Between Wendy Davis’s filibuster, the severing of Tor’s relationship with James Frenkel and the general sociopolitical climate, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about gender.
But first, a quick note on the difference between sex and gender. You are biologically a sex. If you are born with two x chromosomes, you are female. Born with an xy, and you are male. But one performs a gender. You enact what it means to be masculine or feminine.
In gender theory, you’ll find two major camps – essentialists and constructivists.
An essentialist view of gender holds that women are innately born to nurture. They are creators. Men are innately born to command. They are destroyers. They perform their gender not because they’re told to, but because it is who they are. (But then, one asks, is a woman who doesn’t feel motherly no longer feminine?)
A constructionist view of gender says that gender roles are constructed by society. Society – in the form of culture, media, parenting, etc. – tells girls that they should like pink, and boys that they should like blue. Culture says that men are protectors, and women need to be protected.
It may seem like it comes down to nature vs. nurture, and one might say, “Well, it’s probably a bit of both, isn’t it?” And then that would be that.
But the problem is that an essentialist view is extremely limiting to both genders. And a constructionist view means that we — writers — as culture producers, have a responsibility to look at how we portray both men and women.
I don’t have answers. But I think it’s worthwhile to ask yourself:
How do gender norms inform my writing?
Am I trying to reflect the current experience, or write the world as it should be?
Can I avoid didacticism and tell a good story, while being aware of the way my characters fit into a larger social narrative?
What I’m reading now:
As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child & Avis DeVoto by Joan Reardon