Ages ago, someone noticed – well before I had – that all my stories have lead male protagonists. I thought Oh yeah, so they do. How strange. And carried on about my business. Because that was just the way it was.
Then I wrote my first book, and it had a lead male protagonist. And I thought nothing of it, because it also has a female one. It’s fine, that’s what the story needed.
And then I wrote my second book and it opened with the man’s perspective, and of the two characters I wrote about, I found his story was the easiest to tell. I figured that was because I empathised with his story, I related to his pain on a human level… its ok, by the way, I know he isn’t real.
And then I got lots of rejections from agents, one of which was lovely enough to make time to chat to me about why, and it seems that one of her main concerns related to how a lead male protagonist would be received in a market aimed predominantly at women. (Incidentally, this may not have been her only concern, it’s also possible she just thought it wasn’t good enough… but it’s useful feedback all the same!)
And that was the first time I really thought about it. Because it never occurred to me that it might be a problem. I was just telling a story. About a man and a women.
Then I remembered previous observations about male characters and even thought back to one of the first stories I ever wrote, The Owl at Home. When I was six. Even then, Owl was a boy.
WHAT CAN THIS MEAN?
I am a feminist, I believe in absolute and total equality for women. In the creative sector alone, I am fully aware of the fight women have. In the literary world, books written by women are often considered to be of less literary merit than those written by men. I am fully aware that for example, in theatre, women are still finding strong, female roles more challenging to come by, particularly as they get older and that there are fewer women at the top of British Theatre than there are men, because – lots of reasons including: jobs for the boys. And most importantly; I am acutely aware of the inherent imbalance there is in the world when it comes to men and women.
By the way, did anyone see what David Cameron was wearing this morning, NO BECAUSE NO-ONE CARES. (And not just because he is a jumped up Tory tosser.) The women though, swit swoo – no wonder they got the job. Tits. What? (Yes, Daily Fail, I’m looking at you.)
So, with all that in mind, why then am I fueling this male dominated world we live in? Should I be bothered about it? Because I have to tell you, despite taking on board the advice from that agent… and planning a book that in no way centred on a lead male protagonist. I appear to have written over 15k words in which the man has very quickly become a very strong voice in the book. WTF!?
So I put it to you: am I about to set myself up for another failure because I am automatically writing in this way? Or might this be my niche, if you will. (if you didn’t pronounce that nitch, we can no longer be friends. Same as minestrone is pronounced minniestrony. Deal with it.)
Would you really choose not to read a book because the main character was a man?
Because in truth, the stories I write, generally do have strong male characters. But I don’t think that is at the expense of the women. My female characters are not pining for a man in their life, they aren’t interested only in marriage and babies and happily ever after. They are strong, independent, in charge of their own destiny. My intention is that they my stories have strong characters full stop. Regardless of gender. Because I am writing about life and relationships and the things I feel connected to. And because in my world, men are as important as women. Women are as important as men. And together we live in almost peaceful harmony. (Apart from when he leaves the toilet seat up, obvs!*)
Or, have I totally missed the point? And yes, I know. I may still be chasing the publishing dream because I havent yet got there. And the agent’s feedback may have been nothing more than fluff to keep me off the scent, instead of just saying actually, try harder. But it has stuck, and I’m thinking about it, and I’d be an idiot not to just wonder, right?!
*This is a lie for the purposes of humour. There are two boys and two girls in our house. Therefore there’s a 50/50 chance the toilet seat will be in the wrong position for someone. Yes, I am an incredible wife.