Hey Ladies, You Should Stop Writing Such Dude-ish Dudes.

Yep, another tongue-in-cheek title. Sorry.

I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way books became genderfied. Or something. I’m saying this because yesterday I received an email from someone who was talking about a book and said, “but you’d probably not enjoy it because you’re a woman.” The sad thing is, this isn’t even the twentieth letter or comment I’ve read that said something like that. Not even the thirtieth.

Generally speaking I don’t think people even realize how something like that comes across, but it really rubs me the wrong way and makes me ask a few important questions. Can woman write a masculine book and can a man write a feminine book? And just what the hell is the definition of a masculine a masculine and feminine book? Are there rules in place that authors and readers need to be aware of so they write and read only books that appeal to their gender? Honestly, I wonder what these beliefs and viewpoints automatically make people infer about my reviewing.

I enjoy books for a lot of different reasons, but one of the primary reasons is because books don’t tell me what to enjoy or how to enjoy it. I can read whatever I want, and I can enjoy it to whatever level I desire. It doesn’t matter that I’m a woman. A book doesn’t do physical exam and refuse to open if my plumbing isn’t right. It doesn’t care.

I’m not sure why people apply these gender rules to books, because they don’t make any sense to me at all. Books transcend gender. I know some male reviewers who enjoy urban fantasy (a subgenre that is often referred to as a “chick” genre by lots of people) far more than I do (and I’m a “chick”). I tend to enjoy darker, bloodier, and grittier epics than a lot of men I know whom I review with. Maybe I’m the outlier, but when I talk books with people, I don’t really care what gender the person is, as long as they have something to contribute to the conversation.

The thing that really gets me about these viewpoints is how absolutely limiting they are. If I only read books that were considered “girl books” then I’d be so stunted (that’s if anyone even agreed on a definition of what a “girl book” was). It’s not just limiting reading material that bothers me, though. That sort of segregation stunts on so many levels. However, It’s the fight that so many authors have to put up just to write the stories they want to tell without any assumptions from readers that gets me. Saying things like, “you probably wouldn’t like that book because you’re a girl” just continues the trend and feeds into the stereotypes, slamming readers and careers into cookie-cutter boxes without even realizing it.

Believe it or not, women can write gritty fantasy and SciFi. Women can also write male characters, fight scenes, and cursing. And on the flip side, all you need to do is talk to this guy to know that men can write some pretty touching, emotional books featuring female characters and steamy scenes.

Books don’t depend on gender, and authors don’t check the Gender Rule Book before they set down to tell a story. There aren’t “Masculine Story” rules and “Feminine Story Rules” and the fact that some authors and readers out there think that stories are “masculine” and “feminine” actually kind of insults me. That sort of lingo puts rules and stipulations on something that I enjoy purely because it has no real rules. I do not go to a separate section of the library to pick my books out. Are authors like Stina Leicht, Janny Wurts, and Teresa Frohock doing it wrong because they write vibrant, well-developed male characters? Should we send them all a letter saying, “Hey, I’m sorry but your dudes are too dude-ish and you are too woman-ish so you should probably stop now.”

My sarcasm aside, it’s rather humbling to see just how much female authors still have to battle in the genre. While it seems to me that sexism should be a nonissue – it seems so logical that gender just shouldn’t matter – it’s still very much an issue. As I touched on in Kameron Hurley’s AMA:

My question: When I first read your book God’s War, I went on Twitter and said something like, “Anyone who says women can’t write gritty SpecFic haven’t read books by Kameron Hurley.” I said that comment sort of tongue-in-cheek, but it made me wonder – as a woman, do you feel like there are some assumptions about your writing that you are fighting against? If so, what are they?

Hurley’s Answer: Yes. I was actually emailing another woman writer about this the other day, who’s considering a gender-neutral name. I think there are expectations about what women can and should write and how what they create is marketed. I’ve worked incredibly hard – both with the GW [God’s War] books and with this one upcoming – to position these the way I would see them positioned if they were written by dudes, which is ACTION BLOW SHIT UP BUGPUNK RIOT APOCALYPSE in the first case and EPIC WORLDS AT WAR HOLY SHIT UNLIKELY CHAMPIONS COME INTO SUPERPOWERS SENTIENT PLANTS SATELLITE MAGIC MY GOD BUY FIFTY COPIES. But there are some folks who go, “Oh, God’s War is written by a woman? Is is a YA Romance?” and I’m like, uh… wha….? And with this epic I’m like IT’S FUCKING EPIC WHOLE WORLDS CRASH TOGETHER BLOOD PORTALS AAHAHAH and they’re like, “Oh, so it’s a romance, then?” and I’m like AAAAHAA. I got a lot of feedback on this one about it being “too complex” which I thought was wacky, because, like, Wheel of Time is simplistic? But I did start to wonder if that was about people expecting something different from me than what I actually wrote.

I think Hurley’s statement is probably true for a lot of women out there writing and enjoying the genre. Most women don’t dress like video game characters. Just because I am a woman doesn’t mean I automatically go to the romance section of the library, crave alpha males, and love to read about the woman who nurtures the lost and looks to fall in love. There’s nothing wrong with those stories, but I tend to prefer my literature a bit bloodier, and a whole lot darker. And that’s fine. Furthermore, the women authors out there can, and do, write just as well as any man – sometimes even better. The genre is alive and well purely because of diversity. Speculative fiction pushes boundaries and questions the norm. It demands that its readers do the same, so why are so many of us so hooked on these old gender ideals? And has anyone stopped and thought about the effects of these gender-centric viewpoints on authors, readers, and even society?

I want my daughter to go to the library and pick up any book she wants – a book about trucks or a book about dolls. Knowing her, she’ll probably pick up a book about animals, because that’s how she rolls. I don’t care. I just want her to read and love reading. I never want her to read what girls are “supposed” to read. I never, ever, want that thought to enter her head. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, but when I’m told that I won’t like a book because I’m a woman, or hear that women can’t write masculine stories, I start wondering if my dream of a gender-less library is too far fetched. What are we doing to ourselves?

To summarize this rambling diatribe:

  1. I can read whatever the hell I want, and I can enjoy it however I so choose.
  2. Authors can write whatever the hell they want, however the hell they want to write it.
  3. So can you.
    1. Regardless of your plumbing.


14 Responses

  • Hear hear!
    I think books come from the mind, and the mind is genderless. When we read and write from a point of our life experience, of course some of those experiences are dependant on gender. But they are also dependant on many other factors. The conflict in our lives weighs far more on our point of view than gender. The stigma about books for women and books for men is nothing short of over-simplification and justification of tribalism.

    Besides, which author would conscientiously alienate 50% of their potential audience by writing in such a way that only one gender could enjoy? How would you even do that? It isn’t though all men abhor romance and all women avoid science fiction.

  • Nicely done!

  • I almost wish for a lack of gender labels on novels, period, but that’s unrealistic.

    • I’m with Paul. I think we’d be better off without labeling literature by gender. This goes to that whole “you got romance in my scifi” argument that’s been bubbling for years. Romance is for ladies; scifi is for dudes (and ladies who act like dudes)(I’m paraphrasing horribly here). But it’s all nonsense. Even the best scifi has romance in it, and I think that’s because relationships (romantic or otherwise) are just a part of the human experience (generally speaking). So the label doesn’t matter, and saying one thing is for one gender, and one thing is for another gender…well, that’s just silly. Myke Cole’s Breach Zone has some romance in it. Book was actually improved by it (and he did talk about his involvement in the romance field in the interview of Skiffy and Fanty, which I was totally shocked by because, well, I didn’t expect).

      OK. Rambling. Shutting up.

  • I’ve never quite understood the thinking behind believing that any specific book, or type of book, is for one sex or the other. How can passionate readers not want to share everything they like with other passionate readers? And why should we care who wrote a particular book, a male or female, if it hits all our hot buttons?

    Now, I can understand where assumptions come from, but in this day and age it seems really silly to assume what kind of fiction a particular male or female might like, or be capable of writing and writing well.

    I want to be able to talk to the women AND men around me about the things I am reading, regardless of the type of book it is, or isn’t, and have them interact back with me. Kind of hard to do if I’m setting up arbitrary ideas about what is or isn’t acceptable for the sexes to read.

  • I lean toward books that when labeled would usually be put in the ‘male book’ bin. Yet I seem to read more female bloggers that review them, and around 50% of them are written by female authors. So…. maybe the label is a tad bit wrong?

    Nicely said Sarah.

  • Allan

    When I was about 16 I began the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb. I think it might be my all time favorite series and she remains one of my favorite authors today.

    I was so naive back then and assumed that Robin Hobb was a man – much like Robin Hood. When I discovered she was in fact a woman I do remember being momentarily taken aback and thinking to myself – “oh wow”. It didn’t have any impact on how I enjoyed the book but it did shatter my preconceptions and in fact led me to seek out other female authors where I am ashamed to say that I may not have before.

    I think that this was a very good lesson for me to learn at a relatively young age in my formative years as unfortunately there are people who will hesitate to pick up a novel because it is written by a woman. I think that that is just really sad because they are missing out on some great stuff.

  • Cheryl @cherylreads

    I’m embarrassed to say that I put off bringing home the wordless picture book Flora and the Flamingo because my 5 yr old grandson tends to be a very Battle Bunny kind of kid. He loves rough & tumble books and silly jokes and potty humor. I just didn’t think he would like it. Well, I’m so I glad I did check it out, because it is his new favorite book on the library book shelf at my house. Main characters are a very pink flamingo and a little girl…and they are dancing. It’s beautifully illustrated and very pink and “feminine” looking and he LOVES it. I’m so proud of him being oblivious to the “different books for boys and girls” thing and so ashamed of myself and my own gender bias. Just wanted to come clean and this seemed the perfect place. Thanks for the topic, Sarah!

  • There was a good meme going around on fb about buying gifts for boys or girls in the form of a flow chart. First question, Does the toy require genitalia? If yes, it’s probably not for kids. If no, it’s for anyone. Yeah, the books I have don’t require genitalia … yet?

  • What saddens me most is that while my first reaction to the comment about you ‘not liking a book because you’re a woman’ was that it was probably placed by a guy, the truth is that women make this differentiation just as much. And about themselves as well. For years I didn’t read SF, because I wouldn’t get it, both because a) my mind doesn’t seem to process hard science easily and b) that’s mostly for guys, right? Wrong, as I’ve discovered in the past few years. And I’m guessing I’m not the only one. Besides, how many guys don’t read urban fantasy or don’t admit to actually liking the romance in their SF, just because that “not masculine”?

  • I was that kid who went to the library and grabbed any book I pleased (though it did help if there was an alien on the cover). no one ever told me i should read certain things because i have certain plumbing. my parents were look “oh, thank God you like reading! let’s go to the library!” Like Sarah, I now prefer very dark fiction. I like it when characters have to make terrible decisions, and there might not be a happy ending.

    I mostly blame marketing departments who are acting under out-dated assumptions. Some readers may be acting under out-dated assumptions as well, but i mostly blame marketing, for whom this is entirely a numbers game. maybe it’s slowly changing, i have no idea.

    Sarah put it perfectly: read what you wanna read and enjoy it how you want, and writers should write what they wanna write however they wanna write it. plumbing don’t matter.

    but doesn’t that statement goes both ways too? if someone prefers to read or write something that follows old fashioned gendered lines, don’t make fun of them for it. they too are following the rule of read and enjoy what you enjoy, and write what you wanna write however you wanna write it. just don’t assume that a reader might not like something because of their gender, or a writer is writing in a certain genre because of their gender. then you’re just being an asshat.

  • cabert

    have been a SFF reader for years, and for most of those years I have participated in online discussions and in-person book clubs about these books. I usually enjoy it because I love discussing the ideas in these books and getting different perspectives on them. But it It has always bothered me when people say things like:
    – I can’t read books written by women
    – Men can’t write women convincingly
    – Women can’t write men convincingly
    – Women can’t write hard SF
    – Women can’t write epic fantasy
    – Why do women read fantasy

    The reason why these questions are bothersome is because they assume that men and women are very different, when in fact every piece of scientific evidence we have shows that women and men are a lot more similar than they are different. Those studies show that simply by measuring features about a person (e.g., empathy, compassion, math skills, etc) it would not be possible to determine (better than chance) whether that person is gender-ed male or female. The problem is that people usually do the analysis in the reverse – they know that a person is gender-ed male or female and then they make assumptions about that person based on gender. They use whatever evidence they see to justify their stereotypes, usually by confirmation bias.

    Here’s a good illustration of some scientific surveys about gender.

    This is one reason why I’m so fascinated by the works of KJ Parker. Parker refuses to announce his/her gender, and Parker’s books are some of my favorite. I wonder what kind of preconceived notions I’d have about Parker’s books if I knew the author’s gender. I wish I could say I make no assumptions, but that’s probably not true.

  • I’ve never understood how gender is such a divisive issue in science fiction or fantasy books. There have been so many excellent authors and characters of both genders, to the point where any argument made trying to establish specialized gender roles seems completely off base.

    Can women write fantasy and sci-fi books that are considered good if not great by both men and women? Robin Hobb, Kameron Hurley, Elspeth Cooper, Elizabeth Bear, Susanna Clarke and others say hello.

    Can both male and female authors in fantasy and science fiction write good characters of either/both genders? Fitz and Kettricken in the Farseer trilogy, Vin and Kelsier in Mistborn, Elena and Gavron in Mage’s Blood, Temur and Samarkar in Range of Ghosts, and others all say hello too.

    There are enough examples out there to easily prove that, yes men and women can both write fantasy and science fiction novels catered to both genders just fine, and yes they can write characters of either gender just fine too. If there aren’t an equal number of examples for either gender, it’s not because they cannot but rather because they do not. WHY they do not probably has something to do with a large enough group of people who keep telling them they can’t or shouldn’t.

    Which is a damn shame, because I feel like if there are good writers out there who are pressured away from writing then we are all being denied more potentially great books and authors.

  1. A Very Needed Apology » Bookworm Blues  February 7, 2014

    […] « Hey Ladies, You Should Stop Writing Such Dude-ish Dudes. […]

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