I consider myself a naturally lucky sort of person, and one of the many good fortunes I’ve experienced in my life is that I’ve never really had to worry about being treated differently because I’m a woman. Of course there was the usual nonsense when I was in primary school, and I’ve been (mildy) sexually harassed on a few occasions, but not once in my life to date have I felt disadvantaged by my lack of a penis.
At the time of this writing I am 29 years old, busy pursuing a career as an author while holding down a day job as an archivist. I live in a yurt with three rats and two canaries. I’m single, and have decided to remain so. I have no interest whatsoever in ever marrying, having children, living with someone, or even having a relationship. And no, I am not a lesbian. I only feel the need to say that outright because, sadly, when a woman says she doesn’t want to get married, the immediate response from some people is “oh, you must be gay then”(it was in highschool, anyway). Nor am I an asexual – I do have a sex drive, if not a very strong one, which is probably just as well. This is the life I have chosen for myself, and I happen to be content with it.
Unfortunately, though we’ve come a long way in the last few decades, there is still a perception that it’s somehow Not Right for a woman to choose a life of spinsterhood. A man who decides to remain a bachelor is also looked upon as either odd or immature in some way, but a woman who never marries is obviously mentally ill and will spend the rest of her life gradually accumulating a ludicrous number of cats. After all, if a woman doesn’t have a husband and kids, what else is she good for? Oh, a career? Well then she must be one of those ice queen bitches who scares men off on account of being way too steely-eyed and mannish. She probably also wears one of those skirt suits.
I, however, fit into a different stereotype: I’m an artist. I write novels, though not for a living (everyone in this business knows there’s no money in it). And even in the novel-writing business we encounter stupid stereotyping.
Some years ago I came across a comment online which really irritated me. I can’t quote it exactly, but as far as I can remember it was something on the lines of “way too many fantasy books are written by women these days, so it’s all male characters whining about their feelings”. The more I read that comment, the angrier I got. It would be easy to dismiss it as the stupid remark of some moron on the Internet, but it points to a larger problem: apparently, us girls are supposed to write a certain way, and if we don’t… then we’re not real women? I guess? And also, we don’t know how to write about men. You need a willy to do that, you know. Meanwhile it’s totally fine for men to write about women, or at least I haven’t heard any complaining about that.
As a matter of fact, at one point a reader I spoke to on a forum somewhere said that they thought I was a man (I go by the asexual nom de plume of K.J.Taylor), because of the way I write. I wish I’d probed them further on that point. Certainly, I don’t have much interest in writing romance into my novels (not having any in my real life, I tend to be a bit hesitant over writing about my characters falling in love – most of what I do write in that area is informed by a combination of instinct and what I’ve seen in movies or read in other books). In any case, while I have a tendency to write about tough, unemotional female characters and more vulnerable male characters (a result of my upbringing with a tough, unemotional mother and a dreamy, artistic father), I don’t think that I really do write about men (or anyone else) “whining about their feelings”. Yes, I do let my male (and female) characters cry when it’s appropriate (I do tend to put them through hell, so nervous breakdowns are only natural).
But apparently it’s Not Okay for male characters to cry or, you know, have feelings. In fact my American agent actually whinged about how my character, Arenadd Taranisäii, wasn’t “manly” enough to be a fantasy hero. Because, inexplicably, having brutally lost everything he had to live for and been thrown into a situation in which he had no real way of getting to his enemy and everybody believed his downfall had been his own fault – he plunged into depression and alcohol abuse, and started openly contemplating suicide. Because that would never happen in real life.
This makes me wonder – if Arenadd had been a female character, would my agent have complained that she wasn’t womanly enough to be a fantasy heroine? I frankly doubt it. Only women are allowed to have feelings in fiction, and that’s a stereotype that really bugs me. So in typical fashion, I ignore it. I did not do any revisions to make Arenadd more manly, because he was never supposed to be a square-jawed action hero type. He was a sensitive, thoughtful, insecure guy who reacted the way such a person would to his situation. Maybe my agent is Mr Big Shot with his office in New York, but I’ll take realistic characters before I succumb to that kind of pandering to expectations, thanks.
And on the subject of Arenadd, another personality trait I gave him is that he’s vain. Though the series he appears in his very dark (the first book was rejected multiple times for being too depressing), I drew some comic relief from the way he constantly fusses over his hair. There is even a scene in which (immediately after committing a horrific massacre), he starts giving the female protagonist haircare advice and lectures her about how curly hair takes a lot of work to keep it looking nice. I guess that’s another strike against him there – better revoke that Man Card on the spot, people. Only women are supposed to care about their hair.
And that’s one final thing that truly aggravates me about society’s treatment of women: the way we’re expected to obsess over looking pretty. If a woman ain’t hot, she ain’t nothing (recent case in point: that repulsive obituary for Colleen McCullough). In fact, despite the fact that I’m at a healthy weight, quite recently a guy who is otherwise very mature and sensible told me I’d sell more books if I lost weight and made my hair look nicer. To which I replied with a more polite version of “fuck off”. I mean, really – are male authors expected to work out so they can look nice and ripped at their book signings? I don’t hear anyone telling G.R.R.Martin to slim down and stop wearing that dorky hat and suspenders combo so people will take him seriously. Gah.
As far as I am concerned, I am an author first and a woman second, or even third. My gender is really not that important to me, and I don’t think it should be important to anyone else. But those are the breaks, I guess. Welcome to the real world, which doesn’t operate according to common sense or logic. Quite frankly, I prefer to ignore it and write fantasy. At least them I’m the one making the rules.