male stories vs female stories

I read a social media post early this week that I was hard-pressed not to comment on. I'm trying for a kinder, gentler SS@S this year. Yeah. We'll see.  Anyway, this dad talked about how he parents his small children differently because of their gender. Re: the son, he said  he's "a mini-me" and how he teaches him to "do things" and how to "be a man."  Parenting his (albeit toddler) daughter was mostly about showing her how a man should treat her.

Umm. Yeah. Got my back up a bit.  Not only are children NOT miniature parental selves and when are parents going to get over that particular failing? But worse was how all the male fatherly toadies in the comments AGREED with the whole thing. They praised him for articulating so well how it is for a father to raise boys and girls.

Because, girls. Everyone knows all that counts to girls and women is how a man treats her. It's all my husband should offer my daughter, certainly. Never-mind he has at least as many things in common with her (eyebrows, an engineering brain, mathmatical thinking, just plain smarticles) as I do (body type, born storyteller, artistic sensibilities). Hell, her qualities could matter less as long as she knows how a man should treat her.

Sexism, it's just not for the workplace anymore.

And incidentally, where is the responsibility of women in all this? Do we get to teach boys how to treat women? Maybe we can teach boys how women should treat men. Or maybe, gasp, we can all teach our children how people should treat people.

In a kinder, gentler world, maybe.

Later this week some guy writers who I respect, Wendig, Sykes, Kemp, wrote about writing genders. Go read 'em. I'll be here. There's even this link to a Gaiman piece on the gender of books.

Anyway, I thought I'd chime in cuz I often write guys and also maybe someone else from the opposite gender should speak to the issue, if I can carve time out of my busy schedule of worrying over how men treat me.  (And this: I hate that expression "opposite gender." Men and women aren't opposites. They're more like puzzle pieces. And every single damn one of us is different.)

But to the topic of gender in stories: despite writing so many guys, I'm told I write strong female characters. Granted, in my current series, THE SEVEN EYES, the women are secondary characters. But I hope they're not just strong. To me all characters with much stage time should show some weaknesses, too. My two primary, er, secondary female characters have flaws. They make bad decisions and have to live with them. They get pissed at the lead character, Draken, when he's being an ass...and sometimes he is an ass. Sometimes they lean on him and other men too much. Sometimes they kick ass. Sometimes they cry.

Sometimes that's all there is to do.

One thing they don't do is worry over how men treat them. They do something about it.

Draken is part of that problem. I'm told he's a manly-man in a traditional (pfft) sense: he kicks ass, rushes into battle unafraid, serves his Queen and his people without hesitation, laments the loss of his wife.  He also gets depressed, frustrated, and has few people he trusts, so he doesn't share much. His main friendship is grounded in situation rather than emotion. I think it's a particularly male sort of friendship.

And yet... yet. Draken's sister develops the same sort of friendship in EMISSARY.

But I think it's the m/f relationships that start to blur the lines. Draken's duty is to protect the Queen, but it's not a spoiler to say she's Draken's love interest. There's a lot of conflict between the Queen and Draken in EMISSARY because protectionism is one of the more subtler, insidious forms of sexism. Maybe it starts with the "my-only-job-is-to-show-her-how-men-should-treat-her" brand of parenting. Draken suffers from the delusion that this is what relationships between men and women are.

He means well, but then, so do a lot of guys.

So are the SEVEN EYES stories male or female?  There's an awful lot of bashing with swords.  But there's also a lot of relationship wrangling, angst, and secrets...the stuff of soap operas.

So who the hell knows what's feminine and what's masculine?  How do you qualify a story as one or the other without leaping into stereotype? I hold that no one can claim certain qualities for half the race. And when it gets down to it, writers certainly shouldn't.


Peter Dudley said...

I have been told many times that I write very "real" female characters. I thought a lot about why that might be, until I finally realized that I spend WAY more of my time observing women than I do observing men. Women are on my mind pretty much all the time. So it shouldn't be a surprise, right? I mean, writers are supposed to be observant, right?

Anyway, to write "real" characters you have to treat them as individuals first, then factor in their gender within the context of their society, their family, their relationships, their physical setting. Society puts limitations and requirements on the characters based on their gender. We all make decisions and take actions based on (a) who we are inside, (b) what society expects of us, (c) the expected understood consequences of the actions, and (d) the real physical and other limitations that constrain us at the moment.

I don't believe there are girl stories or boy stories, but within the context of certain market segments there are stories that are understood to be boy stories or girl stories, "strong" females or "sensitive" males, etc. The real eye-rolling moment is when a reader takes his or her particular experience of the story and projects it on the entire human population. That's just egotistical.

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

Yeah, I also have a lot of guy friends and pay attention to their interactions. Plus, son and husband.

I dislike humanity's obsession with gender. I wonder if it's at the root of so many issues?

Anonymous said...

I wish the English language had an acceptable neutral pronoun. I'd love to be able to write a character and leave the reader uncertain as to the gender. I tried that once with an AI...I never used "he" or "she" in the story. I wonder how the readers interpreted the voice?

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

Amy, yes. That would be very handy. I use s/he in non-fic pieces but that won't work for fiction. For one, it means both or either, not something other.