February’s guest post is courtesy of Leah Merrill www.leahmerrillwrites.wordpress.com
WOMEN ARE FROM GILEAD, MEN ARE FROM WESTEROS: ADDRESSING GENDER STEREOTYPES IN FICTION
I say florist, you say…? I say firefighter, you say…? Chances are, you said “heroine” to the first and “hero” to the second. This is called a subconscious gender bias. Nurturing, “decorative” jobs are assigned to the female gender by society, while action-oriented jobs are the province of men. But what if we flipped it? What kind of romance could bloom between a beleaguered male florist and a busy female firefighter? Let’s examine some more aspects of gender bias in fiction and see how we can flip the script to write new, reality-based books.
- Not just for romance. While gender-based stereotypes are most often found in romance (a field with a long and problematic history, which many publishers are actively trying to correct), the inequality scourge leaches into all realms of fiction, from fantasy and sci-fi to mystery and suspense. Take a look at the latest NYT bestseller list or the Goodreads Choice award winners. How many of these books feature women with the power to make their own decisions? Are they rescued or belittled (or murdered) by men? How many of them feature women at all? Are they consistently limited to nurturing or decorative roles? Familiarizing yourself with the current state of representation can open your eyes to your own unconscious biases.
- Opposites attract. Think of the most “manly” job you can. Steelworker? Military special ops? Rancher? Chances are, there are more women working these kinds of jobs than you think. Now try thinking of the most “womanly” or “ladylike” jobs. Librarian? Kindergarten teacher? Administrative assistant? Yep, dudes do those jobs too. The next time you create a character, try giving them the occupation you think is furthest from their gender ability. Does this change how you see them? Do you think it makes them “less of” a man or woman? Why?
- The real world. The truth is, though we have made great strides even in the past twenty years alone, women in society are often limited to only the nurturing jobs, while men feel they can’t pursue a traditionally “feminine” career without emasculating themselves. These stereotypes and gender biases are reinforced through visual and print media, limiting everyone’s view of the future and ignoring those who have already stepped outside society’s mold. We can’t create what we cannot first imagine, so let’s show everyone a world of fiction where women—and men—can have any job, and fulfill any role.
There are many aspects of gender bias in the publishing world, from gendered marketing to the perpetuated misconception that “boys can’t/won’t read books about girls.” Educating yourself is the first step towards fighting for equality in all fields. Check out Maureen Johnson’s articles on gendered cover art and Rebecca Solnit’s groundbreaking essay “Men Explain Things to Me.” Make a conscious, informed choice about the kind of media you consume. But above all, change starts at home—right in front of your computer screen. What are your characters doing today?
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Leah Merrill is a Kansas City native and author of more than six impossible things. She leads the LGBT+ writers group QUILTBAG Writers, and can be found blogging her feminist agenda at www.leahmerrillwrites.wordpress.com and on Twitter @la_mer92.