A recent review of one of my books (Storm Force, written as Susannah Sandlin) was given two stars because, the reviewer said, “I find it amazing that a female author would use so much foul language.” My first reaction was to laugh. My second was to squelch the urge to laugh some more. Then I started thinking about what kind of expectations we go into a book with based on the gender of the author…or the gender of the characters.
And, to my horror, I’ve been guilty of it. In my own books, my male characters use MUCH fouler language than my female characters, although I get brownie points for putting those words in their mouths. (Well, okay, I have a prickly little eagle shapeshifter who’s been known to string a few four-letter words together.)
We also tend to judge the characters in books we read according to the old sexist tropes.
Look at the words we use for the male leads of novels: alpha, damaged hero, noble but misguided, strong, brusque but with a heart of gold. If the guy’s a total asshat, we call him an antihero or an alpha that can be turned into mush with the love of the right woman.
Words we use for the female leads of novels? Kickass (never alpha), smart, strong, too stupid to live (have you ever seen that label applied to a male character?).
Same with “Mary Sue.” It’s never “Jimmie Ray.”
Snarky. A guy might be humorous, have a dry wit, or be funny as hell, but how often have you seen Harry Dresden, whom I adore, by the way, described as snarky?)
What about “sassy”? Ever seen a sassy hero? Smart and strong are good things, but usually we just assume the male characters are smart and strong without having to say it. With women characters, we seem to feel the need to point it out.
So I think there’s some language we use unconsciously when we read books, even in reviewing or describing them ourselves.
I’m not really going anywhere with this. It just struck me as interesting this week. What do you think? Do you see a gender bias in book reviews? Do you think we unconsciously create a gender bias in how we look at the characters in the novels we love–or is that just a natural difference in the way we see men and women?