Men and women?

I’m musing on gender issues in my stories again. I’ve had some issues with “bad” stereotypes in previous stories and I’m pondering whether I’m about to stumble down that path again.

I want my female protagonist to be rich characters with depth and personality, and with the strength to carry their own stories forward, like people in the real world. That’s my goal, and it shouldn’t be so difficult now should it – at least it oughtn’t be, but who knows…

As a way to develop my characters a little bit I did a series of behind the scenes monologues with them (here). I pretend the characters are actor playing themselves and I have them hold a monologue about their role in the story. It was good fun.

I started with Roy, as he’s the first one to show up, then Alene, and Toini last. Roy’s male, Toini and Alene are female.

All three monologues loosely follow the same pattern. The character introduces themselves and then they describe their place in the story. What I found is that both Alene and Toini use Roy as a way of defining their place in the story.

I like to think there are good reasons for this. It fits with how the story is laid out and designed. It just feels a bit off – on principle. I want my female characters to be their own people, and they are, but even then I ended up having them describe their place in the story using the male character as their point of reference.

Am I overthinking it?

Yes. I’d say I am.

Both Toini and Alene are their own people and they carry their own stories. They’re more than backdrops for Roy’s story – a lot more in fact – and they know it. This whole rant is more a reflection on the topic as such. Am I letting my female heroes define themselves by the male hero?

I hope not. I don’t think I do.

I think there’s probably a line between where you describe your place in a story in relation to the other characters, and where a women describes her place in life in relation to a man. It’s a thin line, and I may be skirting close to it, but I think I’m still on the “right” side of it.

Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, or bonk me onna heid for being overly concerned with something that’s not an issue. Either is fine, really.

Men and women?

2 thoughts on “Men and women?

  1. I’m a feminist, of course, I hope a reasonable one. I’ve seen the tactics, however, of those who take things to the extreme, and I know from experience: if an UNreasonable feminist (this is the polite way to describe them) wants to prove you’re some kind of sexist monster, they’ll find a way. They’ll tear apart women authors, too, just to make their “point”. But what kind of story doesn’t have characters who react to each other and learn from each other?

    And I’m not immune from your concerns on other levels: there are extremists on both ends of the spectrum who would have us writers believe we must never presume to write the voice of characters in other genders or races or religions or social classes. It could paralyze any writer.

    But I’m a reader, and I know better: this is precisely the magic good writers conjure. I fundamentally believe I have more in common with other human beings than differences, and I write to show the processes that prove it.

    I’m not going to say I will never fail at speaking in other voices, but what we do is worth risking that failure. Writers above anyone should have the imagination to play that “switch” trick in their heads: if this character were a man, would he settle for reacting this way? and so on.

    So keep doing what you do.

    1. Thank you for the comment, and for the encouragement. I hear you loud and clear on all points.

      I think one of the things that I’ve come to learn fairly late is that it’s okay to make mistakes and to be wrong about things – as long as you’re willing and able to learn and improve.
      A few years back I had a hard time accepting criticism from one my beta readers, and it wasn’t until the same criticism came back from multiple other readers. It was pretty tough, and I took it the wrong way. I took it like I was being a bad person for writing “bad” things.
      Eventually I got my head around it though, figured out what the issue was, and hopefully I learned a bit from it along the way.

      As for men and women…
      I think at the core we’re all just people. A lot (most) of the differences come from how the world we live in has different expectations of us, and that in turn shapes how we relate to the world – but perhaps that’s a discussion for another day. ;)

      Thanks again for your comment.

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