Back when I was screen writing, my first script to go out wide was a military action/thriller. Very dark, told from the hero’s POV. I got a lot of meetings off that script, and people kept looking at me oddly when I’d first walk into the meeting. I assumed it was because I’m from the deep south and sound every bit of it. Finally, I was in Joel Silver Productions in their office on the Warner Bros lot, meeting with a VP (very sauve looking guy), and when I first stepped in the room, this guy looked at me and said, "Uh, no, honey, down the hall, second door to the left."
I frowned, and looked down at my day planner at the itinerary my agent had given me to make sure I was at the right production company, and while I was doing so, he said, "Really, honey. Down. The. Hall. Two doors. To the left."
I looked at his name plate and then at the day planner again and said, "But this is where they sent me. I have a meeting here."
He sighed. Put his pen down. And spoke soooo slowly, as if I was learning impaired and was the bane of his existence. "Honey. They are interviewing for the interns down the hall. Two doors, to the left. You need to go on, now, because I have a meeting with a screenwriter due any minute."
"You’re meeting with Toni McGee Causey right?"
He looked perplexed, as if I’d just spoken Farsi. "Yeah. How’d you know that?"
"I’m Toni McGee Causey."
He looked utterly blank. Looked down at my script on his desk. Up at me (boob level). Down to the script. Up to me (again, boobs). Down. Up. "But… you’re a woman!"
I looked down at my boobs and said, "Holy shit, how’d THAT happen?"
We had a really long meeting that went well, but he must’ve asked me twenty times how I’d come up with all of those action scenes. He loved them, he said, but after a while, it was clear that he assumed that because I was a woman, I couldn’t possibly have figured out how to shoot guns or make that "action stuff" happen. When he asked yet again, I said, "You know, you’re probably right that I had help. Whenever I got to an action scene, I just grabbed onto my husband’s penis and channeled."
He quit asking.
(He did laugh, though. And offered to develop a project with me, so it turned out fine.)
At Left Coast Crime, Lori Armstrong, Karen Olson, Joanne Pence and I had a panel called "Walking the Mean Streets in High Heels." Now, I loved LCC. It was a fantastic convention and our moderator, Christine Goff rocked. And the panel title was catchy enough and we had a full room, so this is not a complaint. But we realized as soon as we saw the title of our panel that three of us had female protagonists who did not wear heels. Ever. Only Joanne’s character did, and we were amused and at the same time, a little frustrated with the preconceived notion that if a book had a female protagonist, shoes mattered. Shoes. I have never really understood the whole "shoe" thing for women, but then I have a construction business with my husband and our office is at home. I like dressing up and I have a few heels, but at Thrillerfest this past summer, I mentioned that I had somehow lacked the "shoe" gene for women and several people inhaled sharply; I offered to give back my Certified Female [TM] card.
I am almost 100% positive that if the LCC panel had been made up of men, the title of the panel would not have been "Walking the Mean Streets in Loafers." And the point I hoped we made, ultimately, was that we should be asking the tougher questions about our characters–whether we’ve made them riveting, whether we’ve made an initially unlikeable character compelling to read about, whether we’ve reached for layered nuances, whether we’ve presented our character with interesting obstacles, and whether or not the story works. We should be embracing the characters as characters, not a collection of traits, and there’s room enough in any genre for all kinds of women and men.
Does genre and / or gender bias affect success… or just the perception of success? One of the ladies in the audience asked if we believed that men had an advantage selling to a publisher (I am sadly paraphrasing — she asked it in a much better way), and I said that I didn’t think so, and that I wouldn’t want to be assumed to be at a disadvantage because I was a woman. I’d like to believe that if you write well, people will find your book. But in this day of crowded bookstores and uncertainty, there’s no surefire guarantee that this is true for anyone, and there’s been a lot of interesting discussion over on David Montgomery’s blog about why that’s so.
At lunch later that day of the panel, the fantastic Tim Maleeny (who’ll be guest-blogging for me in a couple of weeks) pointed out a stat I wish I had remembered on the panel, which is that women make up a majority of the book buying public. I’ve heard everything from 60% to 80% of books are bought by women (and MJ Rose mostly likely has that figure around somewhere), but whatever that number is, it’s not small.
Does gender or genre bias exist? Do we lose potential readers when we diss what they’d been reading in the past?
Or maybe you’d just rather contemplate the breaking of another preconceived notion… and watch The Easter Bunny Hates You…
(swiped from the ever fabulous Max Adams)