The Challenge of Diversity, part 3 of 5

[ Part One: Race | Part Two: Sexual Orientation ]

Women

Never assume that you know how to write women from a diverse point of view just because you are one. There are some things we write because we learned them from our parents, see them on TV, or soak them up from the cultural background noise.

  1. Not all women are in need of rescuing. I don’t think I need to explain this one.
  2. Be true to your characters, but avoid perpetuating a double standard if you can. The double standard of a heroine who has never had sex with anyone but the hero and a hero who has run around with other women but “was true to her in his heart” is at least as old as The Iliad. The idea that men who have sex are hot studs but women who have sex are sluts is as current as last Friday down in the local bar. Sometimes, your characters don’t give you much of a choice–you have to tell the story they give you to tell. But if they give you a choice in the matter, try to avoid these kinds of double standards.
  3. Men can be nurses and women can be computer geeks. I used to work in a hospital . . . as a computer geek. Trust me on this one. *g*
  4. “Woman” is not an adjective. When we refer to women in certain professions, we may have been taught to specify that it’s “a lady doctor” or “a woman mechanic.” But to pick on my previous example, we would never say “a man nurse”–it would always be “a male nurse.” “Female” is the adjective you want, but if you can indicate the sex of a character in a different way, that’s even better.
  5. Don’t refer to women by their first names and men by their last names. Since it still happens in real life, it happens in fiction. Having worked in healthcare, I’ve discovered that a male doctor is always “Dr. Something,” but a female doctor often has to fight to be addressed by that medical degree she’s earned, rather than her first name. In a completely different work environment, my husband reports that he’s listened to someone he works with introduce all the women in his department by first name, and all the men by full name.

    Why does it matter? Because without ever meaning to, it perpetuates a stereotype of women not being professional–or not being full-fledged people, depending on how you come at it. Unless you have a darn good reason in the context of your story, please don’t do this.

  6. Don’t belittle women. Again, unless it’s a character who requires belittling in the context of the story. But the “your ex-girl friend is a whore” and “any other woman in the story is a threat to the heroine” tropes are still far too common, and any time you can find a way to avoid them, you’re doing a good thing from the art imitates life/life imitates art point of view.
  7. Sometimes, love does not conquer all. Even when you’re writing romances, where there must be a happily ever after for your main characters, keep this in mind whenever one of your characters wants to say, “If it’s really love, you should do X, Y, or Z.” If it’s in character, you may not be able to avoid it, but if you can avoid it please do.

    If you think that this is hardline feminist nonsense, I offer two examples. The first is a woman I met in a Greyhound station fifteen years ago, who still loved the man who had left bruises under both her eyes, so clear that I could count the individual knuckle prints. That was what it took to convince her to get on a bus and leave him. The second is a relative of mine who spent ten years of her life in codependent relationships that looked perfectly normal from the outside, quietly making herself into someone I didn’t know because it was who her partners expected her to be.

    If you ever wanted to change the world through your writing, please don’t teach people that “love conquers all.” Especially if you write romances, which are aimed at a female audience (which sometimes lends them to their daughters were younger sisters). You’ll show us love conquering through your writing, and that will do a much better job than any aphorism ever could. 🙂

To be continued . . .

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About April L'Orange

April L'Orange is a hard-working editor and author of science fiction and fantasy. She began life as a terribly serious little old woman and has been growing younger ever since. When she's not writing, she can often be found painting bits of her house or beating back the yard with a machete. She and her husband currently live in upstate New York, where they are owned by three cats and the Squirrel Mafia. She's published short stories in anthologies available from Escape Collective Press and Pink Narcissus Press. For more information, please visit aprillorange.wordpress.com.

Posted on December 12, 2011, in Readership, Research. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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