Everwalker recently wrote a blog post about gender equality in genre literature. It’s a topic I’ve been thinking about for a while, and touched on slightly in discussing The Hunger Games, so I decided to throw in my two pence worth.
There’s an issue of cultural bias here. Men tend to be shown in particular roles, which sets a norm which becomes self-perpetuating. When we see warriors we usually see men, so when we depict warriors we usually depict men, which means when we see warriors we still see men, and hey presto, self-perpetuating cycle. Men tend to be shown in roles which are more outward-facing and empowered. And though those of a more conservative disposition might not agree, I think that this is harmful because it has a limiting effect on what women achieve (this is a big topic so sorry, I’m not going to justify myself here).
There are two aspects of genre fiction which particularly tend to bring out this bias. Firstly, it’s often action oriented. And because of the bias already mentioned, we tend to default to men in action roles. Secondly, much fantasy is based on taking elements from history, and we tend to think of men as the influential players in history, with women limited by the norms of their society. But there are two big problems with this. Firstly, it’s not half as true as you might think. And secondly, so what? If you’ve put in dragons or magic or crazy steam machines then you can certainly change gender roles.
Now comes the confession. I’m terrible at writing gender equality. When I’m not thinking about it, I default to gender clichés as much as the next person. Until I started making a conscious effort to change, nearly all my characters were men, especially the lead ones. I’m far from perfect, but I’m trying.
Oh, and if you’re interested in more analysis of gender representations in popular culture I recommend Feminist Frequency – well argued and presented videos connecting in with recent hot topics.