I want to direct your attention to a recent post by Jo Eberhardt on the Writer (Un)Boxed site about our default idea that characters are male unless specifically specified to be female (and, for most of us in the Western, Euro-centered world, are also White and relatively well-educated and empowered unless there’s a reason for them to be Other). This means we tend to notice those who are different (female, people of color, mobility limited, etc.), and because they capture our attention we overestimate how often they occur. After reading this post I looked back at the 22 books I’ve read so far this year, and find that they break down as follows on gender lines:
- 10 with male point-of-view characters
- 7 with female point-of-view characters
- 3 with a collection of point-of-view characters of mixed genders
- 2 nonfiction books to which gender categories don’t apply
Thus 32% (7 out of 22) of the books I’ve read so far this year, and 35% (7 out of 20) of the fiction I’ve read this year, is centered on female characters. In this respect I score higher than Ms. Eberhardt, but only because I restricted myself to this year’s books. If I went back through the books I own, which includes whole shelves of works by Larry Niven and Dick Francis as well as by Barbara Hambly and Sue Grafton, I’m sure I would get a much lower percentage. This despite the fact that I, like Ms. Eberhardt, actively seek out books by and about women.
So my challenge to you is this: first, read Ms. Eberhardt’s post (The Problem with Female Protagonists). Then do your own count of your reading, and let us know what you find in the comments.
You might be surprised.