writers, characters, and biases

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Username: Emmalyn

Post Number: 1
Registered: 04-2009
Posted on Saturday, April 18, 2009 - 06:37 pm:   

Comment about: Women Writing Science Fiction: Some Voices from the Trenches
by Susan Elizabeth Lyons

I came across Susan Lyons article looking for something else (an SF F writers forum for unpublished writers, specifically) and I found the article very interesting, even enlightening. One thing in particular struck me: she seemed to equate a bias about female protagonists to a bias (or lack thereof) against female writers. I have found it a common assumption that women should or do write about women and that men do not, and have been actively encouraged to write about female characters myself.

Still, one of the first books I have tried to get published has a male protagonist and female side-kick. While the two are close to equal in their roles, I purposely emphasized the young man in the first book, with the expectation that he would gain a broader audience, even though I assumed I would not encounter noticeable bias as a female author. Another tale has a young woman for a protagonist, but she has predominantly male friends (and enemies) for related reasons.

Acceptance of female writers does not necessarily mean easy acceptance of female characters as protagonists by (male) readers or by publishers looking at a lot of teen boys as buyers. Some female characters have gained wide popularity --like Menolly and Hermiony--but most of the characters whose own names gain fame are still boys and men.

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Username: Jao

Post Number: 6
Registered: 08-2009
Posted on Monday, August 17, 2009 - 08:37 pm:   

I don't think there's a publishing bias one way or another regarding which gender writes about which gender. But there's certainly a bias in the readership.

I'll give a personal example. I read some early books by Melanie Rawn (The Dragon Prince trilogy, if I remember right) that featured a male as the main character and a female as a near-main character--by which I mean it was clearly the male character's story, but the female character played almost as important a role. I enjoyed the books, liked the characters, and felt the author did a fine job portraying both male and female characters.

Some years later, I came across another novel by Melanie Rawn, "The Ruins of Ambrai". This novel was nothing like her earlier work; it was simple role-reversal at it's worst. The female characters were presented as dominating over the males in such a juvenile fashion that I never finished the book. It wasn't quite the female version of John Norman's "Gor" series...but it was about as insulting.

So I would say that if you present your male or female characters in believable and sympathetic fashion, your own gender won't matter. And that gender isn't an issue in your story unless you make it an issue.

I had actually forgotten Robert Silverberg's "immortal statement" regarding James Tiptree. Silverberg was such a idiot. There's another thread here that asks the question" "What's Wrong with SF?" and the answer is that Silverberg and his ilk bankrupted the Nebula awards (or whatever they call them) and then voted themselves SF "Grandmasters".

As for female protagonists...I think if you look at sf film you find many more female heroes. Movies such as Star Wars, Aliens, and Terminator. On the flip side of that, you have to also recognize the sex appeal of those heroines. Take for instance how "Xena: Warrior Princess" (not sf I admit) eclipsed Hercules in popularity. Or how (closer to sf) the last Star Trek featured a (sexy) female vulcan as 2nd in command (a female Spock).

It's been argued that these female characters are only the perfect objects of male imaginations, but I don't think that holds any weight (as an objection). The male characters are also the perfect objects of male imagination (and female as well): you don't have Conan the fat and flabby librarian swinging in to rescue his damsel in distress.

Sorry for the ramblingpost--once I go off, I just keep going (related to the topic or not).
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Username: Emmalyn

Post Number: 3
Registered: 04-2009
Posted on Saturday, October 10, 2009 - 11:57 am:   

At a conference later this summer, there was some oblique discussion of this gender topic. The current assumption seems to be that strong female leads are just the current "in" thing, regardless of the author, that some (but not all) publishers think that readers think a woman writer will be better at it, missing the point that few books ever written have characters of only a single gender. I suspect that there are a lot of misassumptions, even among publishers, about POV versus non POV characters, as if the author isn't usually in a better position to observe the other sex in the semi-external/semi-objective way that readers will see them than they can see themselves. I also wonder how much publishers really know about their buying audience, and how much is based on misassumptions about that, too.

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