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View Full Version : Gender Bias, Real or Perceived



Cyia
10-26-2009, 04:52 AM
Do you think there is one?

I've been trying to decide which MC I want to make the POV character for a WIP, or if I want to do multiple POV's. It got me to thinking about whether or not the MC's gender determines its audience.

Would a boy want to read an action oriented story with a female protag in MG or YA, or a girl want to read a more romantic story that was from the guy's POV?

How big a factor do you think choosing the MC's gender plays in a book's viability.

I've never read Harry Potter, but do you think it would have been less successful if it had been told from Hermione's POV? Or something like Twilight from Edward's POV.

To those of you who write in 1st person, do you think that the book's story would change drastically if you wrote through the perspective of another gender? Even if the female and male characters have equal coverage in the story? The voice would change, obviously, but would the actual story change?

You know the saying, "There's my version, his version and the truth". Does that apply to fiction as well as life? Would a second MC's version be the same as the primary MC's?

/ramble, and I hope it makes sense.

Toothpaste
10-26-2009, 04:58 AM
I think boys (as in kids) are more likely to read a male protagonist. It's actually been proven. Girls (again, we're talking kids here) will read books with boys as main characters, boys not as much with girls as the protagonist. And I don't think Harry Potter would have been as universally popular had it been about a girl.

As far as Twilight goes, I think if it had been written from Edward's POV it still would have been read by girls. But there are so many small factors that contributed to its success that it is hard to say if it would have been as popular. Bella had no personality which meant any girl could use her as a cipher and pretend they were dating Edward, and that might be a big part of the success. Who knows.

That being said. As many boys love "Alex" as do girls, and they don't seem to care that Alex is a girl. Now the book is written in third person, the narrator is a bit separate from Alex, and Alex is a tom boy. The book has very little to do with her being a girl, she just happens to be one. It's also a rollicking adventure about pirates, and sword fighting, there's a lot of comedy, short chapters and cliff hangers.

Point is, it is possible. But I think it is a very reasonable question to ask. Especially for MG and YA.


ETA: as far as the story changing depending on if it's a boy or a girl in first person, it really depends. If the book has nothing to do with their gender, which probably lends itself more to MG than YA, then I think it's possible to keep things pretty much the same. The only thing to do with Alex being a girl in my book is that people keep mistaking her for a boy, it's a running joke, but nothing that affects her profoundly, in fact she kind of finds it funny. With kids, before they have a real sense of their sexuality, it's easier to have a more gender neutral main character and adventure. But I think it can have a big effect if the kids are teenagers. Set it in the past and you have sexual discrimination. Set it in a modern school and you have the way girls interact with each other which can be quite different from boys. Even if your main character isn't typical of his/her gender, he/she will still have to interact with people who find that odd.

Freelancer
10-26-2009, 05:41 AM
Now that's a good question, I'm also curious for the answers.

By my opinion, maybe I'm mistaken, male's are common as protagonist, because somehow it's easier to write them. I also used to prefer them, with the exception of my last WIP. As I experienced Women MCs are different and harder to write, but honestly I enjoy it much better then writing the thousandth knight or space marine story what I written in the last years. Writing a woman MC is a real challenge (At least for a male author, like humble me.).

Maybe I'm also mistaken as in this I'm also on a bit uncharted territory, but I believe women protagonists must be more detailed and they must have a plus if you want to grab the boy reader's attention. Also guys need to get used to the female characters. If they're not the "Ideal" woman in the description, or simply showing the sign of weakness, they surely put that book away. In the eyes of the boys, girls are weak. I know, I was a boy too. :) But if you give strength of both parents (Father and mother) to the woman MC, which is holding the traits of a caring, protecting mother, but also has the intelligence of the father... so something which is remembering the boy for both his parents on a good way, by my opinion that can work out well. At least I really hope. :)

HelloKiddo
10-26-2009, 06:13 AM
By my opinion, maybe I'm mistaken, male's are common as protagonist, because somehow it's easier to write them.

It's not easier to write them, it's easier to sell them. The public likes males better.

Cyia
10-26-2009, 06:55 AM
Guys are easier to write for you because you are one :tongue. They're not necessarily easier to write for girl type peoples. ;)

Males are more common MC's in "boy" fiction, which is generally more action oriented. Females are more common MC's in "girl" fiction, which is generally more romantic. The goal with any story is to make the reader identify with the MC, and the assumption is that it's best to keep it on gender lines.

However, in the case of the WIP I'm getting ready (gonna try NaNo this year, I think), my characters revolted on me. The character I thought was going to be the POV character decided she wasn't going to cooperate as such. The boy is being much more cooperative, and since he's the one "in the dark", the reader would be able to discover the mystery along with him... but it's most likely a "girly" book, even with the bursts of action.

So far, the storyline seems solid, but I don't want to alienate potential readers because the POV is male in a "girl" book.

AllieKat
10-26-2009, 07:06 AM
So far, the storyline seems solid, but I don't want to alienate potential readers because the POV is male in a "girl" book.

Heh. I wouldn't worry about that too much. Most of us girls are fascinated by boys and don't mind reading about them at all.

Cyia
10-26-2009, 07:23 AM
Heh. I wouldn't worry about that too much. Most of us girls are fascinated by boys and don't mind reading about them at all.

Let me rephrase - I don't want to alienate potential AGENTS because they assume girl readers won't want a guy MC in a girl book ;)

Wayne K
10-26-2009, 07:32 AM
Is that what the industry thinks? If it is I would make the MC a girl.

Ciera_
10-26-2009, 08:04 AM
Personally, I find that there are not enough Male-Protagged YA books out there. I like reading from both genders' POVs, but I am getting a little tired MCs being predominantly female.
Though, to be fair, most of the MCs I write are female. So I can't really complain.

AllieKat
10-26-2009, 10:26 AM
Let me rephrase - I don't want to alienate potential AGENTS because they assume girl readers won't want a guy MC in a girl book ;)

Well, what are you basing this on? Is this your perception of their perception? You could be incorrect.

timewaster
10-26-2009, 12:28 PM
I usually write both in that I am very careful not to exclude boys. I also don't want to present girls as being less capable than boys so I write action books with strong female and male characters.
I have only one published book with a first person narrator - she is female and very few boys will pick it up unless they have heard me read from it. It has quite a feminine cover, which I pointed out, but the belief was that boys woudn't read it even if it had a more masculine cover because the protag was female. My feeling is that this is probably true, though they seem to cope with the alternating male/female voices I often use.

I want to write so as not to exclude boys - there is not that much fiction out there that is boy friendly, but also to keep a strong female presence in the story. I want boys to read and also to see that girls can be allies, comrades as well as girl friends so I suppose I am motivated partly by ideology and partly by commercial considerations. It is good for boys to see things through a female's eyes but you have to lure them into the experience.
When I was growing up almost all narratives were male, but I think that these days there are probably more YA books that are female? Certainly there are more female writers than male ones in the category.

Linda Adams
10-26-2009, 02:21 PM
I've never read Harry Potter, but do you think it would have been less successful if it had been told from Hermione's POV? Or something like Twilight from Edward's POV.



I have heard that J.K.R wanted to do the story from Hermione's POV but ended up doing Harry because it would sell better.

Vincent
10-26-2009, 02:36 PM
I think the bias does exist with young readers, but that said, one of the most popular Australian YA book series, if not #1 (the Tomorrow series) had a teenage girl as protagonist. Read widely by boys and girls.

Freelancer
10-26-2009, 05:09 PM
Is that what the industry thinks? If it is I would make the MC a girl.:D I meditated and worked on the same way. That's the reason why I've made my MC to a chick. A little defiance.

CaroGirl
10-26-2009, 07:06 PM
My 12 yo son reads mainly stories with male MCs, but not exclusively. While he prefers the Artemis Fowl type of story, he recently read and enjoyed Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue, which has a female protag (but he might have been sucked in by having previously enjoyed her other work: like Number the Stars and The Giver). My 9 yo daughter, by contrast, prefers real-life humour stories, like those by Judy Blume. Keep in mind, however, one of JB's best characters is a boy (Fudge). Anecdotally, I think their reading habits generally support a gender bias.

Oh, wait a minute, my son loved Twilight. Never mind.

Lady Ice
10-26-2009, 07:39 PM
Boys don't really like reading books with female MCs.

lucidzfl
10-26-2009, 07:49 PM
Yeah I would say YA male protags are more common/desirable

The Otter
10-26-2009, 08:32 PM
I think it really depends on the genre. I mean, with urban fantasy, a female protagonist is the norm. I read very few urban fantasy books with male protags. And in romance novels, the female character is usually (though not always) the MC.

But overall I'd agree that it's probably easier to be successful with a male protagonist, just as it's probably easier to be successful with a white protagonist or a straight protagonist than the alternatives. Even in our relatively feminist society, there's still a lingering perception that girls are weaker, less active, less cool, whatever...which is why girls will read novels with male MCs, but not vice-verse. By no means is that an absolute rule though. There are some books with female MCs that have been widely successful (Wicked comes to mind.)

MGraybosch
10-26-2009, 09:21 PM
As a kid I probably read more fiction that was written by men or had male protagonists. As I got older, I'd like to think my tastes have broadened a bit. Sure, you'll see guys like Arthur C. Clarke, Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber, Robert Heinlein and Terry Goodkind on my shelves, but you'll also see Ayn Rand, Jacqueline Carey, K. J. Parker, C. J. Cherryh, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Octavia Butler.

I also keep some Andre Norton, Mercedes Lackey, and Elizabeth Haydon in a closet somewhere as examples of the kind of sci-fi and fantasy I don't want to write.

Now, I'll cop to using a male protagonist in my own writing, but I'd like to think that I've done a respectable job of creating interesting female characters as well.

Phaeal
10-26-2009, 09:49 PM
The protagonist of the Potter series had to be whoever was the Chosen One, aka Kid with the Lightning Scar. Could have been Hermione Potter, but alas, I'm afraid the boy readership would have been harder to come by. Plus, a lot of Americans (yes, I've met them) would have pronounced it Hermy-One. ;)

Cyia
10-26-2009, 09:52 PM
The protagonist of the Potter series had to be whoever was the Chosen One, aka Kid with the Lightning Scar. Could have been Hermione Potter, but alas, I'm afraid the boy readership would have been harder to come by. Plus, a lot of Americans (yes, I've met them) would have pronounced it Hermy-One. ;)

Could be worse. I have a character named Honoria and it's scary to hear it pronounced like it rhymes with diarrhea.

(I'm an American who can -usually-figure out how to say stuff real good like ;) )

MJWare
10-26-2009, 09:52 PM
I think the older your reader the less of an issue it is, but it never goes away. Thus I would not recommend putting a female protagonist in a Middle Grade (which is what I write) book if I wanted boys to read it.
I'm not sure if it really matter in adult lit at all. If the novel is great I can't imagine it would be an issue.

I once wrote a book about a MG girl, but had a boy tell the story. I thought I could trick the boys into reading it. Never got published, so it probably didn't work well (or at least I couldn't pull it off).

IceCreamEmpress
10-26-2009, 09:52 PM
The conventional wisdom is that boys and men have a strong preference for male protags, and that girls and women have a weak preference for female protags. Therefore, the conventional wisdom is that books with male protags will sell better.

I do not think this is based on any kind of research data, but it is widely held as an article of faith.

CaroGirl
10-26-2009, 10:01 PM
The conventional wisdom is that boys and men have a strong preference for male protags, and that girls and women have a weak preference for female protags. Therefore, the conventional wisdom is that books with male protags will sell better.

I do not think this is based on any kind of research data, but it is widely held as an article of faith.
What about my adult fiction WiP? It's told in alternating POV between a man and a woman. Would that appeal to everyone, or backfire and appeal to no one?

MGraybosch
10-26-2009, 10:02 PM
What about my adult fiction WiP? It's told in alternating POV between a man and a woman. Would that appeal to everyone, or backfire and appeal to no one?

It seems to work well enough for George R. R. Martin. :)

CaroGirl
10-26-2009, 10:09 PM
It seems to work well enough for George R. R. Martin. :)
I looked him up, not having heard much about him before. I have to say, his is, without a doubt, the worst website I've ever visited. Absolutely horrific. He does appear to be quite popular, though. And he has both male and female protags, you say? :)

MGraybosch
10-26-2009, 10:12 PM
I looked him up, not having heard much about him before. I have to say, his is, without a doubt, the worst website I've ever visited. Absolutely horrific. He does appear to be quite popular, though. And he has both male and female protags, you say? :)

He gets a bulk discount from the factory. He also tends to kill them off pretty quickly. :)

Evaine
10-26-2009, 11:58 PM
Geoffrey Trease solved the problem in his children's books by almost always having a male and female team as main characters - in Cue for Treason they are a boy and girl (in disguise) who join a Shakespearean group of strolling players, for instance.
He started writing in the 1930s, as a reaction to the 'Boys Own' type boy's adventure stories, which were very patriotic in the 'For King and Empire' vein, and almost always had an upper class boy as MC.

Roger J Carlson
10-27-2009, 12:09 AM
The conventional wisdom is that boys and men have a strong preference for male protags, and that girls and women have a weak preference for female protags. Therefore, the conventional wisdom is that books with male protags will sell better.

I do not think this is based on any kind of research data, but it is widely held as an article of faith.Odd since girls read more than boys (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=160043).

ETA: On re-reading, I see I missed your point. Sorry.

Phaeal
10-27-2009, 06:51 PM
Could be worse. I have a character named Honoria and it's scary to hear it pronounced like it rhymes with diarrhea.

(I'm an American who can -usually-figure out how to say stuff real good like ;) )

Radar used to call Major Winchester's sister On-o-REE-ah. Sounding like gonorrhea. The Major was not amused. But he was a Boston Brahmin, so he knew how to pronounce everything.

timewaster
10-27-2009, 11:02 PM
The conventional wisdom is that boys and men have a strong preference for male protags, and that girls and women have a weak preference for female protags. Therefore, the conventional wisdom is that books with male protags will sell better.

I do not think this is based on any kind of research data, but it is widely held as an article of faith.

Is it?
Girls read more so many people don't even bother trying to go for the boy market hence the large number of female dominated texts sold with pink covers or a picture of a girl's face on the front.

IceCreamEmpress
10-29-2009, 12:16 AM
Is it?
Girls read more so many people don't even bother trying to go for the boy market hence the large number of female dominated texts sold with pink covers or a picture of a girl's face on the front.

Let me try to explain what I mean.

YA books with female protagonists are marketed only to girls (hence pink covers, etc.) because the conventional wisdom is that boys will not buy them.

YA books with male protagonists are marketed to girls and boys, and both girls and boys buy them, according to the conventional wisdom.

Thus, publishers are always actively looking for YA books with male protagonists, because they will sell better--girls will buy them and boys will buy them, so that is a larger audience than the girl-only audience for the pink-covered books. According to the conventional wisdom.

As far as I know there is no actual data to support the conventional wisdom, but it's out there--in the US publishing industry, at least.

Stlight
10-29-2009, 09:24 AM
Speaking for myself, when I was in the YA market with my limited, very limited funds, I bought Hardy Boy books, rather than Nancy Drew. I’d never read a Nancy Drew, but I’d seen the covers and the covers for Nurse Cherry. I wanted a story, not icing on a romance, or worse, the heroine running into girls can’t - aren’t allowed - to do that every chapter.

And I understood the version/ book similar to Harry Potter that came out in Russia featured a female MC and did rather well. Well enough that I believe there was a lawsuit over it.

timewaster
10-29-2009, 02:50 PM
I write not to exclude boys usually with at least one male POV character but lots of my published friends do not. No one has ever made any suggestion to me that I should include boys and I have never heard of the wisdom that suggests this is a good thing.

I tend to think I would do better if I focused more on the 'girlier' end of the market I suspect they sell better. Fewer girls want to read books about battles, irrespective of the gender of the protag, than want to read about relationships. I think the kind of books you write tends to detemine your likely market size more than gender alone.

AdamH
10-29-2009, 07:29 PM
Do you think there is one?

I've been trying to decide which MC I want to make the POV character for a WIP, or if I want to do multiple POV's. It got me to thinking about whether or not the MC's gender determines its audience.

Would a boy want to read an action oriented story with a female protag in MG or YA, or a girl want to read a more romantic story that was from the guy's POV?

Boys in general will probably only read stories involving other boys. Girls are more likely to read both as long as it's good. But all this changes the older they get.


How big a factor do you think choosing the MC's gender plays in a book's viability.

I've never read Harry Potter, but do you think it would have been less successful if it had been told from Hermione's POV? Or something like Twilight from Edward's POV.

Changing the POV would completely change the perception and the feel of the story. From Hermione's POV, Harry could come across as someone who doesn't think of the consequences of his actions because she doesn't know what he's going through. Interesting that you mentioned Twilight from Edward's POV, I read somewhere that Stephanie Meyer is thinking of writing just that.


To those of you who write in 1st person, do you think that the book's story would change drastically if you wrote through the perspective of another gender? Even if the female and male characters have equal coverage in the story? The voice would change, obviously, but would the actual story change?

Maybe. But not too much. Men and women can often look at the same situation but get completely different things out of them. But if you're talking about a female and a male with EXACTLY the same mental processes, history, and character quirks and the only difference is their physical gender...it wouldn't change too much. But you'd have to take into consideration the differences of outside influences. People react differently to a strong man than to a strong woman even if they're both EXACTLY the same. Just the nature of society...sadly.


You know the saying, "There's my version, his version and the truth". Does that apply to fiction as well as life? Would a second MC's version be the same as the primary MC's?


Nope. Not exactly the same. But it's good that way. Unless you're Sherlock Holmes, it often takes more than one person to see the whole picture. We're all built with blinders to some degree. Just some blinders are positioned different than others.

If that makes sense.

Uzumaki
10-29-2009, 11:52 PM
Maybe. But not too much. Men and women can often look at the same situation but get completely different things out of them.But so can two women and two men. There's more variation within sexes than across them.

I pretty sure that, as said a few times in this thread, boys not reading stories about girls is just an expectation people have, so they feed and perpetuate it. So is the idea that boys won't read anything with action and that girls like romance. I've known plenty of men who loved Austen and Bronte, and tons of women who wouldn't go within 10 feet of a Harlequin.