Sure, To Kill a Mockingbird was great. But it would be so much better if it referred to Scout as “she” more often—to hammer home that the character is a girl—or if the author had made Boo Radley a woman.
That seems to be the point of writer Ben Blatt, who claims in the Los Angeles Times that Great Books are sexist, primarily because they use the pronoun “he” far more often than “she.”
Blatt conducted a statistical analysis of hundreds of books, including the most commonly taught books in the English canon, from For Whom the Bell Tolls to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, from Kurt Vonnegut to Herman Melville.
“The Pronoun Test in works of fiction reveals a stunning imbalance in representation,” Blatt writes. “Like the Bechdel Test for films, it serves as a simple barometer of sexism. … Apparently books by men do not need female characters to be considered great, and thus to be taught in schools, while the opposite is almost never true for books by women.”
In 20 of the top 50 male-written classics, he finds, more than 80 percent of the pronouns are masculine. But among the top female-written classics, “not one of them is more than 80 percent ‘she.’”
From this finding, Blatt concludes that female writers may be “conditioned to view the stories of men as universal, but not vice versa.” Meanwhile, male writers aren’t sufficiently valuing female narratives, he suggests.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.