I came across a link to someone’s blog yesterday about gender stereotypes and fantasy (thank you twitter), which was the author’s discussion sprouting up from readers liking of a female warrior culture in her fantasy books. Wish I’d saved the link. Sorry about that. It of course got me thinking about gender in UF. The author mentioned, a bit tongue-in-cheek, UF heroines who run around with weapons in one hand and the hero’s private parts in the other. I found this rather amusing, but honestly I don’t know how true that is, since most of what I’ve read in UF tends toward the crime fiction end of things.
Being a male writer and writing a female heroine has its worries. I certainly don’t want to fall into stereotypes with my characters, unless it’s on purpose of course. With the primary readership being female in UF, you run a higher chance of being called out for blowing it on the presentation of gender. While, I don’t think you need to politically correct, I want to have real characters, with real issues, who behave in a real manner when confronted with adversity. Readers can be pretty forviving if you give them reason to, and in the end I just want them to enjoy the story, but my goal was to write my heroine such that you’d not be able to tell if the author was male or female. The last thing I want is for a reader to think, “Oh, my god, a guy so wrote this thing.”
Now, my heroine, Jackie, in Deadworld, is a strong woman in some ways, and she carries a weapon in one hand, knowing how to use it rather well, but the other hand is a screwed up mess. When it comes to relationships, she is dysfunctional. She does not fall into the UF category of strong, sexual woman. Am I playing into gender roles by making her problematic when it comes to sex? I don’t think so. Her dysfunction is developed out of her past, with what I hope readers will find is believable. I enjoy exploring psychological issues (likely why I have a Psych degree), and gender is a part of that.
I think, as a writer, that the important thing is to write with enough thought and clarity that it’s apparent to the reader (at least in the end) where you stand. People run the whole gamut of gender roles, prejudices, and so forth, making them stronger, weaker, or downright biased and mean. It makes things interesting and helps create lots of conflict. When that last page is read however, the reader should be able to understand where the writer was coming from, and see that even if a main character is an asshat or weak in some significant way, whose actions fly in the face of reason or morality, that it’s clear that the writer isn’t okay with issues presented through the characters.
I’m sort of rambling here (on my first cup of coffee for the day), and this is a huge, huge subject, worthy of books and dissertations, but when all is said and done, my main p0int is this. Gender is a complicated issue, affected by many things, and your thoughts on it as a writer will come through your characters regardless of whether you are purposefully doing it or not. Be aware of what you think about things as you write. If you think women are weaker than men and deserve to capitulate to them in the end, it’s going to show in your writing. Likewise if you believe women should be out there taking on any guy they see. I’m not placing judgement here one way or the other. Obviously there is a lot of flexability when it comes to gender. What works for some is a total fail for others. It can be fun as a writer to turn things on their head, such as the female warrior culture mentioned above.
Just understand that readers aren’t dumb. They can read between the lines without even trying, and even if they can’t spot where you’re coming from, it will translate into definite feelings for the writing. And you want those feelings to be good ones.