Females make up the bulk of readers. However, science fiction (not fantasy) may be the genre where the audience makeup is reversed (traditionally that is so, and I am fairly sure it still holds). How does this affect the expectations held by the audience?
If you listen to males and females discussing something, you often hear the males saying "I think" while the females often say "I feel". How does this affect characterisation that the writer needs to put into their work? Do males expect less characterisation and more emphasis on action/idea? Do females expect high levels of inner feeling to get a sense of understanding the character? Where does the spectrum lie? With little cross-over or little difference?
As writers, particularly ones that accept feedback from others, are we changing towards some central position that makes us write for some unisex ideal?
I once heard it pointed out, maybe in a discussion on this board, that if you're writing women who don't have inner thoughts beyond what their words say, then you're not writing women. That is very true and I've noticed it more since I heard that.
On the other hand, men are generally more cut and dried. My boyfriend keeps me on track making sure I don't make the men in my stories too touchy-feely. I'm not terribly prone to it but I'm glad he's checking on me.
With this in mind, I don't believe there is a uni-sex ideal. Men and women are wired differently and there's no way around that. Of course, you could actually make that the point of a society that they've tried to abolish that difference but you'd probably end up dealing with how they couldn't stop either gender's tendencies completely.
I think we can to try and represent both genders as honestly as we can comprehend but in that honesty we must acknowledge the differences.
I am currently reading Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series. I started with Shards of Honor and I was thrilled that she did such a great job of representing a strong woman and still making her a woman.
I think we should enjoy such differences; used properly it can make our stories much more interesting.
I think one should be very careful about making sweeping generalisations about how men and women think (I am not saying that the OP is "guilty" of this; this is a general remark on the topic not a specific rebuttal).
There are certainly differences between some (perhaps most) men and some (perhaps most) women, but there are also large areas of overlap. If you will, imagine two overlapping bell curves - although you can say that the "typical" man and the "typical" woman are different, there's plenty of leeway for the "atypical" ones to overlap.
Gender - both biologically and culturally - should not be thought of as a simply Boolean operator.
I know it is tempting to try to crack the code of universal appeal. I can just see the dollar signs shining in the eyes.
But I honestly believe that when you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. I just try to write the kind of stories that I enjoy. I find them all the time in the bookstores, so I know there is an audience for them. But I am absolutely positive that they won't be universally loved.
I think that putting too much emphasis on the usage of the phrase "I think" versus "I feel" can lead you astray. Darn near everyone who reads a story wants to feel something. The question is, what they want to feel. It could be developing an empathic connection with the characters, or a sense of wonder at the scenes unfolding in front of them, or the thrill of an action-packed plot. The problem is that something that moves one reader will bore another. Readers may grow frustrated if you try to cater to everyone, as they'll view the romance or the trips through the dimensional portals or the fight scenes as distractions from the "real" plot of your story. Go too far and they'll all be right.
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I find myself, oddly, agreeing with tchern. I am male, but I have a great many traits which are not associated with masculinity, some of which are in fact considered femeinine. And of course, the fact I'm a gay male may factor in there somewhat (not because we are inherently more feminine as such; more I think because since we're already "living on the edge" so to speak, its easier, perhaps, for us to...embrace our natural selves.) Because you see, while it is true that men and women are "wired" differently in some ways, I think a lot of the differences come from and/or are greatly amplified by culture. Specifically, I think all people are naturally pretty emotional, but males are taught to largely supress that. And females are taught to greatly accentuate parts of that.
I also don't necessarily buy that there is that big a difference between "think" and "feel." I mean there is...but in the end, they are aspects of the same thing (this is the same reason I have issues with the sci-fi trope of emotionaless aliens and emotionless yet sentient machines. To me emotion and consciousness are inseperable.)
I don't think there is a unisex ideal. But, I do think people are getting tired of being circumscribed by whats between their legs and in their chromosomes.
Merlion- I am pretty confident my husband isn't gay, yet I think he has a lot of the more feminine defined traits. However, that is a description after being together over a decade, married for 9 (wow didn't realize my next anniversary will be tenth until just now). I don't think that side is as apparent to most people though. He says things are different with your wife versus your friends though.
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In my many years here on the earth, I am a firm believer in the adage that men and women are different. In any culture, the two main subcultures are the masculine and the feminine. They talk, dress and think differently.
I do agree that the ends of the bell curve intersect.
There are a lot of women who like their female main characters to be strong. So that gives men an opportunity to write female characters. I know when I write a weaker female character, I go right to a stereotype that my women readers don't particularly care for.
I also think/feel that women like more description and more setting and more dialogue (with emotional impact) than men. Thinking of what my sons and I read and what my wife, daughter and daughters-in-law read makes that plain in my mind. That's anecdotal, but that pattern also matches what is being sold.
quote:Merlion- I am pretty confident my husband isn't gay, yet I think he has a lot of the more feminine defined traits. However, that is a description after being together over a decade, married for 9 (wow didn't realize my next anniversary will be tenth until just now). I don't think that side is as apparent to most people though. He says things are different with your wife versus your friends though
Yeah that's pretty much exactly what I'm talking about. In our culture, a guy can eventually get away with showing those things to a woman he's very close too...and maybe, maybe one on one with an extremely close male friend. But in general company or especially all male company its not really accepted. I think gay guys have an easier time of that (and some other things) because like I said we've already sort of "broken away"...so what's one more oddity?
quote:In any culture
That's not entirely true. There are cultures that are either more even, or even reversed from ours. Also I think a lot of the stuff tracks back to earlier days and the single biggest physical difference between men and women: pregnancy. Since we are no longer hunter/gatherers and our medical abilities are more advanced this is now less of an issue but we still have a lot of left over cultural precedent for male and female roles, both in terms of doing and thinking. But its definitely changing. I think some of the differences are partly inherent, but I know to many women with to many "masculine" traits and vice versa to believe its a huge, fundmental and inseperable inherent difference.
In the end, the main differences are going to be between one specific person and another.
I'm going to voice a dissenting opinion, to some degree. Characters should be individuals, and everyone likes to agree that individuals are special like snowflakes. But snowflakes have a lot in common with each other. They are made of snow. They are arranged in geometric patterns that are classifiable. Despite their individuality on a micro level, they are subject to a number of valid stereotypes on a macro level--(big, medium, small; clean or dirty, regular or irregular, etc).
So it is with gender. Men and women are wired differently and react to reality differently in ways that are generally acknowledged and commonly accepted. Those differences should show through the PoV, speech, or conduct of character, subject to contradiction only as required by the individual traits of those characters.
No, I think it's a conceit of our current society that men and women are entirely equal in all capacities and only the event of pregnancy throws off the balance. Men and women do think differently: men are more spatially oriented, women more socially. That naturally influences communication. Men are physically stronger, while women are healthier. The fact that some women exhibit more masculine traits than most males does not mean that most males do not exhibit those traits more than most females. It just means those individuals fall on the edges of the bell curve for their sex.
There's a strain of thought that believes everything is cultural, and therefor every disparity along sexual lines is an injustice of some form or another. This ignores the fact that human beings evolved just like every animal, or posits that somehow we, unique among mammals, avoided the emergence of clear sexual differences, both physical and emotional (or, if you don't want to concede emotions to animals, temperament).
Now, I agree that individuals vary wildly, and that it's a mistake to say "all men" or "all women." But, the question wasn't about individuals, it was about the differences in men and women in general.
I agree that men and women are inherently different and not a product of society, though society may make some of the differences more prevelant. What mother hasn't seen a huge difference between their boys and girls, even if you try to raise them in a unisex way. It's been proven that the male and female brain develop in different ways.
In writing, your character can act (or think) in anyway he or she wants but what you may want to bring out, is if your character is a masculine woman how she feels compared to other women, how other women view her.
I don't think anyone here said that there weren't inherent differences between men and women.
I agree that there are. The motherly instinct in me is so strong that I'm sure that it is hard wired into my DNA, but how can we deny the strong social influences.
Honestly, I think it is about 50/50.
I have two daughters, and they love dinosaurs. They have tons of dinosaur toys and clothing (that I have to buy in the boy department). When I am out with my two very obvious girls in boy clothes and playing with boy toys, people always comment on how cute it is that they love boy things.
I often think about if I had a little boy who loved pink and wanted to play with barbie dolls, would I buy him princess shirts and barbie dolls. Honestly I wouldn't.
Not because I see anything wrong with him loving pink and playing with barbies, but because I know society won't think it is cute like they do with my girls. I would fear how others would judge him and make him fun of him. But I think this is so wrong.
Why is it okay for women to be both masculine and feminine, but it is not okay for men? I don't think it is because they don't want to be. Why would little girls be attracted to "boy" things, but little boys not be attracted to "girl" things?
I don't know; maybe I am wrong and the vast majority of boys would never want to play barbies even if it was socially acceptable, but I can't help but wonder if society encourages males to suppress a lot of their more feminine qualities.
Brendan, I think (>.< ) the (anecdotally) predominantly male audience of scifi will generally pick up on female characters which act male (thinking vs feeling) and vice versa. However, given that the genre as a whole is overall one of ideas (and one of challenging the very cultural elements that form these stereotypes) then I expect the issue is much less critical than it is in other genres.
Consider a progressive scifi milieu where everyone 'thinks' or 'feels' regardless of genre contrasted against a contemporary modern-day setting where everyone fits the present-day cultural stereotype, and then contrast both against fantasy, where we either see one of two extremes: more feminist fiction (Mists of Avalon springs to mind, though I've never read it) vs more traditional middle-ages european gender roles.
Ultimately I don't think the genre is in any way about to fall prey to some unisex marketing future. If anything, it probably offers one of the widest opportunities to explore, invert or exaggerate gender stereotypes.
I've certainly been listening for readers who may say a female or male character acts out of gender, but if my story demands a strong non-stereotypical gender role I'm not going to weaken it by acquiescing to some generic market ideal.
It is becoming much more acceptable to have strong female characters, just as people accept male characters that are less masculine.
I think sci-fi writing is moving towards more of a middle ground in terms of which gender reads the genre. At the same time though, society is moving towards more of a middle ground on the genre each gender likes to read. So it's not as if one is radically changing to suit the other - they are compromising It's not universal and probably never will be but it overlaps much more than it used to and I believe it will continue to flow in that direction.
I agree with tchernabyelo and this statement from Merlion-Emrys
quote:while it is true that men and women are "wired" differently in some ways, I think a lot of the differences come from and/or are greatly amplified by culture.
About to go to bed, so apologies if this post makes no sense whatsoever.
[This message has been edited by Delli (edited August 25, 2010).]
quote:But, the question wasn't about individuals, it was about the differences in men and women in general.
Honestly I don't think there was a clear question...I'm not really sure what exactly the OP is even asking. In my experience, we think more in terms of the people that like a given type of story and their expectations of those kinds of stories when writing than we really think about gender.
As Ben says I think in speculative fiction especially a lot of that stuff tends to go out the window anyway. Speculative fiction especially some branches are all about challenging cultural norms and even biological ones in many cases, so I don't really even get what the issue is.
quote:As writers, particularly ones that accept feedback from others, are we changing towards some central position that makes us write for some unisex ideal?
This is the primary question of the OP. Brendan appeared to pose this with the presumption that there are inherent differences in the preferences of male and female readers - statistically, this is true. He made a generalized statement/question. Generalized statements are different from stereotypical statements. Generalized statements focus on very large groups and are based on statistics (though he did not present these). Stereotypical statements are directed toward individuals that make up a large group and are often based on opinion, not facts.
All of Brendan's questions in the original post coalesced around whether writers, in general, are trying to develop characters, narration, and (I presume) plot that appeal to both sexes.
I believe that this is a difficult task in some ways. Generally, people are more decisive about what they read than what they watch. Where movies, such as several Will Smith sci-fi pieces and Avatar, have broken the sex barrier, books and short stories have been less successful.
As readers of science fiction and fantasy, we are of a different sort. Women who read science fiction are most likely not the norm among the overall population in many respects. Likewise, men who read fantasy (and, to some degree, those who read fiction at all) are, in all probability, not the norm among men in the larger population.
I found it interesting what MAP said about boys and Barbies. I know a young man, who has Aspergers Syndrome, that has an acute interest in Barbies. His parents are upper middle-class - father hunts and drives a truck and mom runs a home business. They have allowed their son the right have this interest and to collect Barbies. I am sure there were some struggles along the way to come to this decision, but they eventually did what they felt was best. There are really three factors that shape behavior: Genetics, parental influence, and social group. When there is a change related to one of these factors, it allows for a greater variation in behavior and thought process.
I think it's easy to make the mistake of thinking that because something appeals (in some cases very strongly) to SOME women, it appeals to ALL women. I know very few women who like Sex and the City, for example (and even fewer men). Indeed, I know far more women who are intereted in sports than in Sex and the City. OK, maybe the women I know are "atypical" but that's the point: there are lots of atypical people out there. So assuming that one subset is equivalent to the universal set is just that: an assumption. And assumptions are dangerous things to rest decisions on.
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Part of me really hates the whole generalities about males and females (most people I know don't like sex and city, eat praylove or sport- male or female- so I might just associate with less mainstream people). However, I have noticed in crits, when I get like 10-14 on a story, often there is a pretty clear difference between the crits written by men vs women. It is possible women just feel more comfortable completely shredding me, but in general I find that males have a lot more positive to say about my stories, a lot less negatives. There is a lot less hatred towards my MC by the men- or at least expressed hatred. OTOH, my husband claims my gender is obvious based on my stories. You'd think if my work appealed more to guys, it would feel less girly though.
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quote:I think it's easy to make the mistake of thinking that because something appeals (in some cases very strongly) to SOME women, it appeals to ALL women. I know very few women who like Sex and the City, for example (and even fewer men). Indeed, I know far more women who are intereted in sports than in Sex and the City. OK, maybe the women I know are "atypical" but that's the point: there are lots of atypical people out there.
Very true. And, my thing is that I think there are even MORE naturally "atypical" people out there, but they wind up being "typical" because of the societal and cultural pressure.
Are there natural differences between men and women? To an extent. There are tendencies. But, those tendencies are magnified many many times by culture...and those who don't have those tendencies often develop or affect them because of cultural influences.
This conversation itself reminds me of another thing to consider in making sure that gender is being written well. Individual characters should on some level (doesn't have to be explicit) be aware of whether they fit into the gender role accepted by their culture. If they fit and take the gender role itself for granted, that's an important part of the character. If they don't fit, the struggle against their gender role (whether it is one established by nature or culture doesn't really matter) will at least implicitly form their character and inform the way they think, feel, and react.
So, the questions "what are the gender roles in my world," and "does my character fit that gender role" have to be stacked on top of the basic question of "what gender is my character."
If anything, I think this emphasizes the fact that writing and characters--at least good writing and characters--aren't likely to trend to a bland unisex.
[This message has been edited by J (edited August 25, 2010).]
quote:Are there natural differences between men and women? To an extent. There are tendencies. But, those tendencies are magnified many many times by culture...and those who don't have those tendencies often develop or affect them because of cultural influences.
If culture can magnify tendencies, it can also suppress them. A culture that accepts "disparate impact" along sexual lines as a valid reason to levy punitive fines and heavy regulation on businesses would tend towards the later.
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J, I think what you just said was brilliant.
quote: Individual characters should on some level (doesn't have to be explicit) aware of whether they fit into the gender role accepted by their culture. If they fit and take the gender role itself for granted, that's an important part of the character. If they don't fit, the struggle against their gender role (whether it is one established by nature or culture doesn't really matter) will at least implicitly form their character and inform the way they thing, feel, and react.
I just want to add, that in cultures where gender role is clear and defined, there will always be rebels who fight against how culture is telling them to behave. I think both genders have individuals with rebellious streaks.
What I find interesting is a character who rebels against societies norm for gender, however still has to answer to the inborn gender based characteristics. A female could hold an ax to someone's throat, however might also long to be a mother. A male might have their nails done, however might still fight to protect a woman's honor.
I think inner conflict and character inconsistencies are both the basics for characters( male or female) who ring true, but also the basics for good fiction.
quote:If culture can magnify tendencies, it can also suppress them. A culture that accepts "disparate impact" along sexual lines as a valid reason to levy punitive fines and heavy regulation on businesses would tend towards the later.
You're absolutely right. We will always be, to some extent, products of our culture. For the most part, I think this is a good thing.
I shudder to think what the world would be like if society no longer had influence on us. I think that idea is explored in many end of the world dystopias, like the Mad Max movies.
[This message has been edited by MAP (edited August 26, 2010).]
Yes MAP, but if you're trying to gauge your audience, it pays to know what direction the culture is biasing it. I think the gender-sameness push hit its peak with the metrosexual style a few years back. That's collapsed, so you have to figure out how hard and fast the pendulum is swinging in the other direction. Whatever the result, I doubt, at least in the US, that the sexes will become more similar culturally than they are now.
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