Authorship: Who Guards the Gates?

GateWho gets to decide?

I read a post recently by Hailey Foglio on Sexism and Authorship in YA Lit that got me thinking. Are there rules about who gets to write what? Should there be?

Hailey was reacting to claims that some have made about a middle-aged male author who writes YA (Young Adult) books to the effect that he must be some kind of pervert trying to attract the attention of young girls. Her point is that this reflects two widespread assumptions about YA literature: that its readers are primarily girls, and its authors are primarily women. I don’t have any statistics on whether these assumptions are true (and Hailey doesn’t offer any), but in truth, it doesn’t matter. Or at least it shouldn’t. Even assuming that most readers of YA lit are girls and most authors are women–so what? Hailey’s point, and I agree completely, is that there is no reason why boys (and men, and women) can’t or don’t read these books, and no reason why men can’t write them.

I want to broaden this discussion even more. I’ve heard people raise concerns about men writing books with female protagonists. Granted, sometimes these female protagonists seem to be nothing but male fantasies, but there are also some fully drawn, realistic, whole human beings (everything from Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina to William Boyd’s Brazzaville Beach–and, moving to the small screen, there’s always Joss Whedon’s Buffy). But when men write women, there is often an outcry that seems almost to reflect a territorial dispute: men are coming in and co-opting “our” material.

I worry about how far that can go. If we expect that only men can write women and only women can write men, what’s next? Only younger adults can write younger adults, and only older adults can write older adults. Only scientists can write scientists. Only transgender people can write transgender people. Only male-to-female transgender people can write male-to-female transgender people. Only white, lower socioeconomic status, left-handed, Californian transgender people can write…you get the point. When you consider the genres, it gets even worse: only 17th-century French noblemen can write 17-century French noblemen, only post-apocalyptic survivors can write post-apocalyptic survivors, only madcap single fashion-obsessed New York women can write…

I don’t like gates. If I can get inside a character’s head, so that I feel that person’s reality, experience that person’s world, and really care about that person’s decisions and feelings and fate, I don’t care who the author is. You did your job, and did it well. Kudos to you, and thank you.