This popped up on Facebook this week:
Now, before you start screaming at me, I KNOW that this is aimed at screenwriters. Putting the line “a crowd gathers, which is half women” makes sense when it is direction to the person hiring the extras, but in prose it is just bad writing.
That aside, does this matter to us? Does this problem cross over to fiction writers?
As it turns out, it does. While there certainly are many many female characters in literature, the easiest way for a woman to win a prize is to write about men. Male characters dominate children’s books, as well.
What disturbs me, though, as a librarian who used to work with young people, is that by the time kids are reading middle grade and YA, their choices are divided into “boy” books and “girl” books. There is a deep held belief among librarians and educators that while girls will read books with a male main character, boys will not read a book about a girl. Which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Does this carry over into adulthood? Are there “male” and “female” books. Well, “women’s fiction” is certainly a thing, but my bookstore doesn’t have a section for “men’s fiction.” So is that inclusion? Or tokenism? Certainly the market is big and those books make money, but is that enough? Why is there “women’s fiction” and “fiction?”
That’s when I ran across this article from 2007. While I was fully prepared to be angry at it (the idea that a clubhouse where people wear baseball jerseys is or should be a totally male dominated sphere raised my hackles from the start,) the article ends by saying “reluctant” readers don’t want books “aimed” at them. They want good stories.
Hmm. This is starting to sound familiar to me.
I was curious about how this played out here on No Extra Words, because as they say, check your own backyard first. I analyzed the stories and poems featured on the show between March and May to see how our numbers line up, and here’s what I found out:
While the slight majority (53%) of the authors during that period were male, most main characters were female, at 44% verus 38% male (18% of main characters were unidentified or ungendered.) For secondary characters, it was even more dramatic, at 52% female and just 37% male (with the rest unidentified or ungendered.)
It did not surprise me that not only can men and boys read stories with female characters, they actually do a pretty good job writing them as well.
Just maybe the solution is less about adding female characters into an existing story and more about letting those stories through. No forcing writers to focus on male characters because that’s what they think their readers will be or where the accolades are, but making sure great stories featuring women can be included on reading lists, winning awards, and getting literary recognition. Because they are out there.
It’s a world full of stories. Everybody has one.