A while back, I sent a friend request to someone on Goodreads. Her response was polite, but it surprised me a little. No, wait. That's not exactly true. It suprised me a lot. She started out saying:
You do realize in my description, I don't read male authors, right?
Actually, I’d missed that. The only thing I’d really noticed was that she seemed to enjoy paranormal fiction, much like I do. Which was why I’d asked her to be my friend. She went on:
I'm still game to accept you as a friend if you are okay with the fact that I probably won't read your books . . . I might try it only because you asked to be a friend.
I hadn’t sent the request because I necessarily wanted her to read my book—although, in the current climate of frenzied author self-promotion, I certainly understood how she might have perceived it that way. But being an inquisitive type, I had to ask why she would limit herself to just same-sex authors (her genres of interest, by the way, were not particularly female-oriented).
I got two answers. First she said, semi-jokingly (I hope):
I'm a sexist, and my strong femi-nazi male hating phase isn't over, even though I married a truly wonderful man.
Then she gave a more logical explanation. It was detailed and lengthy, so I'll summarize: she said that her experience has been that most male authors tend to characterize women as being dumb and helpless, that they’re always waiting for a white knight—either that, or they’re injected into the story simply because it fits the formula. She also added that male authors often portray women as being shallow and two-dimensional.
Really? Most male authors do this?
Stieg Larson's Lisbeth Salander (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) immediately came to mind (who, incidentally, was based on how he imagined Pippi Longstocking might have been as an adult; another uber-strong female literary character). Lisbeth is definitely not shallow, far from two-dimensional, and not dumb. Or helpless. And if she fits into a formula, I've never seen it.
That's just one example of a strong male-generated female character, but I'm sure I could go on listing others; we all know they exist.
This wasn't the first time I'd seen male authors—or males in general—being painted with the same brush, and it kind of bothered me. Not because I'm necessarily gender-proud, but because I've never seen the world as being that black and white. I'm more a shades-of-gray kind of guy.
Just recently, my esteemed colleague, Peg Brantley, brought up a similar topic here on Crime Fiction Collective. In one of their discussion threads, the Sisters in Crime group (incidentally, of which I happen to be a member) was debating author gender bias. What it boiled down to was this (she summarized):
Men, because they pretty much know they are dogs and capable of doing horrible things, write about a human who seeks redemption.
Women, on the other hand, consider themselves underdogs and write about a human who seeks affirmation and worthiness.
Capable of doing horrible things?
Now, since I’m the only male on this blog, and knowing that about 75-percent of my readers are female, I’m going to tread lightly here. Don’t want to upset either (Mamma didn't raise no fool). But I do have to ask:
Females: Does an author’s gender much matter to you? Do any of the above comments ring true?
And dudes: What’s your take on all this? Is it time for a Men’s Liberation Movement?
Sorry. Couldn't resist.