Okay, I have my thoughts in order now. For those of you just tuning in, this is about an anonymous comment left on my journal, which I feel to be very wrong-headed, but against which I was having a difficult time assembling my arguments. I can’t promise conciseness, exactly, but I’m aiming for coherence, which is what I was lacking before. And thank you to everyone who commented, often making points along these same lines, which helped me go “yeah, that’s what I was after.”
It seems to me that a lot of books these days throw in a mixed cast for the hell of it, to be PC, to try to please everybody. Some stories are just Man Stories; some are just Women Stories. Could you imagine a random female having been thrown into, say, DELIVERANCE? The whole idea is silly. I say you should write a story as it is–if it’s male adventure, then that’s what it is; throwing in a woman won’t make it different or better.
We can leave aside the triple use of the eyebrow-raising notion that writers “throw” such things into their stories “for the hell of it.” I want to talk about the gender politics here.
First up: “Man Stories” vs. “Woman Stories.” This presupposes a notion of stories being ineluctably “male” or “female” in their point of view, intended audience, whatever. Presumably “Man Stories” involve blowing stuff up, while “Woman Stories” are touchy-feely. But I’m likely to suggest watching Die Hard, while my husband will vote for When Harry Met Sally, so clearly that’s not universal. Does this make me a bad woman, and him a bad man? Gendering stories like that just reinforces the ideology that as men or women we “should” behave in certain ways, have certain tastes, etc. And that has pernicious knock-on effects in the long term.
Next: the suggestion that “a random female” doesn’t belong in Deliverance, or whatever male-focused story you want to substitute in there. (Hint: “a random” anything doesn’t belong in any story.) I’m not terribly familiar with Deliverance, so let’s take the example from comments in my other post, that of Wellington’s army on the Peninsula in the 19th century. Granted: soldiers of the time were all-but-universally male, and the fact that the occasional cross-dressing woman did end up in the army doesn’t mean you should shoehorn one into the story out of some misguided notion of gender parity. But is that the only approach? Armies were surrounded by laundresses, prostitutes, local women, officers’ mistresses, wives following their soldier husbands, and a variety of other individuals of the female persuasion. Not every story will involve such people, true; a focused short story about one soldier comforting another as he dies on the battlefield might have just two characters, both male. (But does the dying one have a fiancee or wife? Are there women picking over the corpses around them?) Arguing from extreme cases is pointless, though. More important is the general picture: that while the soldiers of the time were male, writing about a 19th century army while ignoring all that supporting cast perpetuates a fallacious notion, namely, that Manly Man Soldiers don’t need or have wimmen in their lives. They did and do. Or, to state it more broadly: it perpetuates the fallacious notion of women’s irrelevance to history (or the present day).
From there: if your story is set in a secondary world, you own what you created. And I don’t mean the copyright. I mean that you have made choices; you are responsible for them. Does this mean you should create only utopian societies where everything from gender onward is peachy keen? Of course not. That would be boring. But if you set it up so women are insignificant to your story, then can you explain why? Are your reasons good? I could tell you why there are so few men in Doppelganger, and while my reasons have a certain amount of validity, I’m not thrilled with them. I’d probably handle it differently now. But the point is, I own those choices; I’m the one who made that world and told that story.
All of this, of course, applies just as well to race, etc.
And in conclusion: little or nothing of what I’m saying here applies to the book this all started with, because I don’t think these fallacies are what was at work in that writer’s mind. My anonymous commenter simply happened to post in reply to that entry. There may be a connection in his mind (I’m assuming it’s a him), but not in mine.