Gender and Genre
By Gail Z. Martin
There’s been a lot of discussion in various places around the Net about gender and genre, specifically about women, sci-fi and fantasy. You can find that for yourself online if you’re interested: I won’t rehash. But SciFiChick asked for my 2-cents, so I’ll preface this by saying that it’s my opinion, for what it’s worth, as someone who has made a living writing epic fantasy for several years.
Maybe some of my perspective is difference because I came out of the corporate world in the 1980s and 1990s. I’m used to being the only female executive in a room, dealing with men who hailed from the Mad Men era and holding my own. As the head of Corporate Communications departments, I often worked with the CEO and Chairman, and I learned early on to hold my ground and never let ’em see you sweat. I’ve stared down boards of directors and attorneys, as well as pushy reporters. And I can flip and pin my 90 pound dog when he gets obstreperous. Maybe it was the perfect background for coming into the genre.
I’ve never run into discourteous behavior from my publishers, editors or agents. They’ve all been wonderful to work with, collaborative, respectful and professional. I know there are some folks who keep a running tally of how many women win or are nominated for certain awards, how many sit on particular boards, and that kind of thing. Maybe it’s my corporate background, but except for when I worked for a non-profit, I have never been in a work setting that was 50-50 men to women, so I don’t notice that kind of thing unless you point it out to me. I don’t expect it, so not getting it doesn’t faze me.
I look around at my author friends, some of whom are waiting for their first big break, some who are climbing up the mid-list, some who are sitting on top of the heap and some who are navigating creative transitions. I can’t say that I’ve seen those struggles go any easier for men than for women, or that I’ve seen men rocket to the top while women slog. Sometimes, I’d say that I’ve observed the opposite. I don’t think it’s entirely a gender issue, although discrimination is real and it does exist. Many times, I think frustration can be a matter of timing and luck. Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time with the right story, and sometimes you’re not.
I think we’ve come a long way since George Sands turned out to be female and everyone got the vapors. By the middle of the Harry Potter series, everyone knew that JK was female and boys didn’t stop reading. I think publishers may be more hung up on perceived reader opinions than the readers are. After all, if people immediately see a writer who goes by initials, and assume the writer is female, it’s not much of a subterfuge! Are there individual dinosaurs out there, either on the consumer or publishing side, who think women “can’t” write a particular type of book? Probably. There were men who didn’t think women could or should hold certain types of corporate jobs. Flip the one-finger salute and keep moving on. Other people will recognize talent and not care which restroom you use.
When I was ten years old, my Great-Aunt Minerva sat me down for a talk. She was born in 1895, and she was a medical doctor, following in the footsteps of her father. She had co-habitated with her long-time partner Frank for 40 years, but they never married, the family rumor said, because they didn’t want to mingle their stock portfolios. Minerva was a force of nature. And she told me to do what I pleased with my life and to hell with what anybody’s opinion was.
I guess that stuck with me. An awful lot of people tried to tell me that I couldn’t be something or do something, and they had their reasons, that it wasn’t ladylike or that their view of God didn’t like it. Salute and move on. I don’t have time to keep tallies. Too busy doing what I do. In the long run, succeeding at what you want to do makes your point better than any argument. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.