Recently I was reading a few studies about how even when women speak less than men, they are perceived to be noisier.
In fact, in one study, conducted by Australian researcher Dale Spender, when women spoke only 15% of the time, they were perceived as having spoken an equal amount to men. And when they spoke only 30% of the time, both men and women viewed the as having dominated the conversation.
This seemed ridiculous, yet probably true. I mean, it’s a study, it’s true, but it’s also a thirty-year-old study. Probably not as true anymore. Right?
This is a pretty awful bias, so I decided to look at my own books. After all, I’m a feminist. I’m the person my parents look to and go “you think that’s sexist, don’t you” and I say yes. I will stop a party dead if a “women in the kitchen” joke is told, and if I spot someone calling someone a “whore,” they can say goodbye to me following them on Twitter. I spend no little time and effort making sure all my tutoring materials are absolutely 50/50 between showing boys and girls.
My books should be pretty even, right? Yes, the story centers around a guy, and probably there’s more men than women, but from the outside, I’m betting I’ve got a gender ratio of 60% men, 40% women.
Not even close.
Adding every single named character from both What Boys Are Made Of and The Mercy of Men together, I have a grand total of 85 names.
64 men (75%)
21 women (25%)
…But okay, my books are really heavy on “wise guys” and gangsters and henchmen, etc. I have plenty of important women. So what if I weed out all the characters who are merely names or just referred to and only include people who speak? That gives us 54 people.
38 men (70%)
16 women (30%)
As we say in Southeast Ohio, well, shit.
Because you know what? I make a concerted effort to include women as background characters. As in, if my characters are talking to a nameless shopkeeper, chances are she’s a woman.
Or so I thought.
Now, this doesn’t include any of my latter books, because this handy dandy list of names was created by my editor Jennifer Zaczek at Cypress Editing and those are the books she’s edited so far. Maybe my gender game really steps up in Book 3.
But you know what? I’m betting it doesn’t. I’m betting it stays right on target.
Now, no one has reported that my book feels too “woman-heavy.” So perhaps these days, for it to feel like there are too many women, you have to have 35%. Or 40%. But the fact that I was thinking I didn’t do too badly keeping things on par says volumes, and not in the way I wanted it to.
So let’s see how I did against some famous works.
How about Tolkien’s beloved The Hobbit? 100% men! Okay, I’m ahead of that. (Seriously, Tolkien?) Okay, we probably knew that one.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? 64% male, 36% female. That actually surprises me, because I really hated that book as a kid for how sexist it is. But hey, just because it’s sexist doesn’t mean it can’t have women. Just not women who go into battle. Unless they’re evil.
(Yes, I’m one of those people who wants stuff I dislike to do badly. Sue me for being petty.)
Harry Potter measures up pretty well with 63.5% male, 36.5% female. Star Wars, on the other hand, averages 83% male, 17% female. So on that scale, I’m not doing great, but I’m not doing terrible.
On the real scale, though, we’re all doing pretty badly. Because none of these are even close to equal. Not one. Frozen was the first Disney movie to give more lines to women than to men, and considering how many princess movies have come before it, that’s just sad.
So, readers, how do your favorite books do? Writers, how about your own work? More men than women? More women than men? Is it the story, or your own biases? Let us know below!
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Thanks for reading.
[Info on various gender ratios from The Digital Reader, “Infographic: Gender Ratio In Popular Fiction.”]