Saturday, July 18, 2009

Writing Gender

Sylvia of Can't Backspace fame has found a fascinating article that shows gender stereotyping at its worst. Bev Vincent, a published male author, had a story savaged by an editor on the basis that
It’s quite a challenge for a writer of one sex to explore writing from the perspective of the opposite sex. Bev Vincent has not done a convincing job.
Bev's protagonist was male.

The story had a large autobiographical element, so every time the editor objected to something as not what a man would do, Bev had actually done it. Stereotyping wins over real life every time.

Apparently female horror writers also get a hard time as many people find it difficult to believe that they can write gore effectively. Actually taking the trouble to read their writing might provide an answer to that. I thought that the era of women needing a male pen name to get published was long past. Maybe it isn't.

Do read Apparently I Write Like a Girl, it's a very good article.

23 COMMENTS:

McKoala said...

Fascinating! Heading over there...

writtenwyrdd said...

Actually, it's still true that a male pen name will sell more books in a lot of genres. Men won't buy as many sf books by women as by men. Which is why I'm using my first initial and my gender neutral middle name.

I'm not in the know about gender bias in publishing, but I'd bet it's there, alive and well.

sylvia said...

It's such an interesting example because there's no question that the editor has made broad assumptions based on Bev's gender. It's depressing that the original editor didn't see the problem (other than gender confusion). But I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I'm a little bit happy to have such a point-blank example of gender bias which can't be swept away with "Well, maybe Bev didn't write the perspective of the opposite sex very well" once you know the whole story.

fairyhedgehog said...

McK: it does make interesting reading.

writtenwyrdd: I like your workaround despite being sad that it's necessary. I really thought those days had gone.

sylvia: I agree. I hate that there is such prejudice around but given that there is it's good to have incontrovertible evidence of it.

Bevie said...

I understand his point about not knowing whether to laugh it off or be indignant. Ultimately, I think the first choice would suit him better, but that's just me.

Although "Bevie" is my pen name, I am often told I am not supposed to care about the things I care about, or do the things I do, simply because I am male. Once, a guy actually made a sound of disgust and walked away from me as though he thought I might be contagious.

What's so wrong about being sensitive? Apart from the grief it brings, I mean.

Bev Vincent said...

Thanks for the comments, folks! Mostly I laugh about it, but it still irks me at times, too!

SillyBoy said...

I'm reminded of the Gender Genie - http://www.bookblog.net/gender/genie.php - which once told me that I wrote like a girl.

stacy said...

I think I remember reading JK Rowling had to use her first and middle initials only because publishers assumed kids wouldn't buy fantasy books written by a female author. That the books sold strongly after her identity was revealed gives me very good feelings about our future generations.

For now, though, these stereotypes abound. All we can do is continue to fight them in life and in art.

Great link, fairy.

Aerin said...

This has been on my mind since I read Allison Burnett's Undiscovered Gyrl....thanks for the link, FHH!

Sarah Laurenson said...

The story about JK Rowling is true, unfortunately. Though why a children's publisher felt the author had to be 'male' is beyond me. I thought most children's books were purchased (and read) by girls. Maybe it's not the same in the UK. She was quite disappointed to not have her first name on the book.

This reminds me about the whole - it really happened but no one buys it in print - thing.

FHH - not sure how I keep missing your posts. Getting behind in my blog reading...

fairyhedgehog said...

Bevie: I know you've had your fair share of prejudice against you as a man. It doesn't do anyone any good, whichever way the prejudice is aimed.

Bev: Thanks for dropping in to see what I made of your post. I can understand why you would feel irked: your story was pulled at the last minute due to prejudice, stereotyping and false assumptions. I'd be angry too.

SillyBoy: the gender genie is remarkably inaccurate. Maybe that says something about gender in writing.

stacy: I hadn't heard that about JK Rowling. I'm really saddened by how far we still have to go.

Aerin: I couldn't make out how your comment applied to this post. I can only guess that it's part of the viral marketing campaign.

fairyhedgehog said...

Hi Sarah,

I know that the Harry Potter books are read by boys because my son read them. Seriously, I have the impression that both boys and girls read them. The trouble is when publishers feel that they need to pander to these kinds of stereotypes then it becomes a vicious circle.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I think the Harry Potter books have been read by almost everyone, regardless of age and gender. :-)

In the beginning though, the publisher was concerned that no one wanted to read such a book by a female author.

I'm approaching something of the sort since one of my WIPs is really written for boys. If it gets picked up, will I have to change my name? Could prove interesting.

fairyhedgehog said...

If you write as S. Laurenson and talk about your wife in your bio, then assumptions will be made. It would be interesting to build them up then smash them but probably too risky career wise.

Richard N said...

I think there's a pretty obvious reason behind the gender-bias in publishing.

Lots of publishers are weak males who find empowered females threatening - both writers and their creations... who tend to challenge their comfy status quo of 'men on top' on many different levels.

It's cowardice, no more or less - they can't answer the dissenting voice so they silence it.

stacy said...

The JK Rowling name story is a bit sad, but think of all the kids who (hopefully) won't bother to distinguish between female writers and male writers in the future.

fairyhedgehog said...

Richard: That may be part of the story but we have internalised sexism from women too. So many people buy into the Men are from Mars cobblers and seem to see it as a desirable prescription for how we should be.

stacy: I do hope you're right. Every time I think we've got it cracked, something happens to tell me how far we still have to go.

Jessi said...

Just wow. I've started typing out a comment at least three times now, and about halfway through, I stop, erase it, and try again. I really want to laugh this off or chalk it up to being an old fogie that is stuck in the past. Maybe toss it aside as a single person who is stuck on the stereotypes still, and that maybe we're blowing it out of proportion by questioning everything just because one guy ran into one problem with one editor with one manuscript.

Unfortunately, it's not that easy and as I skim through other people's comments on both your post and his, it's apparent that others agree that the stereotypes and prejudice is there. (And it goes both ways, working against both genders at times.) I can't decide whether to be irritated...or saddened by it either.

fairyhedgehog said...

Jessi - it is amazing that these prejudices persist. I grew up in a very sexist era but whenever I think that's all behind me, something like this crops up.

Richard N said...

FH: When anybody of whatever gender spouts theMen are from Mars stuff, my response is generally along the lines of "Men are from Earth, Women are from Earth - deal with it."

Kevin Musgrove said...

Sadly, it's still out there. Women can't possibly write horror or fantasy and men can't write romances or clogs-and-shawls.

We hope we'd moved on but then, you look at some of the cover designs and fly-leaf blurbs and you're no longer surprised.

fairyhedgehog said...

Richard: That's a very good response, especially the deal with it bit.

Kevin: I wonder if we will ever get past it.

Robin S. said...

I like FH's idea on S. Laurenson and mentioning your wife, Sarah.

The whole J K Rowling, and K not actually being her middle initial, because she doesn't have one, but 'sounding good' because it rhymes with K and because it was assumed initially that she was male, is very telling.

But Bev, to be blasted for not knowing how to write about a gender when you ARE that gender. Wow.

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