If a reasonable tree falls in the internet, does it make a sound?
Apparently you have to shout your argument to be worth discussing, because not nearly enough attention was paid to an excellent essay written by television writer Jane Espenson this past March. Jane Espenson has written for Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Game Of Thrones, Battlestar Galactica, and pretty much everything else sci-fi-lovers hold dear. She also blogs on The Huffington Post, where she posted a thoughtful piece on the gender gap among television writers. In that article, “On Sex and Writing (Not That Kind of Sex)”, she said something that flies in the face of common wisdom and the reasons people give for why we need more ladies rocking writers’ rooms:
This reasoning: you need female writers to write realistic/compelling/strong female characters, or to supply a “female point of view.” And that argument, Gentle Readers, has the potential to do more harm than good.
She goes on to give examples of men who have written great female characters, and to point out that saying men can’t write women implies that women can’t write men. So, women shouldn’t be hired to be “female character generator[s]”, but they also shouldn’t not be hired because “gender simply is an invalid reason not to hire someone”.
The thesis here: Female writers should be hired because some good writers happen to be female, and good writers can write both men and women well. Interesting stuff that goes beyond the usual “we have no good ladies on television because no ladies write television and only they can understand our precious boobs and feelings” argument.
However, I’d like to take Ms. Espenson’s argument a step further, if I might, because the fact remains that on television in general and in sci-fi in particular, there is a dearth of female voices both on and off the screen. If talented male writers can write strong female characters, as Ms. Espenson claims, then why aren’t most of them doing it?
If female writers can be good writers, why haven’t they already been hired? I think the root of the problem applies to both female characters and female writers: the male majority hasn’t yet accepted that women’s ideas can go beyond their female identity.
Many men don’t think women can write about something like leadership because they don’t think women think about being leaders beyond “having it all” (commence eye-rolling). Many male writers don’t have their female characters think about what it means to betray someone, but focus on the romance that prompts the betrayal because they think that women are thinking about romance.
Of course, romance, “having it all”, appearance, and even things like shopping are part of the female experience. It just isn’t all of the female experience.
If male showrunners and television executives can acknowledge the complexity of women, women will be given more opportunities both on and off-screen, and, like Espenson says, we’ll have strong female characters and female writers without hiring the female writers only to write female characters.