Gender and the Art of stories

I have to confess, I spend a lot of time paying attention to specific kinds of writer’s blogs. In Particular those of Kristin Kathryn Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith, and Chuck Wendig. These, among some others that I don’t follow as regularly, have given me the inspiration and the back bone to face this profession and know that I can make it. While Kristin Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith are great at being responsible, business focused and serious about their craft, I turn to Chuck Wendig to hear pretty much the same stuff with a lot more humor and swearing.


Recently on Terrible Minds  I read Chuck’s post about 25 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT SEXISM & MISOGYNY IN WRITING & PUBLISHING  Which had some really great points that weren’t news to me, but put in a way that really made me think about them again. The thing is that as a woman in America I’m fairly used to sexism because really it isn’t as bad here as it is in other parts of the world. That doesn’t make any of it right, it just makes it easy to ignore. Lately, though I’ve been hearing, and seeking out, more and more about the subtle sexism that pervades my life. Little things like movies that can’t pass the Bechdel test, or the assumption that women are weak or bad gamers or silly or all like to buy shoes. It’s hard being mad all the time, so you just give up after a while. It’s not OK.


One of the things that I have been too tired to notice until it was pointed out to me was that gender of the author made a huge difference in the covers traditional publishing (and even some freelance cover designers) are putting on books. Then, thanks to Chuck Wendig, I found Maureen Johnson’s Genderflip Challenge . The results amazed me. Just how different the cover of the books are when you simply switch the gender of the Author. Not the title or the content, just the author. The impression you get from the covers is very different. This isn’t the only imagery of this sort, the Hawkeye Initiative  is a similar sort of thing where the (male) character Hawkeye is drawn in all the hyper sexualized poses of female super heroes to show just how utterly ridiculous those poses are.


Sexism and the Feminist outcry against it are still alive and well, but have a long way to go. Yea, we got the right to vote and wear pants in public. We can have any job we can get hired for – which is different than any job we want. But we still can’t get paid the same as men. But it’s not just women who suffer. Men are just as stuck in their stereotyped roles as well. When was the last time you heard a joke about a “stay at home dad” or someone being on the “daddy track” at work? The thing is that just because we have women in publishing, or the doctor’s office, or lab, or uniform of any type doesn’t make it equal if that woman still has to go home and bear the brunt of the house work and child rearing. I grind my teeth when I hear women saying things like: “It’s so nice to get out of the house, fortunately my husband is babysitting tonight.” Guess what ladies, he’s not babysitting he’s parenting.


In gaming circles, in particular video games, you hear circular logic all the time. Well, when women become gamers the industry will start catering to them. Women aren’t gamers because they can’t find themselves in the games the way that men can. Oh, wait, women are gamers and are complaining. Women make up 45% of the game buying population and they still can’t find themselves in the games. They find rape scenes and balloon busted bimbos, but not real, playable characters that they could want to be. But they still play and they still yell about it and big industry isn’t paying attention. Independents are though. There is an increasing number of games put out for all the consoles written by independent companies that include female playable characters (who aren’t just men with boobs). They are writing story lines that don’t rely on damsels in distress or other degrading tropes.


I don’t have stats on literature, but from what I’ve seen there are more strong female characters out there gracing the pages of books than in the past, but not enough. It’s not a 50/50 proposition yet. There are still too many writers who rely on the old tropes. Who think it’s enough to give a woman and gun and call it good. Too many, who like in the movies and games and TV say “but for this story…” without thinking of the consequences of adding just one more voice to the chorus. Without thinking of how grand it could be to stand out and set a new standard.


I have to admit, I fall into the trap too. In my recent work (not yet available) Daughter of the Revolution I imagined a universe after the collapse of the Y chromosome. Humans almost died out because men had literally become the weaker sex, then evolution happened. In this Universe, women are the strong ones. The ones you send into danger because men are too precious. It’s a holdover from when most men, if they were born at all, didn’t live to pass puberty, in the same way that some of the logic of sexism today is the result of women really did need to stay home and take care of the babies because men just couldn’t do it (no milk ducts). The only problem, I filled my novel with men. Male security guards, male mercenaries, male soldiers and ship captains and pirates. Oops. How would the reader know that my world was gender flipped that way. Good thing there’s an editing process. Now the default pronoun is ‘she’ and only those characters who should be men, are men. The rest, if it doesn’t matter, are women – just the way that in movies all the characters who don’t matter tend to be men.


It’s a small step. One teeny tiny little one way over here in this teeny tiny little corner that I live it. But if enough people notice, it won’t matter that it’s a small step. It won’t matter because others will take up the call and take the next step. In the same way that if we just keep pointing out all the times that we see sexism, eventually we’ll make a difference. People will notice and start to change. So next time you sit down to write a story, think about the genders of your characters. Are they women just because? Are they men because that really is what is needed? Flip just one – even a minor one – and see what happens.

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