The Gendering of Genre:
Where Are the Hack-and-Slash Chicks?
I think it’s safe to say that paranormal romance is now taking the world by storm. Women from all over are stepping deeper into the world of science fiction, fantasy, and horror through this medium. But are female writers genuinely breaking the mold by combining “bodice rippers” with vampires? Or are we reaffirming a “gendering of genre”, where chicks take the love and gush and leave the hard science, laser guns, and gore to the men?
I don’t have any thoughts on this yet, as I don’t have much data to sway me in either direction. I say, do as you choose and write what you love regardless of your sex! On the flip side of this, what I do know is that when I write things that I love (hard sci fi, gore, demons, dark fantasy), my “knack” for writing horror and grotesquery seems to make my readers very uncomfortable. Especially because I’m a chick. Jokingly, one of my writing workshop colleagues laughed and said, “I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to meet you!” She had read the prologue and first chapter of my novel and had been freaked out by the um… not nice-ness of it. Lol!
Another colleague told me that I did the unthinkable in the very first chapter of my novel: I killed three innocent kids and wrote about it in detail. (Oops.) Now I’m sure you all are thinking what she was thinking: “Hurting children and animals are off-limits in fiction.” This colleague wasn’t being accusatory, but she was definitely surprised and disgusted. Another colleague seemed to agree, hoping that I hadn’t done this for shock value. Other comments included that one of the male characters was definitely creepy and cruel. As a whole, the common feeling about my sample was: “Oh my God. This is way intense.”
Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking. Killing the innocent, and describing it in detail, is “wrong”. (Too bad we haven’t learned this lesson in real life yet, but I digress!) However, there is a very very good reason as to why these events needed to happen in the novel (and you’ll have to read the book to find out why). The issue I want to bring up here though is about the expectations of female writers.
Don’t get me wrong. My critiquers were absolutely wonderful and helped me to look at my work with a critical eye. I will definitely be incorporating their changes into my manuscript. However, I couldn’t help wondering: Had I been a man, would their (and others’) reactions to my work be different? For example, I read the first chapter of “The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor”, which I loved. It shined with the goriest and most glorious of undead splendor, with some very intense (read: disgusting) imagery. But Robert Kirkman gets loads of accolades for his work. I wonder how he would have been received had he been a woman? Would the crowds send him cowering back into the kitchen to don his pink oven mitts and frost his Christmas cookies? Or would they have given him his due credit? Hm!
Perhaps this is just my own experience, but it seems to me that dudes have the green light when it comes to blood, gore, and chaos, but chicks are sort of expected to keep it “My Little Pony” when it comes to their fiction. With the exception of Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games”, many of the huge “sci-fi” hits from women nowadays seem to fall under the paranormal romance genre. I commend you, ladies, and seriously, more power to you. We need more female writers breaking the bank and redefining the industry. At the same time, as someone who is more into hard sci-fi, horror, and ball-breaking, I do await that glorious day when we can read some good-n-gory stuff, see that the writer has boobs, and think nothing of it.
What do you think? Am I generalizing? Or do you have similar experiences as a female (or non-female) writer of science fiction? I’d love to hear your feedback!