Gender and Writing - OryCon 33 panel


Gender and Writing
Rhiannon Held, Cat Power, and Peter Smalley.
  • How does gender affect your writing?
    • Held: I have two main characters, one of them is male. My male readers tell me where I’ve gone wrong.
      • Women tend to talk more about people. Men tend to talk more about things.
      • But when you’re talking about defusing a bomb. It’s problems solving.
    • Smalley: My male and female characters tend to have different approaches to problem solving. More direct for the male, and more radiative for women.
    • Powers: I write more female characters than male, but don’t feel uncomfortable writing men - I grew up with brothers, had male friends, live with a man.
  • Powers: I get frustrated by writers who take 20th century gender relations and say it will be the same in the 25th century. Probably not.
    • Held: I don’t feel like it is central to the stories I write, so I don’t focus on it. With the exception of a werewolf.
    • Smalley: It’s an opportunity to bring out the similarities and differences in characters. I had two brothers in one story: I want to make one be a more manly man, and the other a thinking man. But it’s not enough to define them as a stereotype. You have to define it and move past it.
  • Held: Frustrated by the trend to make women kick-ass, sort of the Buffy effect. They can kick evil in the the butt. But how about something else - smarts, treachery, deception. 
  • Q: Do any of you feel like you should challenge the readers concepts of gender relationships or definition, and yet still give them a character they can relate to.
    • Smalley: 
      • I don’t feel like it is my job to challenge readers. It’s my job to tell a good story. I can challenge myself to do. I don’t want to preach. I want to learn about myself. I want to learn about my readers.
      • But saying all that, it’s not interesting to reader to pander to them. 
      • If I challenge the reader, it’s not to preach or simply to challenge, but to tell a more interesting story.
    • Held:
      • Therapeutic metaphor: I want to tell something so rich and complex that the reader can pull out of it what they need to take away what they need. I can’t control what they take.
      • Good vs. bad Jane Austin adaptations: Sometimes there can be a character defiance. They are defined in terms of defying things. But I want to read about characters doing things, living their life.
    • Powers: No one wants to read a book with an agenda. And challenging readers sounds like that. But I do want to challenge other writers. Much of what I write is in reaction to other stories.
      • To write a story about gender just to do it is bad craft. If it is part of the story, then good.
  • Held: It can be more feminine to have more allies. It’s not just how to solve the problem, but who will help you solve the problem.
  • Powers: Recently read an Asimov story about miners on the moon. All the action of the story is around who should go out in these little mining pods. At the end of the day, the miners go home to their wives who live in little picket fences. They never even think about what if the women went out.
    • What blinders do we have on that we aren’t aware of?
  • How does gender affect reception of a work?
    • For epic fantasy, the best sellers are still all men. One woman author was planning to use a pen name with initials so it would appear more masculine.
    • The exception is in urban fantasy, where the authors tend to be woman. 
    • So there still is some effect...
  • Nowhere do we have perfect equity between men and woman, but as we begin to approach that in society, we’ll see more of what nature vs. nurture brings to it.
  • Books
    • Writing the Other
    • How to Suppress Women’s Writer
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