Saturday, 10 January 2015

A Sensible Approach to the Gender Problem…


I feel as though my social media feeds throughout 2014 were mostly filled with discussions surrounding gender in the industry. It’s been a hot topic in fantasy and fiction for many years, and will continue to be so for many years to come.

I have become so disheartened by what I’ve heard over the last several months. More often than not the posts/blogs/opinions of those most vocally pursuing gender parity were doing so with a very biased, unbalanced and unequal approach. I’ve mentioned it before, perhaps on this blog, but having ‘all female’ this and ‘female only’ that, and forcing females into stories and situations, is not the way to ensure gender parity. It is an attempt to sway the balance the other way.

Perhaps there is a positive to be seen in such posts, in that they at least alert people to the fact that there is a disproportionate level of contributors/characters/spokespersons, and so forth, in the industry, in terms of gender. But they are not going to win any arguments in the way they are approaching what is a deeply important subject to many of us.

Just before the end of the year, there was a thread under discussion on Reddit entitled ‘A Lack of Female Characters is Always a Choice’, see here: http://www.reddit.com/r/Fantasy/comments/2qqjvm/a_lack_of_female_characters_is_always_a_choice/ and in the forum posts you will find some of those comments which seem to contradict the very thing that those campaigning for gender parity say they want.

On 31st December 2014 following this thread, Robin Hobb posted about gender on Facebook. I am not going to re-post it here as the words were not mine, but if this is a topic that interests you or means something to you, I would urge you to go and find it – the voice of reason can be found there.

Hobb summed up pretty much what I have been feeling about this topic over the last year or so, and more comments like this may help to get discussions on this topic back on track.

I’m not going to get into the ins and outs of gender parity here. I have my own opinions on the subject – balanced and sensible opinions in comparison to much that can be found online, I think – and I hope to see more balanced and sensible work to broaden and increase the volume of the female voice in the industry in future.

The essence of the discussion that sparked all of this was some implying that a book without female characters is unrealistic and unsuccessful. There are, of course, a multitude of examples which disprove this theory, and I can also think of many books oriented completely around females and female perspectives that work just as well.

After all, life and nature do not depict an even split of gender or any other of those human ‘boxes’ we have chosen to live within, so perhaps trying to force fiction to be that way is not the right thing to do – food for thought.

Hobb’s closing paragraph, which I will repeat here, sums up what I hope authors will continue to do, so that we don’t lose the best stories and that wonderful magic that makes fantasy fiction so special because we are trying too hard to force things in a direction they are not best suited to go.

Hobb wrote: “So if I write a story about three characters, I acknowledge no requirement to make one female, or one a different color or one older or one of (choose a random classification.)  I'm going to allow in the characters that make the story the most compelling tale I can imagine and follow them.”

There is a right and wrong way to approach change, and there is a right and wrong way to try to effect it. Perhaps 2015 will be the year that those of us with an opinion on the subject approach it in the right way and make a positive difference.

Elloise Hopkins.

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