this question in the same way that he writes his books: with complete honesty. And what emerged was a ton of outrage and claims that Andrew Smith is sexist. He doesn’t write female characters, he doesn’t write books that females can read, and he doesn’t want to try.

One particular response that I read (which I refuse to link because honestly she doesn’t deserve the views), points out Andrew writes science fiction and fantasy. How is it that he can write about horny grasshoppers and that sort of thing but he can’t contemplate writing about girls? “The fact that he can do this — because he has a great imagination — suggests that women are more alien to him and to the context of white men in America than are giant bugs and pedophiles”.

And I fumed up. About this response and the many responses to this.

One, I think this was taking completely out of context.

Two, the lady who wrote that above. She’s only read one of Andrew’s books and she admits it was years ago. Good one. Keep writing about things you don’t know, honey.

Three, this question is already negative. It says right in that first sentence “there isn’t much of a way into your books for female readers”. They’re calling Andrew out already before he’s even had a chance to respond, and they’re completely wrong too.

There isn’t much of a way into his books for female readers? Says who? Because the main characters are male? Sorry to be so ineloquent about this but seriously, that’s complete and utter bullshit. I don’t care about the gender of the main characters when I read novels. I care about how well the book is written, how good the storytelling is, and how well I connect with the main character. When I read Ryan Dean’s story or Austin’s or Finn’s or Ariel’s, I’m not sitting there, thinking, “I can’t connect with them because they’re boys”. Of course not! I’m sitting there and going, I’m so Ryan Dean because I get his obsessed with rugby (baseball for me), and I get Austin because he’s struggling with his sexuality. And so forth. To suggest that females need female characters in order to read a book is the sexist remark here. I actually frequently enjoy reading male characters in YA because its so rare that we get to anymore.

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This picture (credit to Katie Ferguson) was taken at the Pasadena Teen Book Fest last April. This is Andrew Smith, signing his books, and yes, that’s me in the background. But let’s see…there’s no way for females to get into his books and yet…this entire line is female. Every. Single. One. You still wanna tell me that its impossible for girls to read his book? Really? Tell me more…

Four, Andrew’s answers. He immediately says: I spent my life around boys, I am a boy, I don’t have a lot of experience with girls, not until my daughter, so I write about boys. Yeah, he’s saying “I don’t really get girls”. Not “I don’t want to understand girls” or any of that. I’m a writer and one of the biggest writing things we’re told over and over and over again is to write what we know and what Andrew Smith knows is teenage boys. Makes sense to me. One thing that has always stood out as a major reason that I love Andrew’s books so much is that his character’s voices are SO real and raw and genuine, more so than any other characters I’ve read before.

But people take this out of context, like he has no desire to learn about females, because they’re so complex when compared to grasshoppers, etc. That’s not what he meant at all.

Look, I’m a writer. I write 100% female protagonists. Why? Because that’s what I feel comfortable with. The very last chapter of my science fiction novel is told from the male lead’s point of view and a few time in my current work in progress has some point of view insight from that male lead. And even though both of those are so small, I don’t feel 100% comfortable with it. I don’t know that my voices for those characters are authentic enough. I don’t think I’ll ever write a novel with a male protagonist. I don’t feel comfortable with it, I won’t feel like I’m writing a strong enough character.

Look I don’t know exactly what was going on when Andrew answered this question. I can only read it. Maybe if I had been in the room, I could have read his facial expression or read his tone. Perhaps he was being serious and is saying, look I write what I know. I know teen boys and I know their voices and that’s what I’m going to do. Perhaps he thought it was a stupid question (which straight up, it is) and he gave a stupid answer. I don’t know. I do know that he said he was “trying to be better” and he even talks about how a core thing in The Alex Crow is about the failure of male societies. Doesn’t sound that sexist to me…

I do know this. I’ve met Andrew Smith on several occasions. I’ve interviewed him, and read several of his books, and feel confident enough to call him a friend. We’re not super close or anything but we’re on first name basis, and I know him well enough to say this…he’s the last person I would call sexist. He’s the last person that I would lump in with white American males, bla bla bla. He’s one of the kindest and funniest people I’ve met, and I’m always happy to talk to him. He’s an incredible writer and storyteller. He has shown nothing but absolute respect for me, and has done nothing but encourage me in my own endeavors to become a writer.

In fact, once I wrote a FB status, saying that I wasn’t sure if I was going to write a baseball novel, because I wasn’t sure if it was going to work and honestly I didn’t know if people would even care to read about it, especially in YA. But Andrew basically commented on my status and was like, I’d read it, just write it, screw everyone else, just write it. And I took that to heart. He’s a great person, who loves his family (his wife, his son and his daughter), he’s great with his students and he’s always available to his fans and bloggers and aspiring authors. I would never, even for a moment, think of him as sexist. I read that answer above, and it just made sense to me. He creates natural, relatable, genuine teenage boys in his stories and I can’t really imagine him writing as a girl. Doesn’t seem to fit to me.

Look, I’ve written more than I meant to. Basically, it comes down to this: Andrew is one of most genuine and kindest people I’ve ever met. He’s a kickass storyteller and he’s honest as he can be and today that bit him in the ass in a way that he doesn’t deserve. His comment is taken out of context, and frankly, by someone who doesn’t have much say in it anyway, having only read one of his books. It seems to me as another avenue to attack someone in the name of “feminism”, but the sort of feminism that is more male-hating, less about equality.

Andrew writes male characters. No big deal. No one is getting in Cassandra Clare’s face or Veronica Roth’s face or Suzanne Collin’s or any other popular YA author who writes female characters and demands to know why they aren’t writing male voices. It only happens because its switched. Andrew doesn’t write females….well, must mean he’s sexist. Um. No. He writes what he knows and well, he does it pretty damn well. And most of the people that I know who have read and loved his books and are huge fans of his…yup, you guessed it right, they’re female.

It hurts me to see this happening, especially when its so unwarranted. He’s a talented writer, and an awesome guy. He’s deleted his social medias, whether in response or not, I’m not sure, and I already miss him for sure. He doesn’t deserve any of that. I wasn’t going to read this stuff, I wasn’t going to get involved but I honestly had to. When I saw fellow YA authors ganging up against him as well, I just couldn’t handle it. Yeah, maybe it should have been worded differently. Maybe you had to be there. Maybe, maybe, maybe. But anyone who KNOWS Andrew Smith knows that this is NOT the person he is nor is he the person that puts females below males at all. Sometimes I think these people are also forgetting the high regard that he has for fellow authors like AS King and Laurie Halse Anderson, etc. He’s honestly the last person I would even think this of, and I can’t believe the incredibly ridiculous response to it.

I don’t much want to write anything else, mostly because I’m still fuming and I just can’t understand how people can jump to this sort of conclusion. I can only assume that they don’t know Andrew Smith, haven’t read his books, or are the sort of person that loves to make quick judgements about men in general, assuming that they’re all anti-feminist. But meh, what do I know? What I do know is that I adore Andrew, I support him and his books and I hope that my fans and friends will do the same.

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14 Responses to “Let’s Talk About…Andrew Smith and Sexism”

  1. Steve MC

    Thanks for this ’cause I had no idea what the controversy was about, and now that I’ve read it, I still don’t understand the controversy. Andrew said he didn’t know much about a subject (women) and was trying to do better. To me that’s a sign of humility, and someone who’s honest with himself and his readers.

  2. Beth

    Right on target! What a great friend you are, and this note speaks to everything I felt when reading up on this drama over the past two days. Andrew Smith is wonderful, with a great unique, genuine voice that definitely appeals to everyone who reads his books — and is not boxed in by age, gender, orientation, or religion.

  3. fishgirl182

    Hi Sara. I just came upon this new drama this morning and, like you, I am kind of baffled by it. I’ve met Andrew numerous times and have read his books. I’ve never thought that he was sexist or that his books were. Yes, they focus on male characters but that’s never seemed odd or sexist to me. I know some female writers write with mostly female characters and that doesn’t make me think that they are sexist against males. Andrew’s answer to the question in the article also doesn’t make me think that he is sexist so I am pretty confused about this whole thing.

    Now I am off to purchase The Alex Crow….

  4. Colleen

    I’ve never read any of his books but your post made me want to! It’s terrible that some one would gang up on his response. I agree he does not sound sexist and that those who are inferring that are the ones who are (most likely).

  5. S. L.

    Well said! And good for you for sticking up for your friend. I’ll confess I haven’t read Andrew Smith, but that comment didn’t strike me as sexist, just honest. I know I feel more comfortable writing from female POVs…it’s what I know and I’m sure it sounds more authentic. I don’t blame him for doing the same.

    It’s also a ridiculous assumption that girls won’t read or enjoy something with a male or mostly male protagonists. Sometimes I think it would be better if we just had books rather than “boy books” and “girl books.” People should just read what they like.

  6. L. Marie

    What an excellent post. A friend shared it with me. I totally agree with you. I’m female and have long read books with male protagonists, and I write books with male and female protagonists. To willfully misinterpret Andrew Smith’s comment was awful.

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