Any discussion of gender parity is immediately biased. It has been recognised in several studies, some scientific and some undertaken by interest groups, that in any collection of mixed gender crowds/discussions/podcasts/school rooms/books there is a incorrect perception that there is a female/women domination EVEN IF THE FEMALES ARE ONLY 30% OF THE CROWD! There are several theories as to why this is the case, but the main one is that women – as the Other – attract more subconscious attention that the ‘normal’ men. This applies equally (hah) if you are a man or a woman. Please find below some articles covering this phenomenon.
So, when you are in a crowded room, you might think you have a 50/50 gender balance, when they may be only 30% women in the room. This perception doesn’t even consider gender as anything other than the unrealistic two-option choice of Western society. This cognitive bias creates many problems in the literary arena.
- In book collections, there may seem to be a gender parity in protagonists, when the books with male protagonists will greatly outnumber those with female protagonists.
- Even with a goal for gender parity, publishers think they have achieved it when male authors still outnumber the female authors.
- In literary competitions, even if there are more women nominated than men, men still win more prizes. (This also happens in schools, with end-of-year prizes.)
In my own writing, I work hard to have some sort of gender parity, without it feeling like I’ve forced in female characters for the sake of having them. This is particular difficult when I am working in the Steampunk genre, as most Victorian scientists were men. I thought I was getting some gender parity, but when I broke down my ‘cast’, male characters still dominated.
Now, I have to make a decision. Will I cull my male characters to create parity? Or will I satisfy myself with the fact that females dominate the main cast, leave in the majority of masculine secondary characters, and accept that the Victorian era was patriarchal. What do you all think?