Evil Gal Productions

Mere Smith
is a recovering Southerner,
longtime TV writer,
author and blogger.
September 12th, 2011 by Mere Smith

“Typically Male” Writer In A Female Body

Holy Digital Avalanche, Batman!

I had no idea that my last entry, “Strong Female Characters Are… Myths?” would engender — pardon the pun — so much input from my readers.  (And ferociously-defended input, at that!)  For this reason, I’m leaving the poll open until Tuesday night, and I’ll write about it on Wednesday (9/14).  I’ve received so many replies, it’s taking me a while to compile everything.  (Seriously, y’all, my Tweeter is sore.  No horseback riding for me.)  And for those of you who didn’t read the original challenge, I urge you — for purely non-Google-Analytics-spiking reasons, of course — to go back, peruse it, and send me your responses.  I’d love to see what comes up in the second wave.

So as my regular readers might know, there’s been A LOT of online talk in the last few weeks about women in the entertainment industry, which I believe originated with Rebecca Ford’s 8/23/11 article in “The Hollywood Reporter,” called “Fewer Women Are Working In Primetime TV.”  Faced with stark statistics as opposed to the anecdotal assessments of female Writers, it seems it’s becoming more and more apparent what a male-dominated town Hollywood truly is, and how difficult it is to make a living writing for it if you happen to possess a Tweeter (by which I mean vulva).

As of my last blog entry, this talk had grown to encompass both female Writers and the female characters they create (or, much more likely: the female characters that men create, and the female Writers who then work for these men write about) (…aaand, yeah, aside from the preposition at the end of the sentence, that’s accurate; I just had to parse it for a minute).  I find these discussions not only extremely interesting, but pertinent to my livelihood, considering I am a female Writer who’s spent most of her career writing for television.

And yet… my personal writing tastes and experiences lie more in what might be called “typically male genres” than “typically female genres.”

Now, here we could get into the never-ending debate of “In a still-clearly-patriarchal society, what isn’t a ‘typically male genre’?” or “What makes something a so-called ‘typically male genre’ vs. a ‘typically female genre’ in the first place?”, but I’m trying to write a blog entry, not a doctoral thesis for FemLit, so we’ll just have to skim the surface with “typically”s for now.

Thus, violence (fighting, killing)?  Typically male.  Sword-and-sandal stuff?  Ditto.  Cops-and-robbers? Male.  Stories where guys are the main heroes?  Male.  In fact, the only two genres I can think of that are designated as “typically female” are “reality-based stories where women are the main heroes,” and “ensemble soap operas” — which tells you a bit, I think, about the predominate numbers and types of stories being told.

The occasional exception to this labeling appears to be the Science-Fiction/Fantasy genre, which has managed to create a mostly-unisex niche that snuggles nicely in between the two.  S-F/F seems to be the exception that proves the rule: only in worlds that are entirely removed from reality as we know it, can a show possibly avoid a gender-label of some kind.  (In my opinion, this is often because female characters in these shows are freed from acting “typically female”.  See: “Aliens,” etc.)

And so, coming around to my point — admittedly, the long way — I can list the shows I’ve worked on in this way:

Angel — S-F/F; violence and gore; the guy is the hero.

Tarzan & Jane — S-F/F; violence; cops-and-robbers (no, really — in this incarnation, Jane was a cop); the heroism is split between male and female.

Jonny Zero — Violence; cops-and-robbers (specifically, an ex-con working for the Feds); the guy is the hero.

Rome — Violence and gore; sword-and-sandal; the guys are the heroes.

Burn Notice — Violence; spies (a more elite version of cops-and-robbers); the guy is the hero.

The Nine Lives Of Chloe King — S-F/F; violence (well, for a Family Channel), BUT the girl is the hero.  (And I do mean “girl,” not “woman” — she’s 16.)

While obviously my personal statistical sampling is small, here’s some data-mining:

100% of the shows I’ve written for have included depictions of violence in nearly every episode.

67% had men as the heroes.

50% were S-F/F (evenly split with one male hero, one female hero, and one male-and-female-as-mutual-heroes — following my thoughts as to S-F/F being closer to gender-neutral).

0% had female showrunners.

And for three separate seasons, on three different shows, I have been the only female Writer on staff.

People may wonder why I gravitate toward either S-F/F or “typically male” shows, and while some of the answers are easy, others are complex enough for me to have discussed them in therapy.  We’ll skip the latter, ’cause I don’t feel like paying each of my readers $300 an hour, but the former include:

1) Regarding S-F/F: Reality bores the holy living shit out of me.  I live in reality (well, close enough) — and I have no urge to let my imagination lie stagnant in it.  Give me a world where things that cannot happen, happen.  Where there is no “impossible.”  Give me superheroes.  Give me half-human/half-cat people.  Give me vampires.  Give me a place where people, regardless of their sex, can accomplish superhuman feats like saving the planet from the oncoming Apocalypse.  Now my imagination is soaring on nuclear jet fuel, instead of thinking, “Oh, right.  Gravity.  Can’t really fight that.  Sigh.”

2) Regarding “typically male” shows: Your typical male hero gets to accomplish the story’s main goals, whereas females are usually relegated to the sidelines in supporting roles.  I don’t identify with supporting roles.  As Joss Whedon once told me: “Everyone is the hero of their own story.”  At the time, he was explaining why villains need to be just as fleshed-out as heroes, why they should have their own concrete rationales for their actions — why they shouldn’t do evil things just because… “well, they’re evil.”  But I also see his words as an explanation for my writing preferences: I am the hero of my own imagination — as we all are — and as a result, I want to identify with the hero of a show.  If 67% of the shows I’ve worked on have had male heroes — and regardless of my small sampling, I do find that number a rather accurate representation of Hollywood’s bent toward “typically male” stories — it’s little wonder, then, that I lean towards “typically male” shows.  Who wants to be a supporting character in your own imagination?

3) Regarding violence: I like violence.  Many people I know would recoil in horror rather than cop to this, but I admit it freely.  I like fight scenes.  I like to write about inflicting and receiving pain.  I like writing about death.  Set down so matter-of-factly, I realize this sounds nearly psychopathic, but I ask you to consider why I like writing about these things: writing fight scenes exorcises real anger. Inflicting and receiving imaginary pain serves to sublimate real pain.  In an almost primitively superstitious way, writing about fictional death keeps real death at bay.  This is why I can not only write the most gnarly, gruesome scenes of violence — but enjoy it, at the same time.  However, ironically, I find watching shows about real violence and/or suffering — domestic abuse, starving children, soldiers’ deaths, patients dying of cancer, even ASPCA commercials about abandoned animals — absolutely heart-grinding.  Relegating all the ugly parts of life to the “fictional” section of my brain allows me a place in which to work through the ugliness of reality without falling to pieces. Some may call this “escapism,” but others — like my therapist — call it a “coping mechanism,” a way to deal with the harshness of being human without losing your humanity.

(This is also why I think those people who say playing violent video games makes people more violent are full of shit.  People have always been violent — it goes back to our DNA, to the fight for survival of the fittest.  The odds of “Black Ops” turning anyone who plays it into a robotic killing machine are just about the same as “Angry Birds” turning everyone into avians in slingshots.  And to my mind, though it’s only a theory based on my own experience, the more you can release those violent tendencies in a “safe” environment — where no one truly gets hurt — the less likely you are to go bugnuts postal in reality.)

So how does it feel, then, to be a “typically male” Writer in a female body?

(And please note I did not write “trapped in a female body,” because I happen to enjoy my female body.)

Well, it feels odd — but I’ve always liked feeling odd — otherwise I wouldn’t have dyed my hair blue, or taken my eyeliner pencil in high school and drawn those ankhs under my eyes (back when Lady Gaga was still in her Christian LaCroix swaddling clothes).  It makes me feel, if not unique, then at least idiosyncratic — even “special.”  At times it can feel a tad ostracizing from my fellow female Writers — but then again, I’ve worked with so few of them, the ostracism hasn’t really had any teeth. But if I’m to be perfectly honest, it also makes me feel good — since it allows me to move within a space reserved for the upper caste of society (i.e., the caste that owns penises).

Now, do I want a penis?  Certainly not.  (Not attached to my body, anyway.)  But would I like to move as freely through the world — and through Hollywood — as those that own them?  You’re goddamned right I would.  And I’m not ashamed to say that, or work toward it.  And since writing typically female shows (reality-based stories where women are the main heroes, and ensemble soap operas), regardless of the strength of the female characters, doesn’t trip my proverbial trigger, I’m left with either S-F/F or “typically male” shows.

Would it be nice if somehow women were to miraculously achieve creative and socio-economic parity?  Hell yes.  I’d love it.  But do I see that happening soon?  Not on your fucking life.

Thus I will keep writing what I enjoy — “typically male” shows — all while trying to strengthen the female characters and stories within them — so as to pave the way for the next generation of me’s, and the generation after them, in hopes that either gender labeling will become a construct of the past, or, at least, that the gender disparity will even out .

The first option, I concede, is probably a pipe dream, but perhaps — just perhaps — the second option will become just that… an option.  And those women will no longer have to experience the disorientation of being a “typically male” Writer in a female body.

We’ll just be… Writers.

Wouldn’t that be great?


One Response to ““Typically Male” Writer In A Female Body”
  1. peridot2 says

    All I heard was, ‘no, you can’t do that because you’re a girl,’ so shouldn’t owning a penis turn the negatives into positives? When I was a wee girl it was easy to see that boys were favoured over girls. There was no difference between us that I could perceive except that I was smarter than the smartest boys in my classes. Soon I came to the conclusion that I wanted a penis of my own. I decided if I kept it in my school locker it wouldn’t get in my way, but I’d then qualify for all the extras boys and men could do. It was my big life plan to get equality. Why not? That was all they had that I lacked.

    I felt clever for coming up with an idea that would solve all my problems. Unfortunately, I never thought of a way to get a penis, so the experiment was never carried out. Do you think it could have worked?

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