Study Guide

Flipped Gender

By Wendelin Van Draanen

Gender

Finally I break free and do the only manly thing available when you're seven years old—I dive behind my mother. (1.22)

From the get-go, Bryce is thinking about gender. What do you think of this idea that a seven-year-old boy can be "manly"? We know Bryce is joking around with us here, but this joke also lets us know that some actions are considered manlier than others.

I used to knock-down-drag-out with her, but it's just not worth it. Girls don't fight fair. They pull your hair and gouge you and pinch you; then they run off gasping to mommy when you try to defend yourself with a fist. Then you get locked into time-out, and for what? (1.33)

Bryce Loski definitely has some ideas about girls. And his theory goes something like this: girls have two fighting techniques, gouging and pouting. Even though Bryce is only using the behavior of one girl—his big sis—to come up with this theory, that doesn't stop him from generalizing. Did you notice how he lumps all ladies into the same category?

Then it dawned on me—he needed my help. Absolutely, that's what it had to be! Shelly Stalls was too delicate to shake off, too swirly to be pushed away. She'd unravel and start sniffling and oh, how embarrassing that would be for him! No, this wasn't a job a boy could do gracefully. This was a job for a girl.

I didn't even bother checking around for other candidates—I had her off of him in two seconds flat. Bryce ran away the minute he was free, but not Shelly. Oh, no-no-no! She came at me, scratching and pulling and twisting anything she could get her hands on, telling me that Bryce was hers and there was no way she was letting him go.

How delicate. (2.36-38)

Juli has spent tons of time complaining about frail Shelly Stalls. It is important that Juli uses the word "delicate" here since for centuries there's been a stereotype that women are "delicate" (a.k.a. weak). We sure know that Juli isn't weak—and we know that Shelly doesn't act super delicate either (though she claims to be in gym class). Looks like both these girls are quite the opposite of that little stereotype.

When my mother's gone, my dad says, "So, son, why don't you ask Juli?"

"Dad!"

"It's just a little question, Bryce. No harm, no foul."

"But it'll get me a half-hour answer!"

He studies me for a minute, then says, "No boy should be this afraid of a girl."

"I'm not afraid of her…!"

"I think you are." (5.68-74)

When Bryce is nervous to ask Juli about her eggs, his dad has a theory: he's afraid of a girl. In fact, Mr. Loski gets pretty upset at the idea that his son is a scaredy-cat when it comes to talking to a young lady. Why do you think this bothers Mr. Loski so much? What does this tell us about his character? And what assumptions does he make about boys and girls here?

"But… how can I tell if one of them's a rooster or not?"

"Rooster are… I don't know… bigger. And they have more feathers."

"Feathers? Like I've got to go and count feathers?"

"No, stupid! My mom says that the male's always brighter." Then he laughs and says, "Although in your case I'm not so sure." (5.84-87)

In this book gender isn't just about guys and girls—it's about roosters and hens, too. Garrett and Bryce are trying to figure out whether any of Juli's chickens might be a rooster, so Garrett says they need to look for physical clues, like feathers. But even with these pointers, they still have some trouble figuring out who is who and what is what. In fact, solving the mystery of the chickens becomes about a lot more than hens versus roosters—it's also about figuring out why Bryce has to go spying on this girl and her chicks in the first place.

He sat there like granite for a minute, then leaned across the table toward me and said, "Why do you suppose that upset your mother so much?"

"I… I don't know." I gave a halfhearted grin and said, "Because she's female?"

He smiled, but just barely. "No. She's upset because she knows that she could very well be standing in Mr. Baker's shoes right now." (7.103-105)

When Mrs. Loski learns that Mr. B's brother was born with his umbilical cord around his neck, she gets seriously upset. At first Bryce doesn't know why, so he makes a little joke about her crying because she is a woman (which is a stereotype about women).

He nodded, then said, "Because you remind me of my wife."

"Your wife?" […]

"And I miss her terribly." He tossed a branch into the heap and chuckled. "There's nothing like a headstrong woman to make you happy to be alive." (8.91-92,97)

When Chet tells Juli that she reminds him of his late wife, Renée, she's flattered. And surprised. Lucky for us, Chet gives a clue about how Renée and Juli are the same: they're both "headstrong" ladies, and it sounds to us like Chet thinks this is a pretty great thing.

"Well, I think you know my heart's been in the right place, but if you line it up objectively, a man like, say, Mr. Loski adds up to a much better husband and father than a man like me does. He's around more, he provides more, and he's probably a lot more fun."

My dad wasn't one to go fishing for compliments or signs of appreciation, but still, I couldn't quite believe he actually thought that. "Dad, I don't care how it looks on paper, I think you're the best dad ever! And when I marry somebody someday, I sure don't want him to be like Mr. Loski! I want him to be like you." (10.119-120)

Juli's dad has an idea of what a good man should look like: he's "around," he "provides," and he's "fun." Well we're not sure how he decided on these three criteria, but we do know one thing for sure: Mr. Baker is a seriously good dude. Actually, he's one of the best. So even though he might not seem like the perfect guy according to the scale he has, we think he's pretty great. And his daughter agrees.

Women. I looked at her and said, "Does that mean I have to wear a tie?"

"No, but some sort of button-down instead of a T-shirt would be nice."

I went down to my room and ripped through my closet looking for something with buttons. […]

Twenty minutes later I still wasn't dressed. And I was extremely ticked off about it because what did it matter? Why did I care what I looked like at this stupid dinner? I was acting like a girl. (11.8-11)

Looks like we've got another stereotype about gender here: Bryce has an assumption that girls take a long time to get ready. But since he's the one taking forever to get ready, doesn't he show the ridiculousness of this stereotype at the same time as he uses it?

Pretty soon you've completely lost your name. You and nineteen other saps are known simply as Basket Boy. […]

It wasn't like girls were bidding on the basket. When you got right down to it, this was a meat market. (13.7-8)

Bryce has been chosen as a "Basket Boy" at Mayfield Junior High, and he's not a happy camper. We know he's fallen for some of the girl stereotypes occasionally—but now he's being stuck into a stereotype too: the cute boy stereotype. Now Bryce is expected to live up to some social expectations about what it means to be a Basket Boy—so he's got to be cute, and he's got to have girls bid on him like he's an object.