What particularly stood out to me was this quote from about the end of the article:
"Populating a world with men, with male heroes, male people, and their “women cattle and slaves” is a political act. You are making a conscious choice to erase half the world."
She also talks about how too often in speculative fiction we fall into the trap of viewing women only as mothers, daughters, wives or victims. As Hurley points out this is because these are the societal narratives we are given. Not that this reflects actual lived experience since all of us live lives filled with women who are and do so much more. The narratives we are given though, in books, movies, tv and politics are that women are valued by their relationship to men: how they are related to men, how they are useful to them, and how they are abused by them.
All and all this is an amazing article, and makes a lot of really great points about the way we think and write about female characters in speculative fiction. I think, and argue, that this is true not just for speculative fiction but for m/m romance as well. Maybe even more so.
The nature of m/m romance means that our main characters necessarily have to be male identified but even so the number of m/m romance novels I've read where there are no female characters at all is legion. Even when there are female characters in m/m romance novels they tend to fall into stereotypes which do one of two things: cock-block the main couple or provide them with emotional support or physical care. Very rarely are they heroes of their own stories or even equal partners to the male characters in the stories.
This I think is problematic and I struggle with it a lot in my own writing and too often fail at dealing with it in my own works.
I write about it in the article for Storm Moon Press "More Than the Crazy Ex or Empathetic Best Friend: writing female secondary characters in M/M romance."
I also read Chuck Wendig's blog post "The Underserved Population Of Readers"
this morning. He took it a step further and talk about not just female characters but LBTQ character, characters of color and basically all characters who are not middle-class white men (young, attractive men in my genre.) He did this in a really interesting way by talking about audience. He argues that although in spectulative fiction we tend to think of our audience as prominently white middles class, straight dudes, or people who like reading about white straight men, maybe we shouldn't. Maybe we should assume women read speculative fiction, and people of color and differently abled people and LGBTQ people all of whom really want to see people like them represented in fair, accurate and fully rounded ways. While it might take a little more effort to write these kinds of characters in ways which are not stereotypical, Wendig argues it is well worth the trouble.
Statistics found on sites like Romance Writers of America says that the average romance reader is female, straight, married, and in her mid-40s. Trends in m/m romance would indicate most readers want to see stories about white, cisgender, guys in their early-twenties, late teens with washboard abs and surprisingly perky pecs.
There is nothing wrong with writing stories about these kinds of guys or being an average romance reader (as described by RWA) or being an average romance reader that likes stories about these kinds of guys.
On the other hand what about the queer readers that don't fit into the gay male box, or the trans* readers? What about the differently abled readers that want to see more people like them represented? Or readers who like their guys with a softer, rounder build? What about all the straight, white married women who don't want to read about white middle-class twenty-somethings with perfect bodies and big cocks?
Maybe you're saying "but they aren't the majority of readers. We need to write to the majority of readers and the sales show most readers want white boy jocks with the build of Olympic athletes and gay porn stars."
Do we need continue to support a status quo which relies on choosing to ignore the existence of not just half the world but considerably more of it than that?
But you might be thinking "this is supposed to be a fantasy! A fantasy about hot guy on hot guy action."
While there is nothing wrong with that fantasy per say I think we need to ask ourselves more often who's fantasy is this? and what is the cost?
Megan Derr wrote in her blog "Closer to Home Than You Think" about how the m/m romance genre can fall into the trap of being misogynistic, homophobic and trans*phobic even as we pride ourselves on our inclusiveness (my words not hers). She wrote about the experience of creating a fully realized and beloved female character who dies in one of her stories, then being told by readers that they were glad the character died because she was in the way of the two male characters. She wrote about how we as a genre talk about inclusiveness but writers and readers alike complain when a character is trans* calling him not a "real" man or saying that it's not really m/m romance if both men aren't cisgender.
For the hop against homophobia and trans*phobia I wrote about the acts of micro-aggression I experience all the time as a queer person. I didn't talk about micro-aggression from within the m/m romance genre in the post. However, I have been thinking a lot about how hard it is for me when the m/m romance community claims to be allies of the LGBTQ community but then only ever wants to read or write about or post pictures of attractive, gay, cisgender men. People are entitled to read what they like and like what they like. It does hurt though when people who claim to be allies never depict or in any way acknowledge people like me or the people I love and find attractive.
That's the cost when we only represent one kind of person, we become part of the problem, not the solution.
I'm not saying we need to stop writing about attractive, cisgender, able bodied, white, young men. We just need to start thinking critically about why they are over represented in every genre including m/m romance.
Likewise I am not saying no authors in the genre write about people of color, or fully realized female characters, or trans* characters or differently able characters, or characters with all different body types. There just should be lots more of these kinds of characters then there are. They should be in the majority.
Because let's face it, young gay men who look like underwear models in the real world, even in the LGBTQ community, are a tiny percentage of the population.
The world is full of a lot more kinds of people than that. The queer community is chock full of a lot more kinds of people than that.
We are all deserving of our happy endings.
We have all fought.