Genre Engendered?

June 25, 2011 at 1:37 am (writing)

When I write, I’m just a person, according to several of my readers, and that’s as it should be. What do I mean by that?

This seems to be a week of people questioning the relevance of gender in speculative fiction of various genres: from whether or not there is a bias for or against writers of certain genders in certain genres, if there are truly ways of “writing like a girl” vs “writing like a guy,” and whether or not gender stereotypes are as prevalent in speculative fiction as the used to be – for example, is the strong female character as common or more so than the damsel in distress? I decided I wanted to offer my view on the matter, including why I’m pleased that I’m often considered an androgynous writer – that my writing doesn’t necessarily reflect my gender.

One blog entry regarding the Inter Galactic Medicine Show magazine – http://www.magicalwords.net/edmund-r.-schubert/sexism-in-sf-and-f – went as far as to compare their submissions and percentage of acceptances on a gender basis, and suggested that since the percentages were fairly similar, the fault of their fewer female acceptances to male acceptances fell squarely on the shoulders of those submitting – that if they received similar numbers of submissions, they would have comparable male to female writer content. That begs the question then: why are fewer females submitting?

As a writer of various genres, I know my answer is: perceived expectations. When I first began writing speculative fiction, I wrote strictly fantasy. My writing style then was “fluffier” and more whimsical; I preferred happy endings and tried to write things that were awe-inspiring and beautiful (not that I was very good at it.) I liked to lean towards storylines that were excessively romantic and emotional, at the expense of a solid storyline and things like action and adventure. Some people would say that I “wrote like a girl”. The writers I read varied, but the women writers trended towards fantasy, whereas the majority of SF and horror was written by men.

As my writing style matured and I changed as a person, it was eventually reflected in my story choices. My fantasy got darker. I moved away from the “pretty and perfect” mode and developed flawed, diverse characters. I stopped aiming for the happy ending and tried to achieve more powerful, meaningful ones instead, even if it meant exceptionally tragic endings in some instances. My female characters reflected more of my own personality and they became more rugged, more stubborn, and in some cases more domineering. Some would say that I stopped “writing like a girl”, although my stories still usually include an emotional element along with the action, the darkness and the gore. I strayed into horror, where I found a comfortable niche, and to my surprise a very inviting and encouraging circle of writers, readers and publishers. Why was I surprised? Ill-conceived notions, based on what I had seen to that point, that horror and SF were genres that favoured men.

I’ve had an initial amount of success since then – just a start, but I hope to see that grow. I haven’t submitted much to magazines like IGMS, but that’s more out of a desire for creative freedom. From my limited experience as a writer, as well as from what I’ve seen as a reader, those types of magazines have very rigid requirements, both stylistically and on a technical level. They like clean lines between their genres and fairly formulaic structures to the stories they accept, but perhaps that does explain why they get fewer submissions from women. If it takes a bit of an oddball leap to enter a genre dominated by the opposite sex, then the resulting stories written by those women are bound to be different from the norm as well. As a writer, we are taught very early to match our submissions to the typical content of the venue in question. If my different writing style and unusual approach to the genre clashes with your “traditional” content, I’ll probably refrain from submitting. I’ve seen very talented female genre writers struggling to get published because they don’t fit into any of the neat, tidy boxes out there. Readers are losing out as a result, but hopefully the current drastic changes in publishing will help to correct that, giving the truly creative more methods for sharing their work.

Are there ways of resolving the imbalance, or should we even bother? Personally, I’m very comfortable with the space I’ve carved out for myself, and acceptance of my work, plus respect for me as a writer, seems to be growing every day. If I ever “make it”, I hope to be able to mentor other female rookie writers in the genres that I prefer. There doesn’t seem to be enough of that going around, although there are some fabulous female support groups, like Broad Universe and Wicked Women Writers.

One commenter to the blog post regarding IGMS suggested that they might actually want to woo more women or writers of different ethnicities, to counter any faulty perceptions that happened to exist about their publication. I don’t necessarily think that some sort of affirmative action plan is the solution, but I’m sure that there are minor changes that could be undertaken to make submitting to their magazine more inviting to women, I’m just not sure how willing any of the existing publications are going to be to make those changes.

What does the future hold for female writers in male-dominated genres? Everything is pretty fuzzy in the publishing industry right now, but if male writers like Nicholas Sparks can be genuine successful in a female-dominated genre like romance, it bodes well for us on the other side of the spectrum.

In the meantime…I’m just going to keep writing like a person.

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2 Comments

  1. Tracy Falbe said,

    Interesting article. When I first began writing fantasy, I consciously chose to try and write stories and characters that would appeal to both men and women. I am a woman, but I have noticed that I tend to like fiction that seems more male-oriented. So, I wanted to be able to produce novels that could appeal to both men and women. I think that I have succeeded. My readers who contact me directly seem to split pretty evenly between the genders. And direct sales through my website appear to both male and female. (I judge from the names.) I do think my readers tend to be male a little more often, but surely no more than 60/40 for M/F. Occasionally I receive an email praising my work from a reader in a foreign country who does not even realize I’m a woman. He’ll write “Dear Sir.” I’m a bit pleased with myself over this fact because I seem to have achieved my goal of writing androgynously, as you put it. I have seen comments in forums when gender questions are raised that men tend not to like women writers. I even read an article at the Goodreads blog that studied its data and it showed that women read both male and female writers, but men skew toward male writers. Interpretting this is difficult. It could mean that female writers don’t often make an effort to appeal to male readers or perhaps female readers are more open minded.

    • chantellyb said,

      I have no idea what my stats are like for readers, but I’d have to say from feedback, it seems to be evenly split, and and since I changed my writing style many years ago, I’ve never had anybody tell me my work was “too girly”. My test readers actually seem to include more men than women, although my primary reader is female. I haven’t been published for very long, and I’m just finishing up something that I think will have more female appeal, so I guess I have to wait and see the results after allowing for more time, and more works published.

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