Even though my year of reading books by women ended in May, it continues to shape which authors I read. But it’s more than reading books by women, it’s reading books with challenging and intricate female protagonists. As I explored in a previous post, there is a gender gap not just in the gender of the author, but in the gender of the protagonist. Women’s stories must matter.
My older brother once told me that I was not like other girl authors because I could write convincing male characters. This was a source of pride: I had the approval of a male audience. Somehow, I had become the exception to my gender; I had made it. I attended a women’s college and for my first creative writing class, I was determined to write a script about a male character, mainly to prove I was still a writer who could write across gender. I, again, took pride in writing male characters and not being a girl author. In my personal writing journey, I tried every path to escape being a writer defined by womanhood.
Playwright Camilla Whitehill’s one-man show Mr. Incredible (2016) is a play about male entitlement, starring a male actor. In an article for Exeunt, she tells the story of how after the show, a male actor she’d never met, “wanted to let me know that I had written a male character really well – for a woman.” Women are expected to write about women–not under the assumption that all female writers are feminists–but under the assumption that women’s writing is for women. That women’s writing is about women and therefore these stories are limited and alienating to a male audience (the only audience that matters). That’s a vicious cycle. Women can’t write about men without either being praised as the exception or criticized for a poor portrayal. But women can’t write about women without being shoved aside as authors of chick lit.
Whitehill raises similar concerns about her work: “the play doesn’t match the criteria for “all-female theatre” lists. It doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test. You can’t say it’s “female-driven drama”.” But that doesn’t mean it’s not feminist.
As Roxane Gay says in her collection of essays, Bad Feminist (2014), “We don’t all have to believe in the same feminism. Feminism can be pluralistic so long as we respect the different feminisms we carry with us, so long as we give enough of a damn to try to minimize the fractures among us.”
So, how can you best support female authors and feminism no matter the gender of an author’s characters?
- Don’t limit female authors to only write about female characters. Don’t shame (or praise) them for writing male characters.
- Don’t limit yourself to only write about female characters. Don’t shame (or praise) yourself for writing male characters.
- Love–publicly love!–your favorite female characters! Let the world know which women inspire you each day.
- Cosplay! Halloween is a great excuse to dress up as an awesome female character.
- Genderbend cosplay (but don’t appropriate a character’s race, please!)! Who says we can’t have a female Han Solo? Or maybe an agender Kamala Khan?
What other ways can you think of to best support female authors?