25 Things To Know About Sexism & Misogyny In Writing & Publishing

This is one of those posts where I worry about putting it out there — like, I wrote a book, Blackbirds, which features a female character who some reviewers have suggested makes me a misogynist but other reviews have suggested makes me a feminist. And I worry, “Shit, am I gonna write a post like this and offend somebody? Will I lose a reader? Ten readers? A hundred? What if I’m so blinded by my own bullshit I say a bunch of stupid stuff?”

Because that totally happens. I totally do that sometimes.

Still, it feels to me like, if I’m worried, then maybe it means I should post it.

So, this stuff is all part of a conversation. Not a list of proclamations. Not a face full of holy writs. But these are the thing I’m thinking. Let’s put it out there and see what happens.

Potential trigger warning.

1. Sexism Totally Exists

I know there’s someone out there saying, “Wait, is this really a problem? Sexism and Misogyny in writing? In publishing? In science-fiction and fantasy? Are you sure this isn’t just a small bunch of very loud women with their panties all whirled around in some kinda panty tornado?” And there I’d correct you and note that I am a dude and, in fact, my panties are indeed whirling about in a panty tornado because this is a problem in our respective industry and it sucks. I’ll gently point you in the direction of Ann Aguirre’s post (“This Week In SF“) and Delilah Dawson’s powerful followup (“Why I’m Writing This Now Instead Of Two Days Ago“) and you’ll start see just the teeniest fraction of the iceberg poking out of the water.

2. Let’s Define Our Terms: Sexism & Misogyny

Sexism is discrimination and prejudice based on sex. (In this case, toward women.) Misogyny is like sexism on steroids — sexism that has completed many of its prejudicial quests and has leveled up — ding! — and become full-on anger and hatred toward women.

3. Why I’m Writing This Post

I am a young(ish) white dude in America — and in fact I am a soundly middle-class white dude in America — which makes me a very lucky fucking ducky. I’m not quite as lucky as say, a rich white dude in America, but hey, whatever. So, you might wonder just why I’m writing this post. After all, one would think I am best served by keeping my own young(ish) white American dude interests at heart. If writing and publishing is tilted favorably toward me, well, maybe I’d be best served by shutting my fool mouth and riding this sweet, sugary wave to its conclusion. Nnyeaaaah, no. I think the community is broken. And if the community is broken, all members are, too. That means me. That means you. I want a healthy writing and publishing environment and that doesn’t mean ignoring other groups to make my group look better. If we are to assume that we’re all on the same team, the same boat, the same Galactic Arcology drifting toward our star-born utopia, then I want everybody to be treated equally and treated well. I mean, I have a wife. I have a mother and sisters. I want a daughter one day. I don’t like a world where they’re less than me. I don’t like a world where they’re targets and victims. And so, ta-da. Here I am.

4. Yes, Publishing Has Lots Of Women (And That’s A Shitty Argument)

One argument I’ve seen suggests this is all a big buncha poopnoise because writing and publishing is chock full of women. Lots of women writers. Lots of women editors and marketers and in libraries and bookstores and, and, and. LADIES EVERYWHERE, YAY, EQUALITY, WE CAN ALL STOP TALKING ABOUT IT NOW. Yeah, that’s a shitty argument. Having a majority presence sadly doesn’t mean a bucket of llama spit. Outside of writing and publishing women are 51% of the populace — and yet they still get paid less, they still suffer the brunt of rape culture, they still get treated like lesser even though numerically they are no such thing. That’s not an argument of value, so stop making it. Frankly, it doesn’t matter of women are 5, 50, or 95% of the audience; they’re people that deserve the maximum respect afforded to everybody.

5. Diversity And Kindness Are Products Of Effort

I talked about Genderflipping Doctor Who last week and, besides some of the hate mail (yay hate mail) I also saw some truly bizarre reasons given for why we can’t have an actress fill the role. Some folks shouted tokenism — which misunderstands tokenism at a fundamental level. Some folks shouted that it should serve the story and not just be a “gimmick” — as if an actor in the role is proper but hiring an actress for this flesh-shifting time-traveling chaos-theory-in-action-character would just be a stunt. Some folks said it should happen naturally, that it should serve the story — as if the story is its own magical creature that will one day evolve to embrace an actress in the role, as if these things happen all on their own and without human meddling. They do not. Diversity does not occur in a vacuum. Defeating sexism is not the default mode or it would’ve happened already. We want to evoke diversity in writing and publishing, don’t we? Then it happens with choice. With agency and action. It happens when you make it happen, not when it happens on its own. Fuck inertia. Enact change by MAKING THINGS HAPPEN.

6. I Believe The Children Are Our Future

All this shit starts when we humans are tiny. I have a two-year-old son. Boys get the BLUE STUFF. Hard. Steely! Naval. Girls get the PINK STUFF. Soft. Squishy! Fleshy. Our son loves trucks. You think, “Oh, this is genetic. Boys are biologically attracted to boy things.” Until you see him playing with little girls and the girls are all like, “YEAH TRUCKS ARE AWESOME, MOTHERTRUCKER,” and that dashes that idea into itty-bits. Then you go to buy books and you see it translates there, too: the blue, the pink, the trucks, the dollies. So you realize, this boy/girl thing starts early in terms of writing and publishing. And that means it’s where you have to do some damage control early. Let your boy play with dolls. Let your girl read about trucks. Teach them early on to respect each other and everybody else. (AKA: “Hey, kid, don’t be an asshole.”)

7. The SFWA Thing

Recent SFWA kerfuffle: in an SFWA bulletin featuring a chainmail bikini girl on the cover, a couple old white author-mummies kicked their way out of their dusty old sci-fi tombs and said something like BLAH BLAH BLAH THEM LADY AUTHORS AND GIRL EDITORS SURE LOOK GOOD IN BIKINIS and that was I guess their idea of being progressive and inclusive? Then their cranky pants got all constrictive when people (understandably) complained and then the old mummies were like SOMETHING-SOMETHING CENSORSHIP. I dunno. Creepy, right? Whatever. Point is, this is a professional organization that serves a very significant genre. That’s not awesome behavior. What is awesome, however, is that instead of just letting this slide, lots of folks inside and outside the SFWA got pissed, got vocal, and made a difference. Tuck that lesson away.

8. Dangerous And Needless Distinctions

Seanan McGuire, the SFWA’s official Murder Princess and my own Spirit Animal, said unsurprisingly smart things here about what it means to highlight women for their appearance or to highlight that they’re women at all — meaning, “lady authors” or “lady editors.” She says:

…women get forced to understand men if we want to enjoy media and tell stories, while men are allowed to treat women as these weird extraterrestrial creatures who can never be comprehended, but must be fought. It’s like we’re somehow the opposing army in an alien invasion story, here to be battled, defeated, and tamed, but never acknowledged as fully human.

9. On Display At Conventions And Conferences

The most grotesque and overt displays of sexism and misogyny is at conventions and conferences. Genre conventions in particular often have panels with a strong imbalance leaning toward DUDES and where said dudes often speak over any of the women on those panels. It’s also where you get creep-a-holics coming up on women as if they’re predators stalking gazelle on the veldt. Last year at WorldCon I watched a dude literally hit on a girl passing him by as he went to the elevator (and here’s why we don’t ‘hit’ on women, FYI); it was painful and awkward and creepy, like he was just desperately trying to find a place for his penis to live for a while, as if the woman wasn’t a person so much as a wandering dick receptacle. Then, at BEA this year, I passed by the booth of a venerable publisher only to hear an old and presumably important dude laud his female staff by, of course, talking as much about their beauty as he did their abilities in their field. (Imagine if he did that to guys, too: “John, you’re a great editor, and your ass looks like gold in those chinos, my friend.”) We counterbalance this by making sure women get represented on panels equally. And by making sure they work on staff, too. And that we treat them with respect and not like targets or victims or booth babes.

10. The Problem With Chainmail Bikinis

Isn’t just that they’re impractical (uhh, which they are). It’s that, it looks like this is how we see women — as foolish, impractical objects with gravitationally-irrational kickball-bosoms that are in fact the only thing on the woman worth defending from blade or arrow. It’s the same thing with the leather-clad urban fantasy covers or the spine-bending contortionist Catwomen on comic book covers. We’re saying that the only thing we as authors and publishers and even readers value in these theoretically strong female protagonists is their, erm, various “assets.”

11. The Coverflippers

Maureen Johnson issued a challenge not long ago where readers gender-flipped book covers — they answered the call in hilarious and eye-opening ways.

12. The Hawkeye Initiative

And, as a follow-up to that: the Hawkeye Initiative takes comic book covers and panels of female characters in, erm, extreme poses and then redraws them with Hawkeye doing them instead. It’s awesome and hilarious but also does a good job at illustrating the absurdity. Oh, see also, the masterful Jim Hines on his own cover posing efforts.

13. Sexuality Versus Sexualization

On the other side of things you have slut shaming, where women are made to feel lesser for their sexual choices (or, worse, for being sexually assaulted). It’s easy when criticizing covers (as above) to make it sound like slut shaming: “Those women are too sexy on those book covers, they should be all covered up LIKE PROPER MENNONITE MOTHERS.” The difference, I think, is between being sexual and being sexualized. The former is under the character’s (or author’s) control — the latter is controlled by someone else. Criticizing the sexualization of women has merit; criticizing the sexual nature of women is fucked up (and is slut shaming).

14. The Bechdel Test And Beyond

The Bechdel Test is a test applied to pop culture properties and stories to see if it meets a minimum requirement for not being completely dismissive of women. The test is: a) does it have two or more women characters [with names] in it? b) do they talk to each other? c) do they talk to each other about something other than men? The Bechdel Test is not the end-all be-all for making sure your work is representative of strong female characterization (strong as in, complex and compelling rather than can karate kick a vampire), but it’s a good entry-level test. And it’s still amazing how many major works of pop culture fail it twenty years later.

15. The Nature Of Rape In Fiction

Yes, you can write about rape. Saying you can’t write about rape as a subject of fiction is the same as saying you shouldn’t talk about it at all — which is a dangerous supposition to make. That said, you need to look at how you handle rape. Is it just another plot point? Is it exploitative? Is it an easy and lazy crutch in a genre where it’s used too often? Is it made to be more titillating than horrific? Rape is not just a throwaway topic. Realize that some of your readers may be the victims of sexual assault. Consider how you want to speak to them as your audience and how you want them treated in your fiction.

16. So You’re Tired Of Hearing About Rape Culture

I’m just going to leave this here then.

17. The Role Of Men In This Conversation

The role of men in this conversation is definitely not to be a bunch of pouty shouty poo-poo faces who start yelling about how they’re oppressed too and something-something our-poor-penises. But you can swing too far the other way, too — the role of men in this conversation is also not to be the swooping swinging heroes who need to jump into the fray and save the Poor Widdle Women. Women are not our damsels in distress. We are not rescuing them from the onrushing train of sexism and misogyny (I’LL SAVE YOU FROM THE ANGRY OLD SCI-FI WRITER, LITTLE NELL). Our job is to facilitate the conversation and to foster a healthy, safe, kind environment. Our job is to signal boost and to cheerlead awesome women and, ultimately, to not be dicks about any of it. Can we just say that last part again? DON’T BE A DICK KAY? Kay.

18. It Starts Inside Publishing

Hey, Giant Monolithic Publishing Industry: a lot of this starts with you. It starts with you having women across all the roles of your company, and that doesn’t just mean editors or artists, but also as authors, as CEOs. From the mailroom to the boardroom: up and down the pike.

19. And It Continues Inside The Books

Like I said, diversity doesn’t just happen. It isn’t the natural evolution you’d like it to be — you don’t one day just step into strong female characters in your books and wonder how the fuck they got there. You write them in. You put them there as author. None of this bullshit of — “Well, only if it serves the story.” Hello, you’re the DEITY CONTROLLING THIS PLACE. It serves the story when you jolly well say it does. You write the story. It does not write you.

20. And It Continues Outside The Books, Too

It’s about book covers. And booksellers. And librarians. And readers. And cosplayers. And convention-goers. It’s about ensuring that everybody gets to play. It’s about making sure we’re talking to our whole audience and that we’re not contributing to a culture of imbalance and victimization and prejudice. This is lateral. This is everywhere. Pay attention.

21. Check Your Shelves

Many years ago I looked at my bookshelves and I saw they were mostly male authors sitting there. Er, I mean, books by male authors — I didn’t have like, Neil Gaiman and Stephen King crouching there like creepy black-clad gargoyles. I’ve since made a concerted effort to put many more women authors on my shelves, so much so that I probably read as much by women as I do by men. Look at your shelves and if the ratio is out of whack — er, put it in whack, goddamnit.

22. Speak To Your Entire Audience

This is very simple: remember that you’re not just talking to people like you. With your work you’re (ideally) talking to everyone. So, try to imagine how your work will translate. Does it compel? Empower? Does it diminish? Does it perpetuate stereotypes or dangerous cultural aspects? This isn’t about being politically correct. Politics can fuck off. Real people are out there. How are you reaching them? How will they read your work?

23. Works Across Racial, Religious, Gender, Sexual, Economic Boundaries, Too

This isn’t just about sexism. Obviously the brunt of this list is written that way but you could pretty easily rewrite it to include folks of different race, religion, gender, sex, sexual preference, or economic class, too. Nobody’s asking you to be perfect. But it can’t hurt to try, can it? You don’t need to be an avatar of social justice, but a little inclusion is good for everybody.

24. If You See Something, Say Something

I hate to borrow a twee saying from our Masters at Homeland Security, but when you see inequality, it’s time to kick up some dust, time to throw a little sand. To borrow another twee sentiment: all evil requires is for good folks to stand by and do nothing. All sexism needs to thrive is for good people to do the same. Which is to say…

25. This Is Not A Time To Be Quiet

Those who resist these conversations often make a weak-boned play at having a point but it’s often frequently geared toward shutting the conversation down. You can feel the vibe — they don’t really want to debate the points so much as they just don’t want there to be a debate at all. Which is why this is precisely the time to have these debates. Change happens through noise, through wild gesticulations, though these kerfuffles both on the Internet and in meatspace. Like Delilah Dawson says: “Being quiet doesn’t get results.” So, this is not a time to be quiet. Strides are being made. So keep making them. Keep taking those steps. Keep waving your arms and pointing out bullshit when you see it. Nobody’s saying we’re going to get through this comfortably — but we’ll get through this long as we keep making noise.

311 responses to “25 Things To Know About Sexism & Misogyny In Writing & Publishing”

  1. To speak to your point 9—I’d go even further and say it’s not even enough to make sure that women are on panels and on staff for conventions. I think you need a person (or a few people, men and women) whose job it is to ask the kinds of questions you’re raising here. Women within an established system are just as susceptible to buying into its mentality as the men are. For example, why didn’t the women staffers of the man you cite slap him across the face, or maybe quit, when they are being talked to that way? Why aren’t women on panels pushing right back when men talk over their answers? They’re used to it. They’ve accepted it’s something they have to put up with. Also, you see enough women in chainmail bikinis, and then you start looking for some cosplay ideas … well, hey, who doesn’t want to be the chick who looks just as good as the (fake, airbrushed, totally not real) heroine on the covers of the books you love? There’s empowered sexuality, and then there’s willingly throwing yourself down the dark pit of objectification.
    Chuck, I love that you are thinking so hard about these issues, and that you’re sticking your neck out to address it. To address your intro concerns, this is one fan who just become even MORE likely to buy your books . (Big fan of Miriam Black.)

    • This whole discussion reminds me of a mainstream writer’s conference I went to about a year and a half ago, where I saw a panel of top agents talk about the fiction business. One of the agents was a slick, loud fellow that looked like he walked right out of an episode of “Entourage.” He was entertaining, but he did noticeably hog the spotlight to the point that another agent, a woman with one of the top agencies writers salivate over, couldn’t get in as much as I could see she probably should have. Overall the moderator did seem to try to combat this a bit, though, saving the session from total embarrassment.

      Which makes me ask, where the hell are some of the moderators during some of these panels I’ve been reading about? Some of the examples are rather stunning. Note to conference organizers: moderators should be at every panel, and they should not be shrinking violets.

    • It should be the moderator’s job to ask the questions no one else will, or the ones getting overlooked, and their job to steer things on track when one boisterous loudmouth hogs the floor, but the amount of times I’ve seen that happen are far outweighed by those where the moderator just lets it slide. And that just makes it suck all the more for both the other panelists and the people listening.

  2. Fabulous post. Ironically, the one thing I worried about with my debut cover was “WILL THEY MAKE IT TOO GIRLY” – since writing about a male ninja detective struck me as a bad place for the cover artist to go all hearts-and-flowers. Fortunately, my cover KICKS ASS – the artist paid attention to the book, not the author’s gender.

    I had a conversation with my publisher about whether to write as Susan Spann or as S.L. Spann (thereby disguising my gender). I thought I might need to “HIDE THE BOOBS” but fortunately my editor said “HELL no, Women rock the mystery genre. Be yourself.” I will always be grateful for that advice. Always. It’s funny, because I never spent much time worrying about gender bias – I’ve always been a “be too good for them to ignore and the gender doesn’t matter” sort of person. And yet, when the time actually came, even I had to pause to think whether it would be better to hide who I am in order to get half the population to take a chance on my writing. It was a wake up call, for sure.

    • Kind of the way it is for a guy going into writing romance. Quite a few have been required to…I guess since you said hide the boobs, I’ll use TUCK UNDER, and use a pseudonym. 😉 I took the name DJ Davis, but I’m not hiding the fact that I’m a male in bio and interviews and such. I don’t think it’s fair to the readers. In the end, I want to be picked up because I write good romance with believable characters, not because of gender. And it should be that way for everyone, regardless of gender, color, sexual orientation, etc.

      And a ninja detective sounds cool. Gonna have to go check that out. 😀

  3. […] My membership at the SFWA was approved – right in the middle of the absolute Chernobyl-level meltdown over the frothing misogyny displayed in the most recent Bulletin edition. Now, I’ll never see that edition (which I’m sorry to miss out on only because there was an article by the great Jim Hines in it), since my membership kicks in with copies now. But it was certainly an interesting experience to have already paid my dues money, but be unable to participate on the forums or speak as a member. The dust is settling now, and a number of absolutely wonderful responses and articles have already been written (the benefit of an incident happening in an organization of *writers*), many of which I already linked the crap out of on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I’ll restrict myself to linking to only two items of interest on this entry – the presidential statement by John Scalzi, which I think best exemplifies why I still really want to be involved in this organization, crazy glaring flaws and all, and Chuck Wendig’s marvelous blog post about sexism. […]

  4. Would you or anyone reading this be willing to post a tiny list of your favorite female authors? I’d love to round out the gender balance of my shelves. Lady authors who write hard science fiction especially appreciated.

    • Sure! Favorites of late and over time:

      Robin Hobb, Lauren Beukes, Mur Lafferty, Elizabeth Bear, Seanan McGuire, Toni Morrison, Poppy Z Brite, Gwenda Bond, Kim Curran, Maureen Johnson, Libba Bray, Cherie Priest, Erin Morgenstern —

      I’m sure I’m missing some, but that’s a damn fine list to start with.

      — c.

    • Off the top of my head, I’ve only read one female author who does Hard SF, and that’s Jean Johnson in her Theirs Not To Reason Why series. Started it this year and both books have been awesome. Although I should say that my definition of Hard SF is a bit skewed and I consider extremely detailed world-building and a fair explanation of how things work in a setting to be Hard SF as well.

      But anyway, a list of my favourite SFF female authors? I have a few I can recommend who I’ve read (and almost all have been reviewed as well):
      Sarah Cawkwell
      Teresa Frohock
      Courtney Schafer
      Jean Johnson
      Janny Wurts
      Margaret Weis
      Anne Lyle
      Aliette de Bodard
      Katy Stauber
      Juliet E. McKenna
      Stephanie Saulter
      Elspeth Cooper
      Jo Anderton
      Liesel Schwarz
      E. J. Swift
      Sarah Marques
      N. K. Jemisin
      Rachel Aaron
      Amanda Carlson
      Francis Knight
      Kate Elliott
      Helen Loywe
      Marsheila Rockwell
      Erin M. Evans
      Lou Morgan
      Martha Wells
      Cassandra R. Clarke
      Laura Lam
      Evie Manieri

      And I’ll point out that my to-read list of SFF female authors is at least 3 times as long as this 🙂

        • One of my favorite science fiction books of all time is “Oryx and Crake.” But I don’t think it counts as “hard” science fiction. Ursula LeGuin used sci-fi scenarios to write about social and political issues. Marge Piercy wrote a pretty heavy handed feminist sci-fi novel (“He, She, and It”). At the moment, they are the only women I can think of – or have heard of or read – who write science fiction. But categorically, I think their work would be considered “soft” because it isn’t about rocket ships or technology or viruses – oh, wait, but it is.

          What makes “hard” science fiction hard?

          • Generally it is the brand of SF novels that are heavy on the science, such as Greg Egan’s Orthogonal Rockets novels from NSB. Those even have actual illustrations of science charts mapping various variables like volume, heat etc and so on.

      • Women who write hard SF, among other things:

        Catherine Asaro (a former physicist whose brainstorming notes for one novel were published in a physics journal)
        Nancy Kress
        Chris Moriarity
        Lois McMaster Bujold (AJ, you might particularly enjoy “Falling Free,” with its welding engineer protagonist and extremely well-considered genetic engineering).

        Interestingly, Catherine Asaro also writes SF romance — with high-level math and physics.

    • Not meaning to be shamelessly self-promoting here. Still, if I don’t speak up at this stage in my writing career, I won’t get noticed. I’m not exactly well known yet, but I write hard SF/SF-mystery. I’m a member of SIGMA, and I spent my first career training astronauts and working payload mission control for Space Shuttle missions.

      Not all of my stories have strong women in them. But not all women are strong in real life. Hell, not all of my stories have HUMANS in them. I am working on my character diversity; I’m getting there, but I don’t want things to come off preachy so I’m conservative in my approach.

      And I’m loving not only the blog but the comments/conversations. I have had my own run-in with one of the guys in the Bulletin. This is a good discussion for our community to be having.

    • Sheri S. Tepper, Sharon Shinn and Martha Wells jump to mind, and I love to read any of their works.

  5. Excellent post. Re: kids playing. At kindergarten age kids haven’t learned that ‘boys are better than girls’ – if we start by not teaching them that, we’ll come a long way.

    Re: men participating. Go ahead, do it. Live it. You don’t have to be a feminist to speak up for equality. Actually you don’t have to be an -ist at all, as long as you believe all human beings have equal worth and equal rights, and treat them that way.

  6. Maybe I’m miswired but I find all this gratitude and praise a little depressing. I’m not even sure why. Possibly, upon analysis, it has something to do with the gap between the praise a male author receives for not being sexist and the books a female author (ok, yes, me, sorry) sells when those books try to swim against sexist tropes.

    But I’m feeling very discouraged today. Interesting post, I enjoyed reading it.

  7. I made someone’s list!

    My day, it has been made

    Awesome post, Chuck. I think I may love you (in a completely not hitting on you platonic kind of way 😀 )

    The initial assumption of some of the OWGs always boggles me. I need a penis to write good SFF? What do you guys do, hold your pen with it? Pfft. My best attack is, I think, to write the best books I can. They may never acknowledge them, but I’m fine with that, because I’m not writing for them.

    Addendum: I’d like to note that all the professional male SFF writers I’ve personally interacted with have been fantastic — charming, funny, encouraging and not dismissive, overbearing or any of that stuff. I wanted to say that because sometimes it gets lost in these sorts of conversations. Guys, you’re great.

  8. Sexism and misogny does not end with the big breasted bimbo or tight leather clad female heroine. Nor does it start or end with if she’s a strong female character its because she was raped/molested/beaten etc, et al.

    It starts with the fact that this has been NORMALIZED by tv, movies, magazines, ads.

    Sex sells, we hear it all the time. But percentage wise most of those advertisments are women draped over the car(usually barely dressed), not some beefcake.

    If you asked pretty much anyone what they think of Kathy Bates as an actress. You’d hear strong, good, excellent. Sexy is never part of the kudos granted her. Think Kathy Bates as a character would get raped in our “normalized” culture. Not freaking likely. Why….well she’s fat, and she’s old. Apparently people forget reading the news articles where some old 87 year old woman gets beaten and raped in a home invasion.

    Where’s the books where the heroine or strong female counterpart is not a size zero with boobs from here to there and legs to drool over. Fat chicks aren’t flunkies, they are strong, intelligent women….just like the skinny chicks.

    Why are there movie roles, and book roles for fat, old guys, but none for the same females.

    Finally why did it take until 2013 for there to be a female buddy cop flick. We think we have come such a long way…but the way women are written and percieved on film/tv we still haven’t gotten to far from the same arguments that were used for women to get the vote.

    Silence = concensus….its time to talk, and continue talking.

    • I think as the internet ripped away traditional marketing techniques, this has gotten worse. In response, the media says “sex sells,” but it’s always about displaying the hot chick as an object. I went to a book sale where a reader had donated a huge collection of urban fantasies. It was hard looking at them. Every single cover made the protagonist of the book into an object.

  9. I cannot express enough how much I wish my mother had lived to read this. She would have done the happy dance. I think you aced this on so many levels. I will be forcing all my young relatives to read this. Thank you. Can’t wait to see if this causes a ripple effect!

    • I thought that EXACT same thing, S. Leigh. My mother fought for equal pay and equal jobshare (she was a nurse, rather than a doctor “becuase women didn’t DO that.). She did that so that I didn’t have to even consider that it shouldn’t be so. She’d have LOVED this post.

      Thank you, Chuck. I just read this magnificence to my husband (while he did the dishes, because I cooked).

  10. Thanks Chuck (and by [gratifying] extension Ann and Delilah)… Good to see a topic I’ve already been seeing a lot of, but from a different perspective, this time as a writer instead of a gamer…

    You know what you get for being inspirational and provocative? You get an essay. That’s what you get. Maybe you’ll be a little less interesting next time.

    I realized on reading this that I am definitively (if unintentionally) “not part of the solution,” I immediately started running into the same barriers I have when addressing my feelings about sexism in gaming. In the world of writing I have the power of a particular adage that makes it easier to put into words:

    “Write what you know.”

    When it comes to women, I know so very little that simply writing dialog between a single woman and a voice recognition customer service telephone system becomes dangerously extruded collection of conjecture and guesswork.

    What I use every day to get by around the fairer softer pinker “other” gender is just a set of “working theories” on the WHY a woman does X or Y, all of my “game” (which I openly admit is not robust [but stubbornly insist is quality]) is in fact trickery, statistical analysis of reactions to stimuli, “there is a high likelihood that a girl will say this if I make statement A after asking questions B and C, provided I showered today,” “a woman will do this if I call her a girl, particularly if I didn’t shower today.” I ~amused~ by the knowledge that saying the right words at the right time can affect a woman’s perception of me as much as the length of her skirt can affect my perception of her, BUT, I in no way understand WHY that is. (I’ll touch on this later, but knowing you know nothing is quite a bit more than not knowing nothing).

    If I wrote what I knew, women would be range from the inspiration to the spine to the arm candy of the males in the story. Often times, that *is* exactly how I write them, certainly more often than I should if I’m trying to be enlightened.

    When I’m pushing myself, I have to extrapolate. Extrapolate is a nice way of saying “pull some wild ideas out of my ass.”

    And just stop before you say “take some time to get to know them”… just stop… if you are saying that, I expect I already know them better than you (unless you are one, in which case I expect you know ~us~ less than you think you do). I have known many amazing women, I have had the pleasure of getting to know a handful of them very very well. I can spend huge swaths of time listening to their motivations, if they are kind enough to share, and eventually “get” them. I can see why they made decision X, and I respect it, and appreciate the beauty of the individuality of it, even if those thoughts are completely unlike any I have ever had.

    And then, the very next day if asked the same question (from my perspective) is posed in a very similar way (from my perspective) and the path of her thinking and outcome of that concern can be wildly different, even opposite (from my perspective).

    And so I write as best as I can, and fill in the gaps with bits and pieces are going to come from my own desires. It feels like a fairly normal human thing, so I would guess that other people, including other writers (those that are human at any rate) do the same.

    And maybe this is where the issue lies: I want women to think I’m clever, interesting, desirable and worth spending effort to impress. When I write a female and find a hole in what I KNOW about women, I fill it with some degree of that, (which, if the character demands it, might be the ~antithesis~ of the that desire, but still ~based~ on my underlying fantasy superwoman).

    If I was concerned about my intelligence, my fantasy superwoman would have to be LESS intelligent.* If I am worried about how capable I am, my superwoman would be LESS so, so that she will respect me.

    Knowing less about women just makes MORE of the fantasy superwoman appear in the character. That I am *aware* of my limited knowledge of them, is valuable to me as well as the characters I write, (told you I would get back to that), and it leads to my proactively being able to randomize the bits of a character, so they don’t end up clones of my superwoman with different length skirts.

    Much as I want her to, she isn’t going to look at my ass when I walk by, and then remember it fondly later (roughly the same time that I am remembering hers).** I don’t want to write that character, and if I didn’t care as much about women as women, or didn’t know as much (er… as little?) about them that I do, that is who she would always be.

    The superwoman colors the male writer’s female characters, filling in the gaps that are unknown (or unknowable). If I were a universally self loathing author who knew even less about women, she would pretty much have to be a vacuous damsel with a nice ass.

    I think Ann and Delilah mentioned that they met that author… once or twice.


    The problem only gets more abstract… EVERYTHING I just wrote is overtly sexist. The only option I have that averts that is to write characters genderless, and then assign them gender’s arbitrarily at the end of the book.***

    boringest. book. ever. ****

    That doesn’t HELP, because I’m still not writing about women. I’m not going to “write about people because we’re all the same,” because we AREN’T all the same.

    I stared down, one spring morning and saw the face of my son look up from where he lay on his mother’s belly and I was changed, forever. It would be a grotesque insult to women throughout all of time and space to say my experience was equal in emotional value or formative impact as the one my wife had, giving birth to him, several minutes earlier.

    Until I “know women” I will guess, and I hope I guess close enough not to ruin the story for the audience. As I create female characters who are written wrong, I hope at least that they are written ~good~, and that whatever image of my superwoman comes through is something that is not an insult to the gender I will always try to view as “fairer” even if I don’t feel ok saying it anymore.

    *As it stands, my female characters are generally very smart… not because I am a champion of positive female role models, but because I find smart women sexy as fuck.

    **UNLESS of course, she does, which is more about me being wrong about women than her looking at my butt.

    ***I’d use a d20, 2-10 vagina, 11-19 penis. Criticals could be transgendered, but I wouldn’t explain that.

    **** as an aside [yeah, like I need more words in this] I find it mindboggling and stupid that male writers exist who are telling female writers they shouldn’t write sexy… w. t. f. … seriously. Sexy stories in space is the reason I know what sci-fi and fantasy is. That isn’t sexist, it’s stupid, and as a probable sexist, I want to go on record saying that isn’t how we all feel.

    • Yeah, what Sara Davies said. Women aren’t exotic, unknowable creatures, we’re just people. If you attribute a range of behaviours and emotions to men, those same behaviours and emotions can be applied to women. Just like men, women are different from each other. If you approach writing women like some difficult exercise, like you’re writing blind, then you fail to recognise the humanity inherent in each and every woman. We have a shared experience of being human. Yes, women do experience some things differently to men, but that’s where it’s good to have a few women to beta read your work and point out if something rings false to them. Find the similarities, and it will make the differences easier to write.

      • To quote Ann, quoting Lauren Dane, “If I want to feel bad about myself, I’ll go swimsuit shopping.”

        This is a common-but-not-universally shared experience among women. I can see it and read it and understand what it means, but not “get” it entirely.

        She either shared that because she is a woman, and that experience is something she knows will resonate like her… or she is a person, and she felt obligated by some societal rule that indicates she is supposed to say a “girl thing” at that point.

        While I suspect the former, I have heard plenty of comments where women did something “girly” because it was expected of them.

        Either way… it is rare (but presumably occasionally shared) experience to men. It isn’t something most of us experience, though it is easily paralleled by our own experiences, so we still “get” it. It is colour and flavor.

        It is also sexist, but not misogynistic. It shouldn’t be wrong, because it is real, but comments here are indicating that writing women as identifiable is offensive.

      • *…but that’s where it’s good to have a few women to beta read your work and point out if something rings false to them.*

        That’s why I write my romance as DJ Davis. My wife (the J in DJ) gets to read (well, listen to as I read it…it’s more fun that way 😉 ) everything I write so she can tell me when I’m doing something stupid. 😉

    • Do you ever write characters who’re from a different socioeconomic status than you are/ever have been? How about ones who hail from parts of the world you’ve never been to? Ones who have disabilities that you’ve never experienced? If you can do any one of those in a halfway-decent manner, you’re already set up to write at least halfway-decent characters of genders other than your own (female, genderqueer, neutral, any of the Dirdir gender-roles… take your pick). The process of figuring out how to do so is basically the same for all of the above categories.

      If you haven’t done any of them? Broaden your horizons, dude. There’s a whole world out there!

      • I do it all the time… my concern was never “Can I write X” but “Can I write X in a way that is deeply relate-able.”

        I have the same concerns when I’m writing Swedes or Muslims. “Is this character going to be believable to the audience who shares that categorization.”

        I get annoyed when my classes (nerds, fathers, men, bald guys, etc) are written badly or in a careless way, as though the author didn’t think about their motivations, or research the technicalities. Sure, we’re all individuals, but there are patterns we tend follow, Individuality are the variations on the pattern, if the pattern is ALL variation, the character stops being relate-able.

        Given that, apparently, females as a class are not distinct, I’m doing it right already in the eyes of all the responses I’ve seen.

  11. “Hard” science fiction is usually filled with lots of extensions to current scientific thinking and discovery. A primary example is “Dragon’s Egg” by. R.L. Forward. C.J. Cherryh’s “Downbelow Station” with its emphasis on the physical ramifications of “jump travel” might qualify too. In fact, Cherryh a solidly good “female SF author” who should be on a lot of lists for reading. Her work is some of the finest SF I’ve ever encountered.

    And thought-provoking discussion indeed.

  12. Chuck, thank you from the bottom of my heart for this. I have never been in the position of Anne and Delilah (probably because I’ve never published a whole book), but I can imagine what my response would be. I like to think of myself as a strong woman, the kind of woman that cuts people with my words when they try to talk over me, or marginalize me. But, in the face of people I respect or think are more amazing than me, I’m not sure that I could. So by talking about this, you empower people like me, and Anne and Delilah and anyone else to make sure the conversations keep going. Yay!!!

  13. Wow. Seriously? Dude. I think you’re over-thinking it. Women are just people. There is nothing to KNOW or figure out about women that you don’t know about being human. There are no great mysteries about WHY a woman does anything – no more than why YOU do anything.This is not calculus. Being a woman is not about clothes or sex. And yes, if you have a memorable ass, women will look at your ass and remember it. Why would anyone want ANYONE to WORK to impress them – ever? I’d rather be with people who are comfortable with me being exactly who I am. It’s not about roles. The most sexist thing about your comment is your shocking assumption that women are mysterious creatures who live on a different and unknowable planet. That is truly bizarre.

    God, I am so glad I married a “metrosexual” anti-macho person who rejects the kind of male cultural arena where someone is always trying to be top dog. Muscle entitlement. Abuse as affection. Trips to Hooters. Strange ideas that women are somehow inherently “different,” or that male perspectives have greater validity. Equally glad I don’t feel compelled to wear make-up, get my hair “done” every month, shave my legs, or act twirly, breathy, and ditzy because it’s supposed to be cute. Glad I am not burdened by the instruction to be “polite” when people treat me like crap. Glad I come from a culture where women are allowed, encouraged, and expected to think. Glad I was brought up to never consider for two seconds letting a man support me financially. Glad I don’t view sex as a transaction for something else. Glad I don’t care in the slightest if random ignorant strangers call me a dyke and a bitch. Etc.

    • We are… potentially more than anything else… the product of our experiences. A young man is raped by the boys on the football team as part of a grotesque hazing, a young woman serving in Afghanistan sees her best friends vaporized by an IED. A few minutes out of each of their lives, and they will be permanently coloured… saying “I can understand what that was like” becomes a grave insult for good reason, because we really can’t. We can try, we can imagine… but that is an experience we didn’t have.

      For a decade, nearly every boy on the planet has a singular thought, it drives and motivates everything. He learns to contain it as best he can, he takes his cues from society, and figures out how to manage what yanks him around by his belt.

      Every month… from the time nearly every woman is a girl, her body assaults her. Her strength, determination, mood, energy and direction are at best turned and at worst yanked violently in different arcs.

      A few minutes of intensity we accept as a life experience that is both powerful and incomparable, but a biological pattern that nearly all of us experience that has tremendous impact on our day to day lives when it is upon us… is what? Irrelevant? Not enough to colour our characters personalities?

      I think acting like our biology doesn’t affect us enough to differentiate our personalities a little is bordering on insulting to both our genders…

      • I think you’re giving Aunt Flo too much credit, pal. It happens; we’ve found ways to deal with it without it affecting us in powerful and incomparable ways (even though some women do suffer medically with it).

        Do you know what it’s like to have cramps? Do I know what it’s like to get kicked in the nuts? No. But not having those shared experiences doesn’t mean that we can’t possibly fathom how the opposite sex might feel about something fairly universal, and it also doesn’t mean we respond differently to things BECAUSE YOU’RE A MAN AND I’M A WOMAN. If we respond differently it’ll be because we’re TWO DIFFERENT PEOPLE–just like my female friend and I might respond differently to something even though we both have periods, just like you and another man might respond differently to something despite both getting wood.

        Being a woman means I have girl parts and girl-things sometimes happen to me; it doesn’t define who I am as a person; it doesn’t color every single choice I make and every single feeling I have. I don’t like radishes–it’s not because of some deep, mystical, incomprehensible-to-men secret power radiating from my boobs; it’s for the same reason a dude might not like radishes–because they’re bitter.

        It’s not rocket science: You acknowledge there are differences between men and women but they’re not qualitative differences and you don’t use them as an excuse to assign a value to gender. You don’t assume that “being a woman” means I make decisions or have feelings or develop interests that are based solely on my being a woman rather than on the same kinds of criteria you and every other human on the planet use.

        Do I experience things that you never will? Yes. But that’s true of every person compared to another, man or woman. There are differences between our genders that mean we lack a few shared experiences, but there are many, many more things that we experience equally. We actually do live our day-to-day lives in pretty much the same way, dealing with a lot of the same minutia and aggravations and dreams and terrors and joys—and that being the much larger part should make it easy enough to identify with one another, despite the extra body parts.

        I have experiences unique to being a woman, but these are not my only experiences. I have the experience of being human, and so do you. Ask yourself how you would react to something. If the answer has nothing to do with your man parts, then chances are good there’s a woman out there who would react the same way.

        • I just reread this. Not sure why I didn’t comment before, but I’m glad I didn’t. I didn’t make proper sense of it until the reread.

          Thank you for saying there are shared female experiences, I was losing my mind with the “we’re all the same” line of response. I know we’re all human.

          There have been several studies that show men clearly get impaired in the presence of a woman. Any heterosexual man, of any age. The presence of a woman damages our capacity to think.

          I knew this before any study was written, I know men from the inside. I know there are some men who DON’T do this of course, but I can never write about one and no one would think it unusual.

          I have never written a character that was directly affected by this, but every one is coloured by this somewhere in the back of my mind.

          Women have no such analogue to my knowledge. To suggest women follow a pattern of any kind is offensive.

        • In other words, events that cause men pain like death or taxes, cause women pain too. When someone close to us dies we cry about it. When someone says something funny we laugh. One of my best friends is a woman who loves football, knitting and celebrity gossip. She didn’t use her mysterious gender to choose these particular interests. My brother likes cooking, monster trucks and his dog. None of these interests were chosen by his gender. I like comic books, drawing and clothes shopping. Can you tell from my interests that I’m a man or woman? My gender had nothing to do with having these interests.My monthlies definitely were not involved.

          Dude! You are seriously overthimking this. If its something that hurts you it would probably hurt us. If it makes you laugh,, it might make us laugh too.Things you think are pretty (a sunset) or dangerous (a snake) or just plug ugly ( Donald Trump), we have the same feelings. Our gender doesn’t cause us to hate brussell sprouts or love shiny cars or have an addiction to hair gel or shoes. Just write people. Its not an equation in quantum physics. We’re just people.

      • But it doesn’t differentiate personalities in any kind of predictable or similar ways. It may not have any impact at all. It is functionally irrelevant in writing a character unless you choose to make it relevant.

        Also, I think you’re overestimating the ‘tremendous impact’ menstruation has on most women’s lives.

        • Sigh… no one is gonna throw me a bone on this one eh… ok…

          But YES… you are absolutely right… it isn’t relevant unless I choose to make it so.

          I just want to say I would appreciate not writing male characters like females, and then changing their pronouns. I don’t think we’re better, quite the opposite in most ways, but I do think we deserve to be viewed as distinct.

      • Are you seriuously trying to say that because you’re not a woman you can’t write one? Women authors write male characters all the time. Some are better at it than others, but it happens. You’re looking at obstacles not to rather than reasons to write those characters.

        • Dear god no… sorry for any confusion there.

          I was trying to point out that not knowing what sparks your hearts fire makes writing believable and relatable female cores difficult.

          From what I’m gleaning, you (as a class) don’t seem to want to be distinct in any way, basically the statement I keep hearing is “We aren’t special, you aren’t special, just write a character and give it a vagina.”

          Not at all what I expected, and about the least compelling argument I’ve ever heard for writing female characters.

          • I read the entire thread up until this point, and although I’m late to the party, I wanted to chime in here because the content of this particular response seems potentially representative to me of the issue.

            For the record, I understand what you’re saying with your initial post: people have ‘flavors.’ They have unique qualities which, when combined together, produce a feeling or a mood, and this is rarely more important to establish precisley than in fiction. I get you there, man, and it’s absolutely admirable for someone in the act of creation to look at themselves, their frame of reference, and acknowledge that they don’t necessarily know what makes someone tick well enough to represent it. You want to make accurate cuts of the chisel. It’s cool. It’s a start. Your heart is in the right place.

            I think the sexism comes in at the point at which you’re dissatisfied with hearing that the essence of womanhood is not, for the most part, what women want you to focus on. Hear me out.

            To paraphrase your previous post: you’re hearing that women are just like men with ladyparts on, and this is the least compelling argument to write female characters that you’ve ever heard.

            I think this really acutely sums up the problem. I want to respond to it with a question:

          • (pt 2/3)

            Do you ever need compelling arguments to write male characters?

            Hazarding a guess here, I’m going to assume the answer is ‘no.’ You probably need compelling arguments to write *characters,* sure. They should be interesting people, or at least boring people thrust into interesting circumstances, but, in general, I’m going to assume that what your post means is that you know right out of the gates that you’re going to write male characters. It’s a default setting.

            More than that, it sounds as though female characters then need some kind of additional thing going for them that male characters don’t. The women in this thread have said: fly and be free, my friend; write as as you would write yon beefydude, and have a girlfriend check yo work.’ Instead of being immediately freeing to you — holy shitballs I can write women into my book the way I’d write any other character, happy day — this is seen as, what, boring? Lackluster? But it’s good enough for the male characters — why isn’t it good enough for us?

            I don’t want this to sound personally accusatory. I could be wrong. What I know, though, is that a lot of men tend to approach writing women this way. It’s flattering that they’re so fascinated with the essence of womanhood, but they tend to overlook the way in which we’re 99% people cobbled together from the significant sums of our experiences, products of our cultures, our upbringings and educations, our memories, our fears. They shoot straight past that stuff and try to capture the Essence of Womanhood. And that’s how you wind up with women in books whose personalities are basically foils for male characters, and little else. (cont)

          • (3/3)

            Here’s another good reason not to go about things that way: there isn’t any broad, sweeping definition of womanhood. Woman A might be old-fashioned and feel that graciousness, pearls, and Hepburn-esque manners are important to her sense of femininity; Woman B might feel very strongly that her eyeballs will pop and Lost Ark Nazi face-melt out of her skull if she so much as TOUCHES something pink or lets a man pay for ANYthing of hers, and that this is her best contribution to womanhood. Neither of them would be wrong.

            So, think of it as being somewhat counterintuitive: by trying to capture the Essence of Womanhood and make that the core of a female character, you are actually making her LESS relatable to women. I spend approximately zero hours a day thinking about my gender essence, dude. I spend basically all of it thinking about what video game I want to play or about all of the words I didn’t get into Scrivener, or the friends I meant to get in touch with, or my cat getting fat, or what I’m making for dinner, or whether or not the car needs gas — you know?

            Until you can get that part down — until you can make Women As Just People interesting on their own merits, and don’t need a compelling reason to write them that way anymore — we might prefer that you ease back on the essence of womanhood thing.

            And good luck!

          • Thank you, Sophistre, that was a brilliant and worthy response. I truly appreciate that you found the intent of what I was saying, as well as your thoughtful response.

            I’m not opposed to female characters, I already write a good 30-50% of my characters as such… but I write them because women exist and it would be weird not to write half the people in my stories as women, and also because they motivate men to behave in ways I understand. I would like to be inspired to write them because the represent a different perspective, or could carry story elements in a different way.

            But therein lies the rub…

            “I spend basically all of it thinking about what video game I want to play or about all of the words I didn’t get into Scrivener, or the friends I meant to get in touch with, or my cat getting fat, or what I’m making for dinner, or whether or not the car needs gas — you know?”

            …that is exceptional, and wonderfully similar to my day, with notable exception:

            I spend basically all of it thinking about what video game I want to play and boobs or about all of the words I didn’t get into Scrivener and that skirt that just walked by and wishing I had seen the owners face better, or the friends I meant to get in touch with or just touch, or my cat getting fat and an excuse to flirt with his vet, or what I’m making for dinner and if it will lead to anything, or whether or not the car needs gas and boobs.

            And I’m a forty year old married father.

            When I was in my 20s and 30s, (like a good portion of my characters)? Forgetaboutit. Its a damned wonder I could walk down the street without absent mindedly walking into traffic while thinking about a smile or an ankle that I had just glimpsed.

            Women may desperately not want to be viewed as special, but there are forces at work we don’t have control over entirely. We (most of us) view you as our reason for doing ANYTHING AT ALL. I think we grow out of obsessively trying to impress women but the roads we started down become part of who we are, and form our spine; make a lot of money, compete with our peers, drive a nice car, own a nice home, be a dependable trustworthy mate and father, defeat or impress our own fathers, be a noble warrior or inspiring philosopher…

            Classic jokes about men and being led around by their gear are certainly sexist… but for a damned good reason. And yes, I know that is a generalization as well… it is only ever “most” of us… sure, it may not be inclusive, but that is my audience ultimately… “most”. Even the ones that don’t fit into the “most” category at least GET and RELATE the reference (says the guy who would rather eat lead paint than watch sports on TV).

            If I’m going to write a female lead that ISN’T an sexually predatory lesbian, I want to be able to hit “most”… and I don’t know how to do that without clinging to the sexist notions of a woman’s motivations, particularly when I’m told they are “the same” which I am absolutely positive they are not.

            I don’t write a male exclusively about his drive to conquest, but I recognize WHY he pushes his female team-mate out of the way before trying to save his male team-mate. I don’t need to say “he pushed the woman out of the way first because he was raised to respect them by his mother, and to protect them by his father, and on some subconscious level wanted to see her boobs, even though he knew he would never actually pursue that (probably)”… instead, I just write “he pushed her out of the way first” and it is believable because I know the character, and because, reflexively, “most” people already know how those motivations work for “most” men.

            What would he do as a woman? Save her male partner first for similar reasons? Or her female partner out of solidarity? Maybe she thinks everyone is the same and has the same chance of saving themselves as she does, so she jumps clear and leaves her partners to their own.

            I could write the male version to do any of those things, but I would have to explain them, either in the moment or in earlier character development, so that they would work…

            What would the female version do that wouldn’t need explaining?

            If there IS no “default”… then THAT becomes the difference, that a female character, free from those penis based core motivations, has to ALWAYS be explained… that is fine, but it IS a difference.

          • OhkaBaka: There seems to be a maximum reply depth, so I’m commenting here rather than on your post at 11:00 on the 18th.

            It sounds to me like you’re leaning on present-day Western culture for the guy’s (re)actions, and assuming they’re the default. The male character’s background and assumptions need to be explained, too, and I expect you do that in ways you (and most likely your readers) are so used to seeing that they barely register.

          • v_lhhw, I couldn’t agree more.

            Whether the motivation is from a biological drive or a cultural is irrelevant… it is the motivation itself I’m looking for.

            I would be curious to know if there are any cultures where males are not traditionally hunter/provider/protectors, and where the reality of physically invading females to procreate has not had a pronounced effect on their society.

            I don’t think it exists… but I’m open to the possibility I am a sociology junky though, and would be eager to find examples (like the Bonobo among primates, which are as close as I have ever seen to this)…

          • OhkaBaka: Argh on the comment depth! I am not a writer but no one followed-on this, so I go with my experience as a woman who is motivated by stuff. And someone who reads stuff. Not always / generally SF/F, but sometimes.

            You said:

            I don’t write a male exclusively about his drive to conquest, but I recognize WHY he pushes his female team-mate out of the way before trying to save his male team-mate. I don’t need to say “he pushed the woman out of the way first because he was raised to respect them by his mother, and to protect them by his father, and on some subconscious level wanted to see her boobs, even though he knew he would never actually pursue that (probably)”… instead, I just write “he pushed her out of the way first” and it is believable because I know the character, and because, reflexively, “most” people already know how those motivations work for “most” men.

            // My response – actually it would make more sense to me if you DID explain that. I would assume he did it either because she is closer, or he is a jerk and thinks pushing is OK, or his patriarchy is showing, but it would be cool to see the thought process. I would be super disturbed to know he was unconsciously doing it to see her boob. But I also know not all men (and I am not convinced it is most men, I would love links to those studies, but I think I have a better time dealing with life if I assume most men are not all thinking about having sex with me, which is really really really upsetting to me, even though I can’t control it, and really who am I to say what other people can fantasize about, so I just try not to think about it) are so driven by boobs. In general my experience of talking to men and reading male characters is the stuff I don’t understand or agree with in their thought processes is not in general because they are male – it’s because their values are different, or they have internalized patriarchal values which women also do and changes everyone’s behavior, including mine, or they think differently than I do in ways another woman could also easily think differently than I do.

            You said:

            What would he do as a woman? Save her male partner first for similar reasons? Or her female partner out of solidarity? Maybe she thinks everyone is the same and has the same chance of saving themselves as she does, so she jumps clear and leaves her partners to their own.
            I could write the male version to do any of those things, but I would have to explain them, either in the moment or in earlier character development, so that they would work…

            // My response – any of these are reasonable. I’m not sure you would have to explain it unless it was obviously a decision she struggled to make. Also you could establish which of those decisions she would make based on other things she’s done or ways she’s thought and just keep her consistent. She may also just save whomever she thinks she’s likelier to be able to save. Or save the more proximal one and then attempt to save the one further away, which I think is the same as the original man but for a different reason.

            You said:

            What would the female version do that wouldn’t need explaining?
            If there IS no “default”… then THAT becomes the difference, that a female character, free from those penis based core motivations, has to ALWAYS be explained… that is fine, but it IS a difference.

            // My response – if it is consistent with the other ways in which she behaves, it would not need an explanation.

            If you had one woman say that her thoughts throughout the day are pretty much like yours less the boobs, then you could probably write a woman the same way (less the boob motivation) and be fine. Many men are in general I think motivated for lots of stuff for reasons other than boobs, so you could also talk to some of them about that to get a better handle on writing that kind of male character, Some other things that might motivate her: money, friendship, compassion for others, sex, family, honor, justice, all that is right and good in the world, avarice …

          • @kathblair It is months later… but THANK YOU… that was a fantastic response, and I believe the first one that actually answered the question, and I deeply appreciate it.

            Context is everything, isn’t it… my scenario was ambiguously terse:

            “shoved her out of the way” meaning “saving her first” not “because she was in the way and he was just a dick”

            …I would expect NO ONE to understand why he would casually shove a teammate of either gender. I would expect them to understand why he would reflexively ~save~ the female first.

            “I assume most men are not all thinking about having sex with me, which is really really really upsetting to me, even though I can’t control it, and really who am I to say what other people can fantasize about, so I just try not to think about it”

            This is epic and genuine, and I appreciate your candor and familiarity. I feel like a dick continuing to talk on the subject at all, I am genuinely upset that you are negatively affected by this, it bothers me to make you or any other woman feel uncomfortable.

            …but that is genuinely sexist, as I would have no such hesitation if you were male, so I’ll get past it.

            It is almost certainly true that “men are not all thinking about having sex with me,” but that is also misleading.

            I’m not sure how I can explain it exactly, I expect it is something like our heartbeat. We ~can~ feel it, but we don’t, it is just a thing that is intrinsic to us. We can choose to be aware of it. We can actively think about it without feeling it. We would notice if it wasn’t there. We can’t stop it, no matter how we feel or think about it.

            I feel it is the same with male sexuality: We don’t have to actively think about a woman to have thought about her, we won’t necessarily even remember doing it.

            We might never ~think~ “that woman would be an asset to rebuilding the race after the zombie apocalypse” when making the decision to catch her arm before she accidentally steps in front of a bus. We don’t even have to look at her: the sound of her stride, the smell of her, or the shape of her profile in our peripheral vision… our brains react sexually even if they aren’t thinking at all (buh-dump-bump). I would hope I would catch the arm of ~anyone~ stepping in front of a bus, but I am certain the likelihood I would notice and react in time to a female versus a male in the same situation is much higher.

            “Look! I’ll save the girl and then I’ll be a hero and she’ll think I’m awesome and then she will get naked and I will get to make a baby with her! I’ll save her because I want to have SEX with her” is WILDLY exaggerated… it isn’t that (in most of us, dear god I hope it isn’t like that for ANY of us, but I’m quite certain there is at least one), it isn’t so complex as that… but the core motivation, stripped of everything but the biology behind it, is, well… exactly that.

            Another stand up comedy staple in the funny-because-its-true-stop-thinking-about-it comes to mind: “women don’t want to know what men are thinking”

            Your being uncomfortable about being viewed sexually really sucks. Pulled by both the man children who give you a reason to be uncomfortable, and the sympathetic males who their own reality rather trying to provide masculine positive examples of why you don’t need to be, it is no wonder.

            I believe you don’t ~want~ to know what we’re thinking… honestly ~I~ don’t really want you to know… but you probably ~should~ know.

            Why do you think fathers want to shoot their daughters dates first, and ask them about their intentions later. We already know their intentions… that is why we want to shoot them. When we seem to be “cool” with the boys dating our daughters, we are either accepting the inevitable, and we are trying to assess if the path they take to achieve their intentions is worthy… OR… we are in that same “it makes me uncomfortable to think about it” state of denial.

            How many thousands of girls would be spared from tragic experiences great and small if they were aware of what is going on behind our eyes? How much better would men have to be if there was no wool to pull over your eyes?

            Hearing that this guy ALREADY put you one of several lists in his subconscious is horribly creepy and uncomfortable, but ~knowing~ that… knowing that NO MATTER WHAT, you are on that list, allows you to look at him without that huge “question” clouding the interaction. Yes. The answer is yes. Now, what ELSE about this fellow can you see without that in the way.

            In context to the horrible way our female sci-fi and fantasy authors are treated… just how loud is that loudmouth going to be if he knows she already knows what he wants to do with her. Just how pathetic is he going to look if he talks shit anyway.


            Who would a woman save first? All of your responses are thoughtful. I would happily write any such motivation for either gender, but that may reveal the error of my scenario, as with the lady and the bus scenario… what would she do if she WASN’T thinking about it?

            But if there is no pattern in women? That seems as foreign to me as it does to you that yes, he just just thinking about your boobs is to you, hence my original query.

            “My response – if it is consistent with the other ways in which she behaves, it would not need an explanation.”

            I totally agree… my original argument was that there are gender based differences in our behaviour… which was nigh-universally denounced. However I believe that males DO behave uniquely based on our sexual drive… if women do not have this shared motivation, then that ~lack~ of doing what their penis tells them to do ~is~ the difference in behaviour.


            “Many men are in general I think motivated for lots of stuff for reasons other than boobs, so you could also talk to some of them about that to get a better handle on writing that kind of male character.”

            lol… I understand my arguments have been very specific and at times (intentionally) myopic, so I’ll take responsibility for setting myself up for that barb.

            I tried to say, but I may not have been clear… you don’t SEE the sexual motivation in my male characters.

            For many years, many years ago, I was the guy in my earlier comment. I denounced my maleness, my reactions to the curve of a woman’s spine, my inability to keep my head pointed away from a delightfully short skirt. I acted like they weren’t there. I acted like every other guy who acts that way.

            This thread is one of those times I remember who I was then (and who I was trying to be). I might see some guy stare a moment to long and I scoff and give myself a gold star for not staring, for not even noticing. See me being all evolved, I’m special because I’m not a base neanderthal meathead.

            Along the way, I start talking to men and women, and when no one else is around and the game is taken off the table for a moment, everyone’s story changes. Everyone’s. The assumption that I speak this way because I HAVEN’T spoken to other people is the opposite of my reality.

            This isn’t to say we can’t be motivated by what women are motivated by. If we aren’t? Well that is really just gross and disappointing, worse than the stories we want to think about. We are best when we work out what to do BETWEEN thinking about boobs, but saying we ~aren’t~ doing it because we have other motivations as well is a fundamental misunderstanding about our gender.

            This is an interesting article about the cognitive impairment study I think I mentioned before… This one actually includes a follow-up that took it further and removed the actual interaction with a female out (just ~thinking~ they were interacting with a female caused their brains to break)… It isn’t flattering (at all)… but it is really cool (in an awkwardly romantic, huminz iz neet, male pride even-if-it-makes-you-look-stupid sort of way).


    • Completely agree, Sara. Different body parts and chromosomes doesn’t make us all that different, when it’s all said and done. I don’t understand the propensity to think of women as some alien creature no one will ever understand. Women are people. We all have the same general beliefs, the same ups, the same downs, the same insecurities, the same joys, the same sadness. And everyone, women and men, express them in different ways. It’s not that hard to understand the opposite sex. The first step is understanding yourself (and I’m using the “you” in the general sense from here on out). Heck, even I’m insecure about the way *I* look in a swimsuit. And speedo? Just forget that right there! No, really, forget it before it becomes an off putting visual that sets you off your lunch. I was always one of those supposedly rare, sensitive guys. It’s one of the reasons my wife is with me in the first place (that and I’m a durn good cook…and for some reason, which I thank every god that ever existed, she finds me sexy…go figure). Probably also why when she suggested I write romance, I took to it quickly. Writing is all about putting yourself into another person’s proverbial shoes. It’s about exploring your own psyche and finding those feelings and putting them on the page. I find it bizarre when writers say they can’t write about something because they could never understand it or it’s never happened to them. I’ve never been a dragon, or a serial killer, or a zombie private eye, but I can look into those places within myself to find those feelings and the what ifs that are part and parcel to what true character writing is all about, not to mention understanding your fellow human being. That, and I’m observant and have some level of empathy.

      Sorry if this seems rambling and incoherent. Just wanted to put it out there and say I agree 100%.

      • I’m done trying to find a spark in the gender… I’m a romantic, I want women to want to be special because of their woman hood… but that offends them…

        …but… devils advocate that I am… when was the last time you went speedo shopping?

        Also… when Dragons start reading my work… you can be DAMNED SURE I will be concerned about getting THAT right as well…

        (I don’t find odd that I am concerned about my characters being believable)

        Thanks for the share…

  14. I love that women and men are becoming aware that shit still sucks for women. And women are pissed off. Women have kept a lot of secret hurts to themselves. Now it’s ok to finally vocalize that hurt. To scream and be fucking pissed off at the state of things. I’m tired of women who are wronged who just fold in on themselves. The male voice on a woman is the new black, the new bitch, and the new everything. Oh this is what it’s like to be able to say anything we want and not give 2 shits? Guys have had it good.

    • I agree with you. “Society” in general have NORMALIZED a lot of the more horrible things that occur to women.

      When “society” doesn’t stand up and go WTF when a statement of 1 out of EVERY 4 women by the age of 21 has been SEXUALLY assaulted (verbally/physically/mentally) we need to take a second look at why there isn’t any outrage. That means that take a look at just your family, one of the women you know and love has been disrespected in a manner that should be intolerable, and most of those women haven’t told ANYBODY.

  15. Hey Chuck, thanks for much for writing so many posts on sexism in publishing. The situation feels less hopeless when people like you don’t just throw out a “oh and these weird humans with tits exist too” PSAs once a year. You give a shit and take the time to craft arguments worth reading.

    One thing I noticed in my own writing is that my characters always start out as pasty white dudes. It’s my default, even as a female writer. We could go into the “oh wow that’s your default?!” bit for ages, but I found a solution recently. White a character in default mode: this makes them interesting and compelling. Then switch it up by making them gay or Asian or adding tits (or all three!), but change as little from the default as possible. They maintain the interesting backstory, hobbies, and skillset as before. Maybe some of your readers would find that method helpful?

    Anyway. Thanks again, dude. I loved “Unclean Spirits,” and I’m getting “Blue Blazes” next month. Keep up the awesome.

  16. You have many excellent points, here. I come from a game development background, where the sexism is even more rampant in many cases. It’s a cop-out to say that “Well, there will always just be those jerks who just don’t get it,” but we do need some way to mitigate their effect. This discussion is an important one, with a potential massive effect on the future of writing and publication.

  17. I have a mother, a sister, nieces, all of them smart as a whip. The quickest way to make me your enemy is to harm or insult them. That being said I’m not about to try to restructure all of society just so they never get their feelings hurt. I’d make more efficient use of my time by going out in the world and trying to cover all the sharp corners and edges in bubble wrap.

    I don’t like rude people, and neither do the women in my life. When I or they encounter it we deal with it, much to the sorrow of the schmuck who went out of their way to give offense. But like the poor, dicks and bitches (or if you prefer the more gender neutral term, “assholes”) will always be with us. You can have freedom of speech or you can make it so you are never offended, but you can’t have both. Enjoying the first amendment means you have to sometimes put up with insufferable D-bags who make you want to pull your hair out when they run their mouths. That’s because, whether you know it or not, sometimes you ARE the insufferable D-bag and the stuff coming out of your mouth is making someone else want to pull their hair out. I put up with you, you put up with me.

    Besides, the truth is I’ve learned the most from people who have outraged me, if for no other reason than I felt compelled to do the research and thinking necessary to correct them. Hell, sometimes it even turns out they are right. People who do nothing but spout happy, reassuring pap tend to be the most boring creatures on the planet.

    The Soviets wanted to make everyone equal and get rid of all the bosses. Sounded great, but it turns out that it’s in human nature to want to own stuff and do business with people as you see fit. That means that some are going to be richer than others, because different people are different when it comes to motivation and desire for wealth. The only way they could come close to their workers paradise was by being the worst sort of totalitarians, killing, starving, and imprisoning countless millions. And even then it didn’t last a century. I wonder what kind of totalitarian mess it would require to make a world that banished assholish behavior, unapproved opinions, and unwanted pick up attempts.

    As much as I dislike jerks or someone making a blatantly sexist remark, all of this smacks of a clumsy sort of neo-Victorianism, full of finger waging scolds but with none of the virtues. What kind of Progessivism is it that does everything in its power to constrain? I tend to dislike Nietzsche, but the whole men (and now women) without chests is starting to seem a little more appropriate.

    • Attempting to balance the scales within this industry — or, frankly, outside of it — and helping to ensure that women have an environment where they get the same opportunities (and one of those opportunities is *not* “get raped”) is nowhere near the same thing as “restructuring society” so nobody gets their “feelings hurt.”

      C’mon, son.

      — c.

      • Sorry. Thought we were talking about sexist remarks and ‘words that make me angry’, not rape. In my book they’re two different things. I’m a huge fan of civilization. Purposely being a sexist – or racist …ect -jerk shows you’re most likely a smelly barbarian and your parents failed to properly civilize you. Such people deserve a good slap, while actual physical – sexual assaults should get you locked in a cage and left for the animals and bugs.

        I guess I don’t know how else to say it. Yes, boorish behavior is awful, and deserves a proper response. Yet so much of this current… whatever it is, feels to me like something from Portlandia come to life. Or maybe some oh so serious campus diversity and anti-sexism seminar that’s somehow wandered into real life. A little too much pounding of the chest and tearing of garments. A little too much self important finger wagging and clucking of the tongue. A little too much male guilt/middle class white people’s problem.

        • The fact that it’s the “feel” that gets you about this might give you a hint about the lack of rational basis for your discomfit. Your suggestion that the gender politics of the white middle class shouldn’t be of interest to people from that class is absurd, and the rest has just devolved into a tone argument. Should I name a sitcom you remind me of?

    • “You can have freedom of speech or you can make it so you are never offended, but you can’t have both.”

      What a pile of bullshit. Come spend a few months in Central Europe, then tell me you can’t have freedom of speech AND an accepting, peaceful environment regardless of gender.

      Also, you have some really abstract (as in un-related to reality) notions about political systems other than the American type of democracy. It would pay off to visit countries on other parts of the world and experience things, before you throw with terms.

      • Where in Central Europe is this, please? Not the bits where they throw bananas at football players who look like me, I think, or tell a friend of mine that she doesn’t have the “right” to find summer weather hot because of her dark skin?

      • Rethinking my comment– I’m sorry, I don’t mean to derail. But being who I am, I am often forced to conflate my race and gender, and I reject the idea of earthy paradise.

      • And what magical Central European paradise are you talking about, exactly? Because I’ve spent plenty of time in Central Europe. As a Caucasian (as in from the Caucasus Mts.) Muslim woman, I can honestly say that in every part of the world that I have been in, from South America to Germany to Japan, I have faced sexism, racism and discrimination against me based on my religion. And your perfect Central Europe? Yeah, I seem to recall some Pol telling me that I wasn’t really Muslim because I look white (because they’re only Middle Eastern, you know?) And I also seem to recall another incident in Germany when a woman told me that my religion is trying to oppress women and that I should convert. Truly a paradise of acceptance and cultural awareness. The truth is that you can’t have the freedom to say whatever the hell you want and a perfect sparkly utopia of acceptance and happiness. Yes, even in the magical land of Central Europe where every thing is perfect, apparently. You know why? Because people (yes, even Europeans!) will always be assholes. You can’t give them the freedom to speak their minds and expect them not to say hurtful things. It’s just not realistic. That’s the price we have to pay for freedom of speech, unfortunately.
        Also, I don’t recall Chuck ever talking about politics in this article. And you know what? Even if he did, that’s beside the point. Sexism exists in every country, honey. There is no earthly paradise where everyone can say anything, but nobody says anything mean because it’s all just a wonderful mish mash of cultural diversity and progressive thinking. It’s quite ironic that you accuse Mr. Wendig of having unrealistic notions about society.

    • Chad-

      I see you’ve discovered that opinions with even a mild dissent from Mr. Wendig’s proclamations are not met well by those who admire him. While I actually AGREE with much of what he wrote here, I find his (and his readers’) dismissive and discourteous replies to you completely unsurprising.

      • Dean:

        Please don’t be melodramatic.

        I disagreed with what Chad wrote and said so. I wasn’t rude about it (I’ll give you half a point for “c’mon, son”), and sought to make my point more clearly.

        When I disagree with someone, I don’t have to hold their hand and stroke it gently just as much as I don’t have to insult them or be rude.

        I think Chad answered the commentary just fine and can handle the adult commentary.

        — c.

      • Just so you know… Chad has been all over the discussions on this topic, vigorously defending the status quo by accusing people of “wanting to make sure no one is ever offended” and talking about “Portlandia” and how women just need to “toughen up” because hey, people are dicks.

        It gets old.

  18. Chuck, yesterday I didn’t know your name but now I do. Today I luv you in (a platonic professional way.) So I’m going to go buy a couple of your books. Please clone yourself.

  19. I was told, point-blank, by a major publisher, that they were less interested in my hard SF because I’m a woman (http://pattyjansen.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/there-are-girl-cooties-on-my-space-ship-on-women-writing-hard-sf/). Now I did not name the publisher because some will say (and some already have–all men, btw) that I prompted this response. But–big but–he should not have said this at all.

    It could be that this person is a sexist or merely “reflecting the market” or “being honest”. Whatever. It illustrates one thing: we have a LONG WAY still to go.

      • Well, obviously I don’t know the industry as well as he does, but it reflects a backwards attitude in publishing on, I suspect, more than one level. I also suspect it’s not an isolated case, although he was unusually frank about it.

        The funny thing is that we do have women in SF who sell well, and younger people say repeatedly that they don’t give a fig about the gender of the author.

  20. “I want a daughter one day. I don’t like a world where they’re less than me. I don’t like a world where they’re targets and victims.”

    As a woman who has a daughter, I am proud of you for writing this. Your wife is proud. Your future daughter would be proud. Thank you for “getting it.” Why is it so hard for some?

  21. Thank you for this great post! It’s easy to write off these issues and just assume it’s a problem of a few individuals and not something that is spread throughout the whole industry. Seeing as I’m just an aspiring author and all, I have no real experience with the community, and I was quite shocked by the stories of the two women you linked to. Your post has certainly made me think more consciously about what types of characters I am putting in my novel and what roles they serve. Awesome post!

  22. Great thing that you stand up for this, Chuck. I’ve always admired that in you, that you don’t take sides and always speak for reason and equality, regardless of the topic (trad pub vs. indie, women vs. men in fiction, genre vs. literary). I find it very encouraging to see people use their klout for sane purposes, other than just selfish short-term gains like self-promotion and noise making.

  23. Just dropped down here to offer my support. Good thinking; let’s hope those who need to actually change are moved to do so. And, if they don’t, let’s make sure the rest of us dudes make it clear how we feel about their misogynistic idiocy, eh?

  24. What a great post, Chuck! Well done, you.

    I happened upon it by chance and both smiled and nodded agreement as I read. I’m 72, one of ‘those’ liberated women, and I fought for women’s lib in the early days. The situation still has barely budged (you should hear how my daughter has been treated in employment recently) so it’s good to see posts like yours. You go get ’em!

    Oh, and I’m a novelist too, 60 + books published but only 7 fantasy novels (under my Shannah Jay name). Those were written in my early days as a writer and published in Australia, and boy, did I get jumped on and mocked by the Aussie mainly male SF/F writers for daring to invade their space. Even though one of my novels was shortlisted for Best Australian Fantasy novel in 1996. Sigh.

    Keep at it! One day we’ll get there, with people like you and my lovley husband on side.

  25. I recently wrote a post on my blog about books being categorised by gender (http://plottwister.blog.com/2013/05/17/gender-and-book-categorisation/) because I’m sick of people deciding that a certain book is “for men” or “for women.” Hey, we’re all people here.

    I was amused and annoyed recently when I went into a local bookshop and there was an author there doing a signing. He started telling me about his book, emphasising that it was very “female-friendly” and that it had romance in it. I bought the book because it was actually about robots and action (and because I like to support local authors) but I was annoyed that he assumed I wouldn’t be interested in that because I’m female.

    Regarding the cover image thing, when I was publishing my latest book, I was asked if I had any ideas what I wanted on the cover. I had very clear ideas about what I didn’t want – and categorically stated that I didn’t want my heroine posing in some uncomfortable way to show off cleavage and ass at the same time. I wanted her to look like she could seriously take you in a fight, not like she was about to do a striptease. They gave me an image of someone who is attractive but not sexualised… and who looks like she’s about to shoot you in the face. Exactly what I wanted.

    I think a lot of this is about proving to the people that sit in publishing houses deciding what to print, that readers aren’t dumb. That readers aren’t buckets and check-boxes for marketing. “Women will like this book because it’s a romance and we’ve made the cover pink.” “Men will like this because there are explosions but we’d better put some boobs on the cover to make sure they buy it.” Ugh!

  26. I’m a former female Desert Storm vet, and I’ve been following both the military controversy and the SWFA controversy with a lot of interest. The arguments the offending people have stated, or reasons not to fix the problem, are the same ones. Usually they blame someone else and claim they’re not doing anything wrong.

    I’m glad people are starting to speak up, and we need to continue to speak up. But writers, you need to show it in your writing, too. I still pick up far too many books where there’s a cast of 100, and only one person is a woman. And it’s not a gender thing — both men and women writers do this all the time. I even had a woman writer tell me that she didn’t want to add more women characters because it would look like she was just adding more for no reason, as if there needed to be a justification to do a different gender.

    • In a book that’s coming out next year, I have an organisation that’s very male-dominated because that’s the way it would probably realistically be. I didn’t want to ignore that fact, so I have two female characters discussing the difficulties of being part of an organisation that is severely skewed towards males. Even if you’re writing a book with one female in a sea of men, because that’s the way it would be, you can still point out the fact that it isn’t necessarily right.

  27. On #21 – This, to me, is part of the real problem. What ratio is it I am supposed to follow; perhaps 50:50 (men to women)? Or, should I compare the number of male authors to female authors and build my library on more accurate representation? What about the combinations of race and gender? What about race, gender, and sexual orientation? I mean, shouldn’t every possible combination be represented equally, or proportionally, and if possible – fairly?

    I am currently reading Code Name: Verity, by Elizabeth E. Wein. I selected this book because it came up when I searched for Edgar Allen Poe award recipients. The book sounded interesting to me and received great reviews. It never occurred to me to utilize the author’s gender as criteria for my decision.

    Why would gender dictate the composition of my bookshelf? Is this really where we want to go?

    • You don’t have to use gender to populate your bookshelf.

      I did.

      Because I realized that the art and entertainment I was absorbing was basically an echo chamber. It was People Like Me talking to Me.

      So I sought to change that.

      It’s not about keeping to a specific ratio. It’s about opening your mind by changing the constitution of your shelves. That might mean reading more books by women, or by transgender authors or Muslim authors or, or, or. It’s not about being perfect or finding a perfect representation or balance. It’s about trying to read more openly.

      — c.

      • I’m glad you answered this, because I wanted to comment that you should read books because books, not because of their author’s sex. Same goes for any other demographic category. I agree that “mixing it up” will probably broaden your horizons, so I guess no real worries there after all.

        However, it’s worth noting that many authors write under cross-gendered or genderless pen-names, so perhaps just reading things that interest you is the fairest way to get a good mix of material.

    • I don’t think Chuck (or anyone else) is saying you (or anyone else) must create an “equal opportunity” program for your book purchases. But if you are a guy who happens to AVOID books by women, whether purposely or accidentally, you are missing out on vast swaths of great literature. And the chance to develop empathy and understanding for, like, half the human experience.

      If that doesn’t apply to you, no need to get bent out of shape about it.

      Personally, I looked at my bookshelves and realized that basically everything I was reading was essentially about straight white people. Some of this is because I was stuck in a rut of “if you like this, you’ll like this” — so I was reading a lot of the same TYPES of books over and over (whether that is YA contemporary or urban fantasy or regency romance or whatever). So I purposely set out to change that, and deliberately choose books about different types of experiences — and my reading life got much more interesting. Funny how that works.

      • I think it’s not only men who tend to “avoid” books by women — it’s all of us. I’ve been guilty of it, too.

        It doesn’t help that many high school and college literature classes are heavily focused on male writers. It just becomes the norm, ya know?

  28. This is why I like David Weber’s work. His women aren’t damsels in distress, and neither are they she-males. They are multitaskers doing what they want and need to do in the world and not ignoring any ‘female-type’ caregiver or nurturer needs either. And his men have caregiver impulses that they don’t apologise for. It’s not just a genderswap because he seems to realize that women are different than men, they tackle the same problem differently. Not inferior, just different. And Vive la differance. You want (unconscious) sexism? Read H. Beam Piper. He probably never realized he was doing it, but all his women are either glorified nurses, secretaries, or exist just to be educated and/or rescued.

  29. Thanks for posting this. I think it’s a useful discussion, and I agree with probably about 90% of what you wrote. I’d engage to discuss on the 10% I disagree with you about, but having seen how dismissively those who have tried to do so have been treated, I think I’ll just leave it with the generally positive reaction I had to reading this piece.

  30. I agree that you need to create your own world’s diversity and equality. However, that may not be the desire of the creator. TV is a prime example. Shows like Melrose Place, almost every teen drama on CW, and even Castle showcase world’s of fantasy where we only see the beautiful rich protagonists and villains. At least on Castle and other crime shows they will show criminals or victims that aren’t elite but their protags always have the best clothes and apartments. I don’t watch Castle to relate to Caskett but because of the mysteries. In fact, I almost always resent how perfect Kate Beckett is. I’ve met plenty of female cops and they don’t dress like runway models nor wear luxurious hair below their shoulders.

    There are also loads of delightful and smart female protags in the “cozy” mysteries that are more overlooked than SFF. These women are middle-class, not in the best physical shape, they have in-laws that annoy them, and usual a cat or two. Those are relatable and I love each one of them and their crazy catering/private-eye businesses.

    My point is, sometimes you just want the fucking fantasy.

  31. I’m almost 60 and have seen it all. Women today want to thinks it’s better, but in many ways sexism seems to be been pushed I the closet and it’s just oozing out again. Great post. I tweeted.

  32. Thank you so much for posting this, Chuck. I grew up in a country in which I wasn’t allowed to speak my mind because of my gender. If I had, I would have been accused of “causing problems” for my male family members. Women were seen as liabilities. If they did anything that didn’t fit the communities standards, they were often killed to “preserve the honor of their family.” Thankfully, my father had quite a bit more decency than most men in that country, and I was able to come to America. It still pains me to see all of this bullshit going on in a society that’s supposed to be so progressive and equal. I’m infinitely grateful that I was able to come to a country where the sexism is largely limited to words, but it still disgusts me. The fact that this takes place within a community that has always accepted the outcasts, the nerds, the oddballs is even more disheartening.
    I’m glad that at least some men have the decency to open their eyes and see women as people rather than problems or worthless objects that are too stupid to have anything useful to say.

  33. Haven’t done so yet, but just wanted to say this was a pretty awesome and well written post. My biggest fear in doing this myself is that I may say something that isn’t worded exactly the way I wished it sounded and I’d still offend someone. But this is right on point. And the mention about sexuality versus sexualization, which could also fall under sexual exploitation. Hell, most people like to feel like they are sexy, but there’s a difference between that and being sexualized. One is an inner feeling, the other is being objectified. It’s the ability to tell the difference that matters.

    And on the chainmail bikini, I’ve known a couple women that just like wearing them at cons, but heck, I think women in full plate and bastard swords are dang sexy. But that’s just me. 😉

  34. Thank you for this post.

    The thing that seems most crucial to me is to break down the idea that perpetuating sexism is the key to financial success. By which I mean at this point, maybe it isn’t an “idea”, maybe it’s reality, and we HAVE TO FIX THAT. You talk about the large numbers of women in the publishing industry and how we have to make sure they are respected and paid appropriately — this is quite true. But some of the most depressing comments I’ve had to deal with in my career came from women (e.g “Stop mentioning so many female writers as influences. Talk about these male writers instead. They couldn’t have influenced you because you haven’t read them? Name-drop them anyway.” “Would you consider changing your 50/50 boy/girl cast to three boys and one girl?” “We can’t have a woman on the cover or we’ll completely lose the male market.” “This won’t sell, because girls won’t read about space and boys won’t read about girls.”) And all of those women who said those things said them because they were *trying to sell books.* Many of them were trying to help me have a decent career. And worst of all, maybe they were factually correct about at least some of it. There’s plenty to be done at the writer/editor/publicist end of the process, but it won’t be complete without the readers providing counter-evidence to all those beliefs.

    Here are things you can actually do.

    *When you buy a book by a man, try to also buy a book by a woman. Don’t leave a bookshop with an all-male book haul (unless you can only afford one book). Here are some recommendations.
    *Buy (and talk about, and review!) books by women
    *Buy (and talk about, and review!) books with female protagonists.
    *Notice when a table or stand in a bookshop features only, or nearly only male writers, and politely tell a member of staff that this disappoints you. If possible, have some books in mind to recommend as alternatives/additions.
    *Notice the same about shortlists, TOCs, panels — any group that’s presented as being at all representative or notable, and again, be ready to speak out.

    We can all do these things, but sadly much of it will count more if it comes from men.

  35. I love everything about you, sir. That is all.

    I lied. One more thing: I do hereby solemnly declare my intent to use the the phrase “panty tornado” in my speech every single day of my natural life. Thank you.

  36. Chuck, do you especially mind if I somehow manage to be like you when and if I finally grow up? Because that would be really cool.

    Awesome job of boiling it down to clearly stated, fairly expressed points. This is what quality rhetoric is all about.

    Best Regards,
    RIck Moen

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