Study Guide

Hush, Hush Gender

By Becca Fitzpatrick

Gender

Intelligent. Attractive. Vulnerable. (3.22)

In a moment taken straight from teenage nightmares, Coach asks Patch to list the characteristics he'd look for in a potential mate. It's promising from an anti-stereotype point of view that Patch lists "intelligent" first. The problem is he never really seems interested in Nora's intellect. The other two qualities on his list play perfectly into stereotypes of the weak and objectified woman, though.

Coach continued, 'Since the dawn of time, women have been attracted to mates with strong survival skills—like intelligence and physical prowess—because men with these qualities are more likely to bring home dinner at the end of the day.' He stuck his thumbs in the air and grinned 'Dinner equals survival team.' (3.32)

"Since the dawn of time…" Yikes. Those are fighting words for academics, who put forth great effort to point out that gender identities are cultural constructs that change with time and social, political, religious, and economic influences. Men and women today are the same as men and women of the Stone Age? Really, Coach? Coach points out that he's taking the scientific approach, but nevertheless, he comes off as a Neanderthal.

'Likewise,' he continued, 'men are attracted to beauty because it indicates health and youth—no point mating with a sickly woman who won't be around to raise the children.' (3.34)

Just above we quote Coach's stereotypical views of men, and here are the stereotypical views of women. Vee points out, "That is so sexist […] Tell me something that relates to a woman in the twenty-first century" (3.35). We can't help but notice, though, that the stereotypes read like precise explanations of why Nora is attracted to Patch, and Patch to Nora. These are the stereotypes we're up against. Let's see if the novel confirms them or tears them down.

'Mmm, check it out,' said Vee. 'Mr. Green Sweater is getting out of his seat. Now that's a body that hits the gym regularly.' (4.39)

Vee is not shy about judging Elliot's bod. Is her ability to flip objectification onto male characters empowering? Is it a sign that women can have control and choice in sex and relationships? Or does this just play further into traditional stereotypes by linking female characters and sex?

Vee caught me off guard with a pair of turquoise leopard print undies slung at my chest. 'These would look nice on you,' she said. 'All you need is a booty like mine to fill them.' (10.51)

This passage is from a shopping trip Nora and Vee take. It seems harmless enough. Lots of teens go shopping with friends every day, and plenty of them even go to Victoria's Secret, which is where Nora and Vee are. It's fun to slog through the sales bins and see what you'll find.

But lots of teens also go to shoe stores or try on sunglasses or pick out jeans. The book chooses to put Nora and Vee in a lingerie store, rather than one of these other shop options. It's a reminder that even in a casual, social event with a friend, sex is at the forefront in the book, as is the issue of female sexual objectification.

Patch was warm and solid, and he smelled fantastic. Like mint and rich, dark earth. Nobody had jumped out at us on the ride home […] For the first time all day I felt safe.

Except that Patch had cornered me in a dark tunnel and was possible stalking me. Maybe not so safe.

'I don't go out with strangers,' I said.

'Good thing I do. I'll pick you up at five.' (17.140-43)

Could Patch be any more the poster boy for male stereotypes? He's attractive and strong, both dangerous and protective, dominant, suave, smooth talking, and a hardnosed negotiator who doesn't take no for an answer.

'Let's get you in the car,' Patch said. He pulled me up, and I wrapped my arms around his neck and buried my face into him.

'I think I'm going to be sick,' I said. The world tilted, including Patch. 'I need my iron pills.'

'Shh,' he said, holding me against him. 'It's going to be all right. I'm here now.' (21.73-75)

Nora has just seen a woman lying dead in the street, so of course she's upset. We'd even go so far as to say it's even a good thing that she's upset. At the same time, Nora is a totally incapacitated mess, so much so that she claims to be in need of medication. It's almost a throwback to the days when women were presented as having frequent fainting spells. Get this girl some smelly salts, stat.

I could smell the fear on my breath. 'Where's Vee?'

He slapped my cheek. 'Don't change the subject. You really should learn to control your fear. Fear undermines logic and opens up all sorts of opportunities for people like me.' (28.33-34)

It's the old women-need-to-learn-to-control-their-emotions shtick. In this exchange, Jules even slaps Nora as if to break her from her hysteria. There are other moments in the book where female characters are driven strongly by emotion. Dabria's wild attack of jealousy comes to mind. Are there any examples where male characters seem to act on emotion? Do the ways female and male characters deal with emotions seem to be different?

'Do you want to know the best part? You could have blocked me out. I couldn't have touched your mind without your permission. I reached in, and you never resisted. You were weak. You were easy.' (28.80)

This quote is a very blunt and very troubling explanation of Jules's ability to enter Nora's mind and control her thoughts. The terms "weak" and "easy" are really pejorative terms for women these days, and they feed into the women-as-sex-objects mentality. However, we know by this point that Jules is the villain, so aligning this view of women with an extremely negative and evil character also suggests that the view itself is entirely bad.

Come on, I heard Patch urge him Pass out… pass out…
But it was too late. Patch vanished from inside me. (29.61-62)

Patch comes to Nora's aid many times, but he can't save her from Jules. Nora fights Jules off with some success on her own, stabbing him in the leg and kneeing him in the groin. When Jules catches her again in the gym and holds a gun to her head, Patch enters her body to help her fight him off, but it's not enough.

Nora is the one who kills Jules, though she does so by sacrificing herself and Patch then rescues her from death by rejecting her sacrifice. It's a mixed bag.