Jul 17, 2014

Choosing Gender

I thought I'd take a break from talking about Memory War today and discuss gender choice in writing. This has been a hot topic all year, what with debate over whether or not Dr Who should have female Doctor, how Ubisoft could have avoided the PR mess over the co-op avatars in Assassin's Creed: Unity, and most recently, Marvel's announcement that a woman will become the new Thor.

I remember talking about this with friends over the last few years as my writing career has slowly built up. One of the things I've come to think about lately is my earlier reasoning for choosing the gender of my characters.

I'll own up, way back when I was still figuring out how to get published and wondering what I could write, I had this misconstrued idea that there were too many women protagonists in the kinds of stories I liked. So I decided I was going to "even the odds" by making sure to write an urban fantasy with a male protagonist. Well, five years and a lot of new experience and research has told me that Younger Me was very, very naive.

Even so, I thought that I should still write male protagonists because "that's what I knew." I figured I could write a man better than I could write a woman. Now, bear in mind I was still perfectly happy to write plenty of female supporting characters, so I don't know what to think of myself there. Was I of the opinion it was okay to risk botching a supporting character like that, but not the protagonist? Of course, the idea of learning how to write a woman didn't cross my mind. What was my problem?

It was simple. I wasn't really considering the implications of my choice of characters. It wasn't that I was ignoring women, or pushing some MRA agenda. I just didn't realise that gender choice was an important part of the writing process. Because at the time, I wasn't exposing myself to the same range and variety of authors and bloggers I am today. I hadn't the feintest idea of the problems of female representation in entertainment.

So Nathan Shepherd wound up being a man. I'm not sorry I made this choice. And in fact, I still managed to play on the assumption of the male hero, because part of Nathan's journey in Locked Within, and part of how he become stronger and grows into a hero, lies in remembering his past life as Katherine O'Reilly. In essence, the hero gains strength from embracing the feminine side to himself.

I've heard, and (please forgive me) used the excuse of "I'll write a female protagonist if the story calls for it." Ugh. How come we never see anyone say I'll write a male protagonist if the story calls for it"? Because to many people, a white male hero is the default assumption.

Not that there's anything wrong with writing a book about a white man. While my Lady Raven series features a girl as the protagonist, I'm certainly going to keep writing books with men in the leading role. Because I enjoy writing male characters. I enjoy exploring platonic relationships between men and women (something I feel is seriously under-represented in fiction). But it won't be my default anymore. It'll be a choice, and I'll own it as a conscious decision in my creative process.

Everything that's in a book is the writer's choice. It hasn't been forced on them, and it certainly isn't the only way for the book to be. So authors should own their decisions. Write a male character, or a female one, or a transgender one. It's okay to write whatever the hell you like, so long as you're doing it because you've made that conscious choice, and you're not following a blind assumption that it somehow "should be" a certain way.

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