Sexism in Fiction: Not Always a Bad Thing.

Snake-headSexism has been a hot topic in the publishing world lately, especially in the science fiction and fantasy genres. There are those who disapprove of women writing science fiction and epic fantasy, leaving urban fantasy and paranormal romance to them. There are those who don’t care, and there are those who will fight to the bitter end to prove women are better rather than equal to their male counterparts.

Sexism exists on the page as much as it does off of it, which is symptomatic of the issue.

In epic fantasy, the heroes are often men, with women supporting them or being contrived to be the stars rather than actually being heroines true to themselves. In the pursuit of ‘strong’ female characters, they’re written to be men–or so jaded and bitter of the world they live in that they don’t truly live at all. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground; women are weak, or women are strong. There is a sad lack of truly strong, badass women in fiction–women who aren’t callous, but sensual, willed, and clever.

Too often, they simply aren’t allowed to be women, not in traditional fantasy fiction. Times are changing, but I’d like to point out something really important about the nature of science fiction and fantasy.

Our genre is one of speculation. It is one meant to challenge the mind, capture the imagination, and bring change. Science fiction authors, the truly good ones, are credited with thinking ahead of their times. They’re creators of change, even if the change takes place on the page, hinting of what might come in our futures. Science fiction and fantasy are genres of speculation. We live and breathe ‘what if?’ questions all of the time.

Racism, sexism, and sexuality all play a part in this speculation.

In our genre, these prejudices can be a vehicle of good change in the right hands. It can be a tool of destruction in the wrong hands. It can be a way to teach, to enrich a story, and break the curse of ignorance. Sexism isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I want to tell you a story about Real Me. Real Me is a woman who hides behind an initialed name. She writes a variety of fiction, especially fantasy. Real Me is out there somewhere. Real Me wrote a book, and in many ways, it was a mistake. It was a mistake she (err, I) was glad to make.

Real Me upset feminists because Real Me wrote a book rampant with intentional sexism. Real Me hides behind a fire hydrant and tries to pretend the book doesn’t exist. Real Me is actually hesitant to write the second book because there are very vocal feminists who can’t understand why someone–a woman at that–might write a book where women are universally treated like property.

History is the answer. Change is the answer. To step into another world to ask ‘what if?’ is a big job, and Real Me wanted to write a story about those who crawled from the lowest of the low and made change in the world they live in. Real Me wanted to write normal, destitute individuals who had a chance to rise above the circumstances of their birth and become something so much more.

But in order to write the book, Real Me took the dirty, gritty approach. Real Me wrote in sexism, racism, and prejudice. Real Me didn’t offer a security blanket to make readers feel better about a society founded on our own history. Real Me didn’t just write a book about sexism.

Real Me threw down a gauntlet about society and the nature of people, and it wasn’t meant to be an easy read. The women in Real Me’s book are abused. They’re property. All they have is a chance to save themselves. Nothing is guaranteed. They have a chance, and nothing more, and that’s difficult to swallow.

Sexism isn’t necessarily a bad thing in fiction, but it should always, always be a bitter pill to swallow. It should be something that stirs reactions and emotions–even bad ones. Speculative fiction should explore hard hitting subjects. it should force us to reevaluate our world and mindset. It shouldn’t be purified, decontaminated, and sterilized. Readers, we owe it to ourselves to allow ourselves to ask these questions. It should allow us to explore the negative as much as the positive. Without darkness, the light can’t shine as brightly, after all. There should be as many positive speculative fiction books as negative ones, but it’s truly a sad thing to squish out sexism in fiction–when it serves a purpose. When it isn’t written out of malice for others, but to answer questions.

Real Me will finish those books about the lowest of the low who bring real change to their world–one day. Real Me is hiding behind the fire hydrant for a little longer, though. Writing a book when you know you’ll be hammered for it is difficult. It takes a lot of courage to sit down and put words to the page, knowing you’re going to be opening yourself to rapid-fire complaints over the dark nature of a world.

I’ll be Real Me for a moment. Shh, please don’t tell anyone. It’s our secret. It’s hard to write a book containing so much sexism because I live it in the publishing world. I’ve gone years hiding my real name behind initials because women simply didn’t write epic fantasy. Women didn’t write good science fiction. The ones who did openly and well were rare exceptions.

This is difficult to acknowledge, but most of my life, I read books by men because they were what was available. They’ve influenced me, and they’ve influenced me quite a bit. But, it’s worth noting I’ve also read lots of books by women as well–and by women masquerading as men.

And there is the problem: when I was a child, I read books by women who were masquerading as men in order to be able to thrive in a world dominated by men.

Then Real Me wrote that book. Real Me wrote that book because Real Me understands what it is like to be unwanted because of gender.

You see, many years ago, Real Me did an experiment. It’s one that’s been done by others. The story is the same. You’ve probably heard it before. A woman takes one novel, the same manuscript, and submits it to agents looking for representation. She is writing on an obviously feminine name.

She is rejected.

Then she does one simple change. It’s stupid, and it’s terrifying. She gives herself a male name and resubmits the manuscript to new agents. She removes references to her gender.

She’s noticed.

Real Me experienced that first hand. She used her first name initially, failing to get requests for full manuscripts–or any requests at all. Real Me switched to her initials in frustration.

Real Me got many requests for partial or full manuscripts. The difference was staggering. The only change Real Me made was to remove references to her gender and use initials instead of her name. Real Me otherwise didn’t change the query letter. Real Me had a chance to be noticed (and rejected) by agents because she hid who she was.

Real Me isn’t alone in this–and that’s why Real Me created Super Secret Agent Me, Trillian Anderson.

DAE PORTALS will be urban fantasy. It will be romance, in its own way. It will be epic. It will be many things, and all of them things Real Me isn’t brave enough to do–not yet. It’ll be everything Real Me won’t do, but should have done. Real Me has an audience who doesn’t really like too much sex in their books. Real Me’s audience doesn’t like a lot of things Trillian Anderson Me will do–and that’s okay.

But, in so many ways, Trillian Anderson is the real me–and that’s okay, too.

And yes, sexism, racism, and prejudice will be written, explored, and laid to rest–because the fantasy I love best challenges the world I live in… and I love writing books I love to read.

  1. In a way, these vocal feminists got the point of what you were trying to put across and decided the vent their at you for the wrongs in society (as they see it). In way, these people showed that you did what you set out to do 🙂

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