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