Monday, March 25, 2013

Perils of the Writer: Balancing the Gender Imbalance

So, in the past month I finally got around to reading the Hunger Games trilogy.  As I've said before, I don't read as much as I should, or more to the point, I don't get a chance to sit down and read for long stretches as much as I would like.  But once I finished, I went digging around on the internet for commentary that I had been avoiding for the past several years, and stumbled across this gem of a reviewlet:
I would have liked it if I was a girl, but since I'm not a girl, it just made me mad.
I just stared at this for fifteen minutes in shock.  Like, what does that even mean? Because the more I look at it, the more astounded I am.  The most charitable parsing of this that I can think of is, "If Katniss had been a boy, I would have liked it more." 

Especially in sci-fi and fantasy, writing female characters can be a minefield.  I honestly don't know if it's more of one for male writers or female writers. However, I do know when female writers write books with female leads, there are bound to be accusations that what they are really writing is a Romance.  And you get reactions like the one above-- that essentially a book by a woman that is about a woman is only for women.  But a book by a man about a man is for everyone.

For male writers, the minefield is very different.  Here, it's a matter of doing it wrong, if it's done at all.  On one hand-- especially in fantasy-- there's the danger of having one's female characters be little more than wives or prostitutes.  I'll confess, when I first wrote out the outline for Holver Alley Crew, I didn't have any female characters, save Verci's wife.  This was problematic, to say the least.  So when I was actually writing it, I made several of the main characters female.  Hopefully, I did a good job in making them dynamic and interesting.

The other minefield is, of course, overcorrecting. By which I mean writing fantasy, set in some sort of pseudo-Renaissance or such, but with enlightened, modern attitudes regarding women's roles in society, or sexuality, or equality.  Enlightened attitudes that are hardly universal or mastered today.  So then you have an idealized fantasy world where such issues just plain don't exist.  I'm not one for writing fantasy all grim-and-gritty, but I think a degree of reality along those lines makes for more interesting reading.

What I attempted to do with Maradaine Constabulary was find that balance.  Here I had my heroine, Satrine, joining the constabulary force as an inspector.  She's not the only woman on the force, she's not even the first one to make inspector.  But these changes in Druth society are still in their nascent stages.  So Satrine faces several challenges. 

Did I get it right?  Again, I hope so.  We'll have to see what the critics say.

1 comment:

John H. Carroll said...

It's true that most main characters in fantasy are men. Oddly enough, I've found that most of mine are female.

However, I don't treat my characters as men or women. I consider them to be people first, gender issues fall very fall down the list of what's important with the characters.

You make an excellent point in finding the balance. It's extremely important. :)