A Writer’s Rant on Gender

oct2013_iGiveUpWhen writing, one thing is consistently difficult: choosing a character’s gender.

I mean, what are the factors to consider? We live in a world where diversity is demanded, and offending someone seems far too easy. Countless arguments persist in the media over how certain personas are portrayed as inaccurate or demeaning. And I, personally, am more than conscious of the push for equal gender balance, or “why are there no females?!” discussions.

But, in writing, there are a few things you may not realize. It is a ***ing formula. People use the same story types over and over and over. Why? Because they ***ing work. Yes, you need to have a protagonist. Sometimes, the story develops through more than one character’s point of view (eg. Game of Thrones). Sometimes, the story will be told from the point of view of a bystander no one cares about (eg. Sherlock). But almost always, you will have the story centralized around your main character. And the gender of this character influences everyone else. Why? Because of the ***ing formulas.

How many of you are familiar with the protagonist + male friend + female friend? This is the most basic, overused trope that pops up in just about everything. Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Avatar, Twilight, Pokemon, loosely Doctor Who…. But it works. If you want a love triangle, make the gender of both friends to opposite of the protagonist. If you want to narrow down to two characters, how about the BFF duo of the “reserved” protagonist and the “eccentric” side character (same gender). Alternatively, you could use the “why are we friends?” duo comprised of the “indifferent” protagonist and the “violently loyal” side character who will later become a love interest (opposite gender). Finally, on this list, there is the hero/rival duo. Same gender makes a blood bath of drama and revenge. If they are opposite, there is a lot of romantic tease, or disturbing and repulsive harassment.

You do not always pick just the gender of the protagonist. You pick a character set, and then diverge. Gender really only matters if there is more than one person.

When I have to pick, a huge factor of my choice is outright what I assume my reader’s expectations of love will be. In the past, I actually outright changed my main character’s gender because I did not want to deal with “romantic potential.” I am not saying gay couples are not possible; I am saying society consistently fails to grasp the concept that guys and girls can be friends.

Additionally, female protagonists almost always condone emotional drama. If you have a female protagonist, then you probably have a love story. Think Hunger Games, where the movie version was butchered to be just that. If you have a male protagonist, there is action and adventure and mystery. Love usually does not come to later. But, as soon as a female is introduced the interesting story line falls to pieces.

I cannot stand love stories, and shipping characters is a major pet peeve. So my painful default I readily admit is male. I am not saying that female protagonists cannot be interesting characters. I actually have a diversity of short stories lying around with a female protagonist (and absolutely no males). I am saying that this whole idea of “love, love, love” has just been pounded into my head so much that all attempts to get my imagination around it have failed.

Otherwise, I am extremely liberal when it comes gender. For one thing in trope trios, I am often, “You know what, *** gender.” Behold: A race of 4th dimensional plants with 3 different genders that take on human form. Behold: A guy who somehow ended up in a girl’s body arguing with a detective; A shape shifting hermaphrodite and the two other faces they carry; A female protagonist looking for love, asking dating advice from an aromantic-asexual, who is trailed by a bored gay guy. Okay, this last one is not really creative because it is based off a true story. But, you get the idea.

I do try to ensure there are as many females as there are males (and vice versa) without undermining or demeaning any gender representation. How do I do it? Absolute gender neutrality. And I mean I am brutal when it comes to this. What happens to a girl can happen to a guy. What happens to a guy can happen to a girl. Just because something is not “mainstream” does not mean it does not exist.

However, there are some writers who have their own moral standings on things, or strive for accuracy. Do you believe women should be allowed to fight in war? Do you believe it is strange for men to obsess with fashion without actually being gay? Is hitting a girl worse than hitting a guy? Can you even comprehend that some people are biologically half-man and half-woman? Realism can make a story more relatable, but you cannot have balance there – how guys talk about girls, and how girls talk about guys behind one another’s backs is different…and utterly despicable. Comedy itself relies on stereotypes for gags only to rip everything to pieces shortly thereafter. For more serious matters, you might have cultural imaging to deal with as well. Then, of course, there is that whole love story thing.

You cannot just choose to make someone a girl or a guy or a spawn from androgyny heaven just because you think there needs to be more gender balance. There is a give and take with everything. And unless you can portray a character really well, trying something new can be a complete flop. No matter what gender you pick (or lack thereof), the writer still has to deal with the onslaught of expectations and stereotypes that go with it. How does this fit into the story? Does gender affect the relationship of the character with the other characters? Does the gender of the character affect how seriously the reader will take them?

I wish it did not. But it does. You do not need a name. You do not need a personality. You do not even need a description. Like parents asking the doctor what their child is, all you need to do is mention one word: ‘male’ or ‘female.’ The whole world collapses around it. Yes, you can make the argument how media is what affects our perception of gender in the first place. Yes, there are kinks to work out. But you only need to read the comment section of a serious YouTube video to know it is not that simple.

So you know what, *** gender. Until we get out of this chicken and egg loop, *** it.

(Disclaimer: *** is intended to just be a place holder to convey appropriate connotation. The author does not curse.)

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