Sunday, June 21, 2009

Reverse Sexism

Dave Luckett's eminently readable, award winning YA Tenabran trilogy.

Dave's books have been shortlisted for four Aurealis Awards, he won an Aurealis Best Fantasy novel, A Dark Winter. His books have been shortlisted twice for the Western Australia Premier's Books Award and he won with Rihanna and the Wild Magic, plus his short story won a Tin Duck (WA SF award).

Today Dave talks about male writers and female characters ...


I had a female protagonist in five of my published books, and it surprised me that I was sometimes praised simply for having one, as if it mattered, and then because I had those characters think for themselves and consciously reflect on their positions, as if that were a little odd. I don't understand what's odd about it.

I used female protagonists only and solely because that's what the story needed. I suppose it's possible that other writers might use female (or male) protagonists for some other reason. I couldn't say, but that would seem odd to me.

On the other hand, I have heard it said that it is presumptuous of male writers to attempt a female protagonist, though I must admit, not vice-versa. Perhaps so.

What do you think?

11 comments:

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

I've been told boy readers won't read from the point of view of a female protagonist, while girl readers will read either a male or a female protagonist.

Do you think this is true?

Flinthart said...

Hmm. I can't say the gender of the protagonist bothered me when I was a YA reader. The genre was another issue altogether, though.

As for presumption... yeah. Fine. Whatever.

It's true. There are male writers who do a shitty job at constructing a believable female POV. But not all male writers by any means. And equally, there are female writers who have no capacity to construct a male character that isn't a miserable caricature.

So? I think it comes down to the writer. I'm glad Tolkien didn't take a shot at running with a feminine POV in LOTR, because from what I've seen of his writing and his influences, I don't think he could have sustained it believably.

This is a big debate, because you can as readily extend it to the question of race, and culture, and shortly thereafter you inherit the question of 'cultural appropriation' which is another barrel of fish waiting to be shot. Personally? I like to write where I'm comfortable, and I feel I can be convincing. I'd say I'm just about at the point where I could sustain a POV heroine... but equally, I'd say the readers would be the ones to decide.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

On behalf of Dave:

I take a stand on the distant sidelines while culture wars are waged over gender identity and cultural appropriation. Writing characters of another ethnicity, culture, gender or sexual orientation to your own is "appropriation", not doing it is "marginalising", not being explicit about it is "invisibilism", any compromise is "tokenism" and expressing bewilderment about what to do is ingenuousness, because the correct course would be obvious to anyone of goodwill. And this is before we even get started on the action, affect and sympathy of the characters involved.

It would all be very worrying, if I were to worry about it.

brendanpodger said...

As a boy I never had a problem with female characters, but I did with female characters who didn't live up to my expectations. Oddly enough some of the worst offenders in this respect were women writers!

Anne McCaffry was a prime offender in this regard. She would go to the effort of creating no nonsense, strong, wilful and unique females and then tether them to what seem to the reader as lesser men in a largely subservient role. My young male brain was constantly going "WTF!" as she did this time and time again.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Brendan, my youngest son read Dave Luckett's Rhiannon and the Wild Magic. He had no trouble identifying with the female protagonist. In fact, I think he fell a little bit in love with her.

And he didn't have the Anne McCaffrey problem either, because Rhiannon wasn't old enough to get involved with the wrong guy!

brendanpodger said...

I think most boys will read books no matter who the main protagonist is as long as there is a fair bit of action. I remember reading an SE Hinton book for school and basically not being ready for a book that was mainly about emotions, personalities and relationships. A year later I read another and got completely into it.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Brendan, there are grown men who aren't ready to read books about emotion and relationships!

I think it depends on the person. Anyone who likes reading SF or fantasy is willing to suspend their disbelief and identify with an Alien or an Orc, theoretically, it should be easier to identify with a human being who happens to be a different gender. grin.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

On Behalf of Dave:

Brendan -- Apart from a desire to have Ann McCaffrey's name spelled correctly, I won't quarrel. I would, however, point out that to my mind her greatest work is her early "The Ship Who Sang", and that doesn't suffer from that problem, being a romance and a tragedy. I recommend it."

TansyRR said...

I suspect that male readers (especially teens) are more likely to be put off by a girl (or general girliness) on the cover of a book than as a protagonist...

I've read some shocking male protagonists by women writers or female protagonists by male writers and also some brilliant ones. I do think that if someone completely nails a character of the opposite gender then they deserve some credit, because it is a hard thing to do! Particularly in the first person, which is a rare, rare thing.

It took me a long time to get up the nerve to attempt male protagonists...

I was once told to my face by a male acquaintance that he wouldn't read my books because they were too girly.

I think the more outside yourself you are writing, the more you need to find pre-publication readers to call you up on blatant clangers if you can (obviously alien first readers are hard to locate). Voice can be a tricky thing. There are so many different kinds of male and female voices, after all.

In one sense it's brave as an author to present a protagonist of the opposite gender because the reader is more likely to be critical because they are aware of that - but then the hypothetical reader is always going to be critical of something. If the male author writes an annoying female protagonist it's because he's a man... if the female author does it it's because she's 'projecting herself into her own fantasy...'

brendanpodger said...

Rowena(or Dave): You are of course right no one should spell Anne's name incorrectly. I suppose the reason why she stands out for what I consider her crimes against the female is on the whole her books are fantastic reads. I own and regularly re-read everything she wrote up to 1991(All the Weyrs of Pern) except for "Renegades" which in my opinion is Exhibit One in her trial. I continued to read all the books released for a couple of years after when I became disillusioned with her writing and gave up.

I agree that "The Ship that Sang" stories are by far and away her best and her explanation that she wrote them as catharsis for traumatic events in her life explains this. She is much more honest than she might otherwise be.

Rowena(san Dave)and Tansy: What can I say? Some men mature earlier than others.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

LOL, Brendan, blame me, not Dave. I'm a terrible speller!