Why No Women?

My first publication, The Wind and the Spark, comes out this week in Fictionvale Episode 6. It’s one of my older stories, originally written in 2013; but after revisions in late 2014 with wonderful editorial help of Venessa Giunta at Fictionvale, I’m very proud of the tale. But I noticed one deep problem that I couldn’t fix in editing.

There are no female characters. None whatsoever, main or secondary or background.

Let me explain why:

The Bad Answer

The story takes place in the middle of the 19th century, on an Arctic military installation. Male-dominated profession, a cooped-up location. Within the story’s logic, there shouldn’t be any women there. This world is slightly more egalitarian than real history because of manpower shortages (pun intended) arising from long-term war, but we’re in the wrong geographical spot to see that in action.

So why is this a bad answer?

Nobody forced me to write a story about men in their manly Nordic outpost of manliness. I chose to write in a setting that excluded women. Therefore, I definitely need to have…

The Good Answer

Honestly, it’s just chance that I sold this sausage-fest first. As I’ve said before, diversity in fiction is a good thing for many reasons. The point is not to meet quotas, but to write fiction that reflects the world’s real diversity.

I don’t want to be one of those guys who pays lip service to diversity while writing about the bros and their manly manproblems, or blithely pasting in all-white futures, pasts, and secondary worlds. So it’s time to test myself, and check the demographics for all the stories I currently have out on submission, plus my works in progress (WIP).

For these statistics I limited myself to the top 3 characters in each story, though I sometimes included major presences who never come onstage. I only examined how the characters reflect real-Earth society, not how they fit into their local setting. For fantasy settings I’ve assigned characters to the Earth civilization they most evoke, though that obviously makes for crude approximations.

The Results

Diversity Table

Some thoughts:

  • 19/37 female, 7/14 protagonists.
  • 19/37 white, including the three “unspecified but assume white” and the many European Jews.
  • No, I’m not going to try to define “white;” that’s above the pay grade of this blog post.
  • “Hispanic” is probably the right word, because those three characters are all Hispanic-American. (Additional data not shown on chart: 4 stories set in USA, 6 in Europe, 2 in space, 3 in secondary worlds.)
  • † indicates a sexuality that’s identifiably other than cis/hetero (6/37 characters). Of the remaining 31, 11 are unambiguously cis/hetero. For the remaining 20, sexuality is ambiguous or not identifiable. (Authorial vision varies, but I don’t want to take credit for anything not in the text.)
  • The three *’s are the same character, as are the two **’s. I counted each appearance separately.
  • “Unspecified-white” means the story has no physical descriptions for anyone, but the character’s names are an “American generic” that probably implies white. The fairy is “bronze-skinned” but not any human ethnicity.
  • The MC of Custom Made is an inhuman entity in a female human form, but when it comes to Meltwater, this whole question gets utterly incomprehensible. I can’t even explain how incomprehensible it is without spoilers. This pleases me immensely.

Is this perfect? Surely not, even if I knew what “perfect” would be. This list has some definite strengths and successes, but also gaps and weaknesses. (For instance, compare diversity of characters vs. cultures/nations.) Nevertheless, it lets me answer this post’s question with data-driven certainty: I’ve only written one story on Frozen Sausage Island, I promise!

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