Lots has been written about gender: erstwhile but more socially acceptable tomboys of the past, gender change, gender stereotypes, gender fluidity, and the debate over unisex/gender neutral bathrooms and the like in more recent times. So, I’m not going to dive into that here…there is plenty of great (and not-so-great) ideas flying around the internet and in magazines/books for you to peruse.
It’s 2016, and I’m continually astounded by the continuation of gender stereotypes, both in the world at large, and what’s been ingrained in myself, by society/upbringing, and which comes out from time to time, unfortunately. Which I work hard to evolve past.
I have to keep this vague, here, for a specific reason, but I was reading this great article in a magazine about a topic I was really into, until they started describing colour schemes and defined said colours by the use of gender stereotypes. I was so frickin’ pissed off–I felt like some guy had just pissed all over the magazine as a way to mark his territory. I mean, seriously, defining decor and decorative elements as masculine or feminine?!?! (Yes, they really used “masculine”.) C’mon, people. What were you thinking? This is what I, as an editor, call the “danger zone” in writing.
Propagating gender stereotypes/narrow gender roles in language, when you have time to write, examine, and rewrite? Shouldn’t editors and writers pay closer attention to using gender-neutral terms in writing? To cultivating a more modern approach when it comes to gender to reflect a more contemporary society? I know I’ve called out manuscripts and their writers when it comes to referring to cops as “he” and “him” when they have not been identified as male, female, or other. Sadly, I was probably ignored when I made those notes for that manuscript. But I shouldn’t have been–it’s off-putting to read such sexist assumptions. And I believe that writers can’t afford to alienate their audiences.
A real-life example: Not too long ago, I was at a book convention for mystery/suspense/spy novels, and this author actually came up to me and started ranting about how all the people who liked his spy novel were women and how he couldn’t understand why that was. “Where are all the men,” he bemoaned, as if expecting some sympathy for his lone-male plight–because, of course, I was female, after all, and supposed to be the nurturer. (Little did he know that he was talking to the Chaos Fairy/ass-kicker. ‘Nuff said.)
(It’s probably old news that women read more of those types of books than men do, statistically. So, congratulations, on offending your substantial reader base, other male-gender-identified authors who might hold the same view.)
By the way, the suggested use of gender neutral pronouns is nothing new (see this New York Times article) …so, if you, as a writer, view cops as only men, your manuscript also appears archaic among other, more contemporary 21st-century books.
I presented my note professionally, and backed it up with a plethora of examples and rules but you betcha that I was pretty steamed that the conclusion was made that only men could be police officers, as exemplified by how it was written. If I had been just a reader, I would have put the book down, right then and there, especially with all the other editorial issues.
But, part of being a writer is making mistakes…that’s why we have editors. I know that almost every comment that I’ve made for other writers, I’ve made myself, in writing my own manuscripts (*head bap*).
But, please, listen to us editors. We aren’t haters put on the planet to make writers’ lives hell. Our comments may be hard to read, painful even, but we do it because we care–because we see how great your book can be, with changes like this to the writing. And, your book can go from being loved by friends or family to loved (and read) by all. Or to a larger portion of readers out there, anyway, whatever unique gender blend they are.