A Question of Gender

Quick!

Name a story with an all-male cast!

[For the sake of argument, I’m defining this as “a story where no woman has a significant speaking part or affects the plot in any meaningful way.”  Women can be present, but, like, in the background.]

Have you thought of any?

Because I’ve thought of a whole bunch:

The Hobbit.

Treasure Island.

Kidnapped.

The Chosen.

The Man Who Was Thursday.

The Killer Angels.

Lord of the Flies.

Every G.A. Henty book ever, and most war movies, and many westerns, and a whole mess of spy novels and political thrillers.  What I’m getting at, folks, is there’s AN AWFUL LOT of exclusively male-centric stories out there.

Now, I want you to name a story with an all-female cast.

Can you do it?

Because . . .

*crickets*

. . . I can’t.

And DON’T say Ocean’s 8!  That was billed as an all-female movie, true; but the villain [who received a prominent amount of screentime] was a man.  Furthermore, he was the protagonist’s ex-boyfriend and a huge motivation for why she was doing what she was doing.  Not a women-only story, by any means.  (For context, none of the books I listed above has a female antagonist.)  And Ocean’s 8 is not alone.  I consider myself a fairly well-read, cultured person and I genuinely can’t. think. of. any. stories. featuring. only. women.

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A couple reasons for this:

a) most female-led stories employ (heterosexual) romance as the crowning jewel of their Happily Ever After;

b) even those rare female-led stories where the woman ultimately decides she doesn’t want / need a heterosexual romance, involve MUCH complicated & tangled interaction with men before she comes to that decision;

c) an increasing number of female-led stories star a woman trying to succeed in A Man’s World; hence, men are integral to these storylines, in either antagonistic or supportive roles.

*rubs nose*

Are you beginning to see a pattern, here?

Men are allowed to exist in fiction without women, but women are not allowed to exist without men.

Put another way?  Men have consistently, historically had the luxury of seeing themselves in stories on their own terms, “doing their own thing” in all-male environments without input from the opposite sex.  This is a luxury women are still denied.  (Seriously, if you have examples to the contrary, by all means, hit me up.  I wanna read ’em.  But at this point, I’m not aware of any.)

And look.  I’m not begrudging anyone their enjoyment of male-exclusive stories.  I know a good many people, women included, who actively prefer all-guy adventure stories.  That’s okay!!!  That’s 100% Not My Thing, but there’s nothing wrong with it, either.  If you wanna watch a movie about a bunch of dudes crammed together in a submarine, y’know what?  Be my guest.  *finger guns*  xD

The thing that DOES bother me?  We just don’t have corresponding all-girl stories for someone like me to enjoy.

I AM DEAD SERIOUS.  Has it occurred to NO ONE that maybe, sometimes, I just wanna read or watch something about an Epic Girl Gang working out their own issues, blissfully unencumbered by men’s opinions or men’s needs or men’s desires?

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“But Katie,” I hear the peanut gallery murmur, “but Katie, a story with only women, no men, no romance, would be boring.”

First of all–HIYA!  *karate chops*  Second of all–is that the real reason???  That women without men are assumed to be boring??  Is that it, y’all?

Off the top of my head, here are some prompts for all-female stories, every one of which would be–I guarantee–k i l l e r s:

a) a murder mystery inside a convent

b) anything inside a convent, really; them places are RICH WITH DRAMA

c) an all-women military unit during WW2 (there were many of these, peeps; google “Night Witches” if ya don’t believe me)

d) the trials and tribulations of an all-female dance troupe

e) BFFs at college who don’t. date. guys. (it ain’t that hard, y’all)

f) girl assassins in the ancient Middle East

g) the Island of the Amazons (or any iteration thereof)

Just leave out the heterosexual romance, go hard on the girl-power friendships, keep any interaction with male adversaries or male leadership to a bare minimum, and BOOM, there you are: smashing, scintillating, female-exclusive adventures.  I need this.  We all need this.  Please, authors of the world . . . don’t let us down.

I want books and movies which prove, beyond a shadow of doubt, that just as men can be interesting without women–women can be interesting without men.  This is important.  This isn’t something to be taken for granted.  To have your own space, “a room of one’s own,” within the world of fiction . . . well, that’s a powerful thing.

I’m not saying this because I “hate men.”  (For the record, I don’t.)  And I certainly don’t believe fans of all-male stories gravitate towards them because they “hate women.”  I’m just saying, there’s gotta be some kind of balance here.  Some kind of acknowledgment that we as females deserve. the. spotlight.  Period.  No questions asked.

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That we shouldn’t always have to share the stage with men, and we’re not selfish for wanting to be left alone sometimes.

Ya feel?

Comment with your thoughts.

I’m curious!

59 thoughts on “A Question of Gender

Add yours

  1. Well, I didn’t NEED more story inspiration, but now I’m VERY motivated… especially as someone who generally defaults to male protagonists because it’s just *easier.* And yeah — every single female-dominated story I CAN think of (Gallagher Girls, the Killer Unicorn series, Princess Academy [which might come closest], Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, etc) all still have romance as a strong thread. And getting to spec fic? Man, I’m challenged even coming up with something with a primary female protagonist, let alone an all-girl cast.
    **wanders off to go research convents**

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    1. Do it, do it, do it!!! *cheers you on* There are so many possibilities, and I CAN’T write them all myself! 😀

      For real!!! And like, I understand why female authors (especially in the past) put a lot of romance in their stories, because it was a challenge they couldn’t necessarily escape in real life . . . but NOW? We are free to live independent of romance if we want to. And it would be really cool if our imaginations and our stories reflected that.

      Fantasy and sci-fi are suuuuuuuuuuuuuper male dominated, in particular . . . I hope I can help change that . . .

      You do the convents one, I’m on the Night Witches one 😀

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  2. It’s mostly because Hollywood is dominated by men, and the male gaze, and stories can / have been traditionally focused on “hero’s journeys” with a male protagonist. Like the publisher says in the latest Little Women trailer, if it’s a woman “she needs to be married by the end.” 😉

    I like spinster heroines and/or those who don’t wind up with anyone and frankly don’t care that they’re still single, but those are few and far between… because stories try and reflect real life, and in real life, many women do care about romance and wind up married and/or with someone. (Not at lot of asexual representation, sadly, and I don’t expect to see any in the foreseeable future.)

    I could never write an all-female cast, though… because frankly, I like writing men more! 😉

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    1. For sure. Because for a long time, people weren’t open to imagining that the “hero” making the “journey” could actually be–gasp!–a WOMAN.

      (I AM SO STOKED FOR THAT MOVIE OKAY *flails quietly* Also, my hope is they go the route L.M. Alcott originally wanted to take, and leave Jo single . . . we’ll see . . .)

      Oh, yes! A lot of women have an interest in marriage or are going to end up married–and yet, the same is true for a lot of men. But men still get stories that “catch” them at particular moments in their lives where they’re maybe not married yet, or they’re just not interacting with women at that moment. They’re adventuring by themselves. And I think that’s fine; but I wish we women could get the same thing.

      (Also, yup, more spinsters!! and more ace protagonists!!)

      Haha!! Well, there’s nothing wrong with that 😉 I do rather enjoy writing men but I could never write ONLY men, because I get bored by stories with too many guys–I need lots and lots of women around, lol!

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      1. I’ve read articles about it, and I don’t think they’ll go that route, because book fans would lynch them for it. (And I like Professor Bhaer, so…) But the director said she’s making it clear that Jo is settling for “what women do” as opposed to what she’d prefer to do; but she’s still first and foremost a writer… who writes.

        Women typically and historically have not been as adventurous for reasons of personal safety, so most of their “finding myself” journey comes with a romance in a foreign country. Ha, ha.

        Interesting, also, how all the words for older single ladies are negative — spinster, old maid (which means “virgin” — ie, nobody wanted that), etc., while boys get to be bachelors and PLAYBOYS — evocative of glamour. More men thinking up words.

        The best stories, IMO, have a mixed cast of men and women. 🙂

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      2. I do like Professor Bhaer, as a person, but it makes me very sad that Alcott never got to write the ending she WANTED to write, so . . . *continues to hold out hope* 😉 😉

        This is definitely true! But I’d still like to see more stories about the “odd women out” who DID go off and have wild and crazy adventures, despite all that.

        DARN MEN THINKING UP WORDS. *shakes fist at them*

        See, I definitely get that point of view-that mixed-gender casts are the best. And I often enjoy those stories the most, myself. But a select few of the books on my all-time favorites list, like “The Chosen” and “The Man Who Was Thursday,” actually DO have all-male casts and I honestly wouldn’t change that about them? I think it’s actually part of the appeal, in those specific cases, exploring masculinity and male emotions within a contained space or whatever . . . Which got me thinking, in turn, about what we as writers could accomplish if we did the same thing with all-female casts. Cuz some of these all-male books are genuine classics, worthy of the name.

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      3. Well, Hollywood HAS dabbled in all-women casts with the new Charlie’s Angels and Ghostbusters… and nobody went to see it, because there was no interest in it. The only drawing power was the female leads, but the plots were subpar and forgettable. Proof that a gimmick doesn’t work unless the plot is equally decent.

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      4. Plus, Charlie’s Angels . . . I mean, I would assume Charlie, whoever he is, is an important character too, no? 😉

        Sure! If you don’t have a GOOD plot or characters, nothing works: Like Black Panther, it was an all-black cast, which was an amazing & important landmark, but it was also a darn good movie.

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      5. Charlie is mostly a disembodied voice coming through a recorder. Patrick Stewart briefly played Bosley, but he retired and a woman took over. I saw it. It was nothing memorable. LOL

        Unpopular Opinion: Black Panther was highly overrated. I kept thinking it felt familiar, and then my date nudged me in the ribs and whispered, “It’s just The Lion King, but with people.” 😛

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      6. Ahh, Makes sense.

        BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! And meanwhile, “Lion King” is just “Hamlet,” but with lions . . . 😛

        I adored “Black Panther,” but then I was never into either “Lion King” or “Hamlet.” I loved it because of the storyworld being so rich, and because Shuri is the love of my life 😉 😉

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      7. The Lion King ties with The Hunchback of Notre Dame for my favorite Disney film, so having seen it a thousand times I wasn’t too impressed with the “people only” version. 😉

        Shuri is pretty dang great. Movies should have fabulous ENTP women more often…

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  3. Goddammit, I started racking my brains as soon as I read this and I…… also cannot come up with any all-female casts. The only thing I can think of is Noelle Stevenson’s Lumberjanes, which I haven’t actually read, just heard about. Oh man, now I’m annoyed that that’s the case.

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  4. Reading this gave me this interesting dissonance: I could completely see and understand that this IS a problem, and see HOW it’s a problem; but at the same time, I kept thinking: “But . . . I don’t want to read/watch stories with only women?”

    But that’s JUST ME. I don’t want to read/watch stories with only one of EITHER gender, as a general rule. Sure, there are some exceptions, like The Hobbit and certain male-centric Westerns, but on the whole, you gotta have both genders to keep me interested.

    And just because that’s MY preference doesn’t mean that, again, I don’t understand why we need female-centric stories anyway. Yeah, *I* might not be interested in them (just as I’m not interested in most male-centric stories), but, like you pointed out, OTHER PEOPLE ARE. And we’re probably getting to the point where it’s about time that we start exploring women’s potential completely without reference to their relationship(s) to the opposite sex, just as we’ve been doing with men all along.

    It is interesting how you pointed out that a lot of adventure and specifically war stories are male-dominated, because I’d always known that I was almost never interested in war movies, but I always kind of assumed that the plots just weren’t interesting to me, or that I didn’t have sufficient “appreciation” for my/other veterans to watch/read them. All that may still be true, who knows, but maybe it’s also that there’s (ahem) a bit of a gender disparity in most of them? *coughs*

    Frabjous post, Katie. It was so thoughtful and clearly expressed, which I really admire. 🙂 ❤

    [ Also, as others have said, the pictures were fabulous. ❤ ❤ ]

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    1. Right!!! For the most part, I have no interest in male-only stories, like, zero, ZILCH, honestly . . . but there are a FEW exceptions, like “The Chosen” and “The Man Who Was Thursday,” which have made me see that there can be great value in such stories. Which got me thinking, what if we could write equally amazing, romance-free classics, focused solely in inter-gender friendships–just, with women instead of men???

      And I want women to believe that they are just as interesting–inherently interesting–as men, with or without romance in the mix to add drama. Because, if we’re being honest, our storytelling traditions thus far don’t encourage girls to believe that.

      Nope, nope, nopity nope. Male-centric war movies are Not For Me and I feel no guilt whatsoever about saying that. 😛

      Thank you so much, friend! ❤ ❤

      (AREN'T THEY THOUGH?? Pinterest, man. Pinterest. :D)

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      1. Exactly! If the occasional male-centric story can be edifying, why couldn’t the occasional female-centric story be, too?

        YES GIRL PREACH. No, you’re right, our traditions certainly don’t encourage that. 😛

        Haha! Glad I’m not alone. Maybe now I’ll stop feeling quasi-guilt over it myself, whenever I bother to think about it. 😉

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  5. It’s funny because I was JUST thinking about this and how I couldn’t think of one story that was female-only. As a kid, I was only interested in fiction if it had girls or women in it, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve cared increasingly less, until now a lot of my favorite fiction is male-only. I don’t mind if that’s not other people’s thing, but it seems like someone is always up in arms about how male-only stories are “bad” or “harmful” when they are not–as if a story is only good or valuable if it has the proper man-to-woman ratio so it can pass some sort of “woke” test. (Not that I think that’s what you’re saying at all!!! I’m just a little annoyed by so many Angry Twitter Women attacking the stories I personally really like. I also tend to resent the implications that the existence of a male-only story means the creators think women are unimportant, any more than the existence of a female-only story would imply that the creators think men are unimportant)

    While I think there are a lot of reasons why male-only stories are a thing where there are not a lot of female-only stories, I seriously do think it has a lot less to do with misogynistic reasons or women not being “allowed” to exist without men and more to do with what men and women are typically drawn to in their stories? I’m not trying to overgeneralize or say that sexism *isn’t* an issue, but I’d say at *least* 80% of the female avid readers I know want some form of romance (thus including a prominent male character) while that’s not something a lot of men care about in their fiction. At the same time, I think the idea of a “woman-only” story might be boring to some because the male-female relationship is the selling point for them. Not that they really think woman are boring, but because of what they think makes an interesting story: take that male/female relationship out, and there goes what they are looking for. Thus, the idea of a woman-only story is “boring.” (In the same way a lot of those readers would find male-only stories boring, too: because there is no swooning romance) Again, that’s only my personal experience, and I think in recent years the internet has given the minority of women who DON’T want romance a better platform for expressing that.

    While I do enjoy romance, it’s typically not the selling point for me- in fact, part of the reason I tend to like male-only movies and books is because without female characters, it’s kind of a break from the romance. But of course….that could be the same for a female-only story, so few of which we have for some reason ???? WHERE THEY AT???

    Also, I agree about making men the central driving force in a woman’s life. One of my least favorite tropes is the “woman trying to succeed in a man’s world” because a lot of time it ends up being kind of man-hating and bitterly feministic and YET….EVERYTHING in the woman’s life revolves around men? If I want a “girl power” story I don’t want it to be about how she has to prove herself as being “as good” as a man: I want it to be about her and who she already is, being awesome and accepted by those around her (including the male characters). To me, a girl gang that’s just out doing their thing and having fun/saving the world is a million times more empowering that some heroine who’s grasping for shreds of respect from the (often caricatured) sexist men around her.

    That being said, I can’t believe there are practically NO female-only stories! I’m sure they exist somewhere, but they aren’t prominent and I haven’t found many. (now I’m inspired to write something). Also, the ideas you listed? AMAZING. a murder mystery in a convent? FEMALE ASSASSINS IN THE ANCIENT MIDDLE EAST??? I would read those in a heartbeat.

    Anyway, I’m sorry for the length of this comment, which is much longer than I intended it to be, lol!

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    1. Never apologize for long comments!!! Long comments are MY JAM. 😀

      *cracks knuckles to formulate an equally long reply*

      And nope, I totally agree: while male-only stories are often boring TO ME, I don’t think they are at all intrinsically harmful or demeaning to women. Or even that women shouldn’t enjoy them! Just because the intended audience may or may not have been male, originally–you can still have a lot of fun with them. 😉 I mean, “The Chosen” is one of my favorite books of all time, as well as being an incredible classic that’s given generations upon generations of boys an opportunity to explore the true meaning of emotional maturity. I’d never want to take something like that away.

      The thing I see as harmful is the lack of corresponding female-only spaces in fiction, given that we agree it’s okay and even Good to give men their own spaces? If that makes sense?

      I definitely agree with what you’re saying, that the demand for heterosexual romance is PART of the reason why almost all female-led books still have a strong male presence. At the same time, I think it’s only partly “what women readers naturally want” and partly “what women readers have been conditioned to expect,” especially given that marriage and homemaking was The Societal Norm for the vast majority of women up until quite recently. And I’m not knocking romance or romance books at all when I say that, I think it’s more like . . . we have more options now, and it would be really good, IMO, if our fiction could start to reflect that variety.

      That’s what I’m sayinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn! If we want romance-free books, we can JUST AS EASILY get that through an all-female story as an all-male one! *folds arms* *frowns threateningly in the direction of The World of Publishing*

      See, I’m torn on that, because I do want to see both: I would love to see more all-girl stories where sexism is kept to a minimum so they don’t have to waste ALL their time, energy, and effort battling men . . . yet, some of the amazing true stories in history have been of women who did, in fact, have to face down deeply prejudiced men just to live out their own personal dreams. And I want books which honor their struggles, as well. Like the first woman to earn a doctorate from MIT, and they [the male leadership of the school] wouldn’t even officially “award” her the doctorate because they just couldn’t admit that women were worthy of such an honor?? SHE DID THE WORK, SUCKERS. Pay up!!!

      I WOULD READ THEM TOO 😀 I might just have to write some of ’em!

      I honestly don’t think they’re out there. I mean, I’ve been thinking and thinking and I can’t come up with any . . . whereas the male-only stories are so prominent that I can list ’em off the top of my head . . .

      Thank you so much for your amazing, thought-provoking comment! ❤

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      1. Well, thank YOU for the thought-provoking post!

        Yeah, I do think it’s a more complex issue than it’s just “what women want” and conditioning probably IS a factor. I just think there’s a sort of trap when women DO like something and then the culture assumes ALL women like it (which is incorrect) but then it gets framed like somehow men are FORCING women to like/do something, when really it’s just cultural expectations from both genders that has grown steadily over the years, if that makes sense?

        Interestingly, the “woman in a man’s world thing” is funny though, because I think it’s kind of the same situation. As in, I see it SO MUCH that I’m just tired that I can’t find a cool female-led book where it’s NOT an issue. Like how there’s nothing wrong with male-only fiction, but somehow we still don’t have much female-only fiction, I’m Tired that it seems “Woman fighting to be taken seriously” is so prominent while “women being cool without proving themselves to men” is…not. (also, I think it’s different when it’s historical fiction or inspired by a real historical character. When I’m reading, say, fantasy, sexism is always a HUGE obstacle and I’m always like…if we’re imagining our own worlds anyway, can’t we have a couple novels where sexism (and racism for that matter) AREN’T a common thing? Why is that so unrealistic for us to contemplate? I understand that books that explore/expose those things are needed, but sometimes we need books that specifically DON’T have that, too).

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      2. Nope, you’re right! I think there’s definitely a “feedback loop” there, being fed from both ends . . . and of course, I DO write lots of romance in my historical fantasy stories myself, and enjoy it most heartily 😉 So I don’t think there’s anything wrong with romance, either!

        OKAY THIS IS AN EXCELLENT POINT and I 100000% agree!!! It gets exhausting, if nothing else, to be constantly reading stories where women literally can’t do anything without a man popping up to say “Stop!!” And while that was definitely the reality for some women in history, I absolutely, 100% agree it would be GREAT if we could imagine fantasy worlds where that actually wasn’t the case. Where women just get to Be Women, and be strong, and live out their dreams, without constantly battling some kind of system.

        [because it does indeed tend to make your female characters’ lives revolve entirely around men, if they always have to be fighting them . . . and it’s one reason why we haven’t yet managed to make girl power stories that are in fact Just About Girls.]

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  6. Okay, so I have a lot of FEELINGS about this topic, but I haven’t yet formulated all my opinions/the words for what I want to say. That being as it is, my comment isn’t going to be as in depth as I would like, but one thing I have in “defense” of male-centric books is only the historical context in which they were written (as I’m sure you know, being a history major and all that ;)). I mean, historically, a lot of the subjects that stories were written about (e.g. war stories, spy stories, detective stories etc.) WERE genuinely stories with an all male cast. Not because women were purposefully being left out, but because…that’s just how it was. (Of course there were exceptions and stories about those exceptions are wonderful too! Like your example of all-women military units or, I would suggest, nursing units!) And personally…I don’t see anything wrong with that?

    For instance, my brother and dad enjoy a lot of war movies. I don’t enjoy them all, and I used to think it was because of a lack of female characters, but I think it’s more to do about what the stories focus on. Some stories–and I’m using war movies as my primary example here–are more about the events and logistics of the story, not about the characters and their developments or relationships to one another. I prefer the latter kind. 😉

    But I digress. One of my favorite movies ever is “The Great Escape” and there’s not ONE female character in it. And I really wouldn’t WANT a female character in it. Because it’s a story about WW2 prisoners of war. There’s not a “slot” open for a female character that would make sense within the context of the story. And I’ve seen some war movies that manage to clumsily wedge a female character in only for a superfluous “romance” or sex appeal. AND I’M NOT ABOUT THAT. *folds arms*

    All that being said, I totally get why you’d like to read some all-female casted stories and I’d love to read one too! (your convent idea is especially intriguing!) I guess I’m just saying that it doesn’t bother me personally that fiction is lacking “all female cast” stories. And I think that’s because I don’t feel as if women have been “cheated” in fiction. I just think, historically, there have just been more events/areas of interest that genuinely did not involve women than events that did not involve men. *shrugs* So men (or women??) who wrote stories like that weren’t necessarily LEAVING women out so much as accurately depicting an event or circumstance?

    Okay, for not going in-depth that was a pretty long comment. xD Let me know what you think! 🙂

    PS. I’m not sure if this would count since her father and the Indian Sahib are characters, but “A Little Princess” is the most female-centric story I can think of in this moment.

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    1. I looooooooooooooooove long comments!!! 😀

      I’m with you, there: there’s nothing inherently wrong with having male-centric stories or even stories with entirely male casts! Like you, while I *usually* find such books or movies quite boring, I DO have my select favorites that I wouldn’t change a single thing about, and that includes adding women to the mix. Like “The Chosen.” Or “The Man Who Was Thursday.” Fantastic reads, both of them. All-male spaces do, in fact, exist, and it’s okay [and even good!!] to explore them in fiction.

      And, historically speaking, male-only spaces WERE really prominent in the world of action, business, exploration, etc., etc., etc. You’re right about that!!! WW1 was the first war in which women could legally participate in any military related capacity, for example. Before that, there were an awful lot of wars from which women were completely barred . . . so, sure, it makes total sense that a lot of classic adventure-type stories would reflect that.

      And yet.

      AND YET.

      That historical reality is a direct product of sexism: of men making laws, for example, to exclude women from such enterprises, out of a generalized belief that “no woman could ever be good at X.” So even when I’m reading a male-only story written Way Back Then, and greatly enjoying it and appreciating it for what it is, I still want to be aware of that reality. To be aware of what created said male-only space. [Not the author, of course. But society as a whole.]

      Heck, writing and publishing stories was very much a male-only business for a really long time, and remained super male dominated even after some women started to break into the game . . .

      Which is whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy, now that things are different, I’d really, REALLY like to see the tropes we use change to reflect that new reality. That not only can women write and publish stories, but women can do all KINDS of things in the real world which we used to be barred from, if we so desire . . . and that, if we want to, we can do them just with other people of our own gender. That women-only spaces are a thing, too, just like men-only spaces are. And just as there’s value in a story where men get to go off by themselves, there’s value in a story where women can do that, too.

      I’ve actually never read “A Little Princess”! Most of the action takes place at a girls’ school, doesn’t it? If so, it might well count! Man, now I need to read it 😀 😀 😀

      Thanks so much for your awesome comment, friend!! ❤

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  7. Mid-twentieth-century middle-grade novels is where you’ll often find female-centric casts. The novels may have boys in them, or one man (the father), but the primary focus will be on the friendship between the girls.

    The problem with earlier girls’ novels is not that they aren’t female-centric when the girls are young. They are, if you’ll recall the early novels in the Anne of Green Gables. The problem (if you can call it that) is that, during that period, there wasn’t a sharp division between middle-grade novels, young adult novels, and adult novels. Girls’ novels or series usually started when the girl was young and ended when she was an adult, often switching the series focus over (as with Green Gables again) to her children. So that’s why romance often shows up in those earlier novels. It’s an attempt to portray the full cycle of a girl/woman – paired, of course, with a lack of interest in spinsters. But I think that’s at least partly due to the fact that married women often wrote these novels, so they were interested in writing about the types of lives they themselves were leading.

    For female-only novels, you’ve hit the button: you need to find a female-only environment. I haven’t read enough girls’ school novels to be sure whether boys enter into them, but that’s where I’d look first.

    And then, of course, there are lesbian novels. Quite a few possibilities there.

    (I’m here via a link in Speculative Fiction Showcase – hello!)

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    1. That’s a really great point!!! I was kind of semi-thinking the same thing, in the back of my head, “I wonder if you could find this in a middle-grade story where the girls are all young . . . ?” It’s been so long since I’ve read much middle grade or even old-fashioned ‘girls’ stories’ (like AoGG), I guess that’s why the thought didn’t really surface. 😉

      Whereas, for all-male stories, you can find those BOTH with younger characters for younger audiences, and adult characters for adult audiences.

      I actually did read one girls’ convent-type school novel, one of the Flavia Luce books, which ALMOST managed to be all-female, except the main villain turned out to be a guy. Rats!!

      Welcome, and thanks so much for your comment! *waves*

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      1. I’m enjoying reading all the latest comments here! My thoughts are:

        Yes, there were historically men-only spaces. There were also historically women-only spaces. Books about the latter are less common than books about the former. And unfortunately, I think part of the reason is that male protagonists could be single or have a woman back home (safely offstage), but female protagonists were expected to be in an onstage romance. I think, for example, of the many teen girls’ career novels, where the young women go into all-female occupations, and yet the book always seems to end with the young woman getting engaged. There isn’t an exact equivalent of career novels for boys, but most teen boys’ series weren’t expected to center on romance; quite the contrary.

        That said, girls’ career novels could be awfully female-centered. I think, for example, of the first Sue Barton novel, which centers on her friendships with her fellow student nurses. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sue_Barton

        “Whereas, for all-male stories, you can find those BOTH with younger characters for younger audiences, and adult characters for adult audiences.”

        I wonder, though, whether all-male stories might be declining. There are fewer all-male environments now than in the past, and we live in a society now that is much more oriented toward romance and sex than toward friendship.

        And by the same token, I wonder whether there are more male-female friendship stories than there were in the past? Could it be that only-female friendship stories are less likely to turn up these days, simply because both men and women are inclined to have friendships with the opposite sex (as well as the same sex)? A story like Harry Potter, for example – which centers on the friendship between two boys and a girl – seems more likely to have occurred in the 1990s than, say, the 1960s.

        Getting back to your original question, I wonder whether women’s fiction (by which I mean the genre) might be another place to search for all-female casts?

        https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=lp_17_nr_n_18?fst=as%3Aoff&rh=n%3A283155%2Cn%3A%211000%2Cn%3A17%2Cn%3A542654&bbn=17

        Finally, to tackle the skeleton in the closet: What percentage of books have been written by men? Especially men living in societies where they wouldn’t have much social contact with women? I think it’s probably no coincidence that female-centered books are more common in children’s literature, where female authors have historically predominated.

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      2. These are all great points!

        I think the lack of women-only fiction and the relative abundance of men-only fiction is, as you said, a combination of two major factors: a) women in fiction being EXPECTED to have a romance, and b) more male authors than female authors, at least for adult fiction, for a long time.

        In terms of what’s being produced right now, male-only stories are on the decline for sure–and yet, people aren’t going to stop reading or watching the beloved classics of the last two centuries, which WERE heavily male oriented, so I don’t think that type of story will disappear from our cultural consciousness anytime soon. Nor do I want it to!!! I honestly believe that there can be great value in some of those male-only stories, provided they’re well done. You can say a lot about what it means to be a man, and to come of age as a man, if you’re doing it in a closed environment without the added factor of romance. Like “The Chosen.” Great stuff.

        I just think it would be great if today’s authors–women authors, cuz there are more of us now!–could balance that out by producing some more stories that focus just on women.

        *sighs* I WISH there were more male-female friendship stories these days . . . it would be really nice! . . . but I haven’t observed that to be the case, sadly. Even Harry Potter had to go and pair off Ron & Hermione, as well as setting up romances between many of the other characters.

        (Honestly, J.K. Rowling would have been BETTER OFF keeping Harry Potter a friendship-only story, because she’s not very good at writing romantic relationships, imho.)

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      3. Harry Potter was actually sort of interesting, because it was a throwback to the old “from childhood to adulthood” storyline that was common in nineteenth-century women’s fiction. Think Anne of Green Gables – only Anne’s a boy! Equal opportunity for romance plotlines!

        “I honestly believe that there can be great value in some of those male-only stories”

        You’re not going to get any disagreement here (says the author who specializes in gay male stories and male friendship stories). But one of the reasons I took part in this thread was guilt. I realized a few years ago that my relative lack of female characters was not only due to my interest in plotlines that worked better with male characters, but also due to the fact that I’d grown up in a misogynistic society. And then I began tracing what had caused me to have disinterest in female characters, and what immediately became obvious was that I’d read an awful lot of SFF novels about guys. Usually there was an all-male cast with one token female. I could think of only one novel on my favorites bookshelf that featured a female friendship (Patricia A. McKillip’s “Riddle-Master,” which happens to be my favorite fantasy novel/trilogy). No *wonder* female characters showed up so rarely in my own SFF. I had almost no role models to work from.

        So I had a stern talking-to with my Muse, and kept a careful eye on him (see, even my Muse is male), and as a result, my last two series had much better female representation. But female friendships are still tough for me to write.

        So there’s another possibility: Authors aren’t offering female-only casts because there is so little literary precedent. People tend to write what they read.

        Another thought: Novels with nonbinary friendships? I’m sure there must be some out there these days.

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      4. People FOR SURE write what they read. Our imaginations tend to run on the paths that authors before have worn for us: we don’t (usually) write based on the real world people we know, but based on the stories and characters we know.

        Which is whyyyyyyyyyyyyyy we need more female representation and female friendship and women who have meaningful relationships with EACH OTHER instead of with just other men . . . and why I am determined to write such stories. 😀

        I watched a delightful YouTube video one time which talked about the problem of poor [limited!!] female representation in fiction, and how the “there’s only 5 types of girls and they’re all basically love interests” thing that you find in Standard Fiction stunts our imagination as storytellers. It made me think quite a bit, about how I could include more & better female characters in my own books.

        I love that you have a Muse! And I’m sure he can lead you to write good stories about women as well as men! I believe in you and your Muse 😉

        Lesbian romances and nonbinary friendships are always a possibility, for sure. Even in historical fiction, there can be room for that (WW2, for example, underground LGBT culture thrived during the 1940s . . .)

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  8. I just remembered an all-female-cast story: The Help. There are men in it, but they are unimportant for the most part to the narrative — Skeeter does date a guy, but most of the plot revolves around female interactions — mother / daughter, friend, employer / hired help, help / the children they raise, female friends / enemies, etc. So… there’s one, and yes, it was widly successful. lol

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    1. I take that back. I would have interest in an all-female story if the story and characters interested me. But if the only thing I knew about it was “it’s all chicks,” I’d be like, “Um, whatever.”

      I saw someone up above mentioned The Help. I read that book, and it was good. Not something I’d buy and reread, and I haven’t watched the movie, but the book was entertaining. Same for Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, though I did see the movie of that, and liked it better than the book.

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      1. And that’s okay!! That you would have less interest in an all-female story than an all-male one, I mean. Even though you’re a woman, you’re not ‘obligated’ to want all-women stories, the way I want them.

        I was thinking about you as I was writing this, actually! Knowing that you actively enjoy all-male stories, and I was like, “that’s super cool, now I wish I could read the same kinds of stories except where all the characters are WOMEN.” Because I do think it’s important that we have separate spaces in fiction in which to explore each gender without worrying too much about them mixing.

        Well, if I write a story about an all-female bomber squadron during WW2, would you be interested in reading that? 😉

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  9. Can I just say that I have not for the life of me gotten over the convent murder mystery idea out of my head. Just thought I’d let you know that I’m seriously considering going somewhere with this as a novel in the near future. I feel juices flowing with this idea, and I just had to tell you. It hasn’t left my head, and I’m honestly really set on doing this as a writing project. It would be so fascinating! And all women, too! Even a female detective if there was one. And a female antagonist, as well. So thank you for the idea. You will definitely be hearing from me if I start writing this 😀😀😀😀

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    1. *begins to chant*

      DO IT DO IT DO IT

      I am so thrilled about this!!! I NEED this story in my life and I am 100% confident you will do a SMASHING job!!! A female detective–a female antagonist–a female cast of suspects–and all within the walls of a convent–

      GIMMEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Okay so I PROMISE I wasn’t ignoring your response to my comment; life has been crazy. But I return. xD

    Awesome thoughts!! And yes again! Having stories centered around an all-female cast sounds fine and excellent.

    I do have…’ahem. SOME disagreement about your stance on why women were excluded, specifically: “That historical reality is a direct product of sexism: of men making laws, for example, to exclude women from such enterprises, out of a generalized belief that “no woman could ever be good at X.”

    There were definitely, 100%, men who were sexists and thought “no woman could ever be good at X”. HOWEVER…I don’t believe that historical reality is a DIRECT product of sexism. It’s influenced by it, sure. But it’s also influenced by culture, religion, and heck, women themselves.

    MOST women (not all) did not WANT to fight in a war. Most might not have wanted to be allowed into “a man’s world”. Depending on the time period, a “man’s world” could be disgusting, dirty, bloody, and a lot of things that women were generally happy to avoid. Of course there were exceptions and I think the exceptions generally paved the way to open the doors of wider opportunities for women. And I think there are plenty of instances where that’s a great thing. There are a few where maybe it wasn’t such a great thing. (But that’s a different story.)

    So, my main “quibble”, is that, even allowing for some sexism that prevailed in “keeping women down”, I think there were just as many, if not more women, who were totally fine with not being in these kinds of situations, or stories.

    After all, Jane Austen could have written about whatever she wanted, but she didn’t put her heroines in hot air balloons or on war-torn battlefields. Now, there’s probably a female author out there somewhere who HAS, and that’s great. But just as one sexist man doesn’t make ALL men sexist, one female who wants “adventure in the great wide somewhere” doesn’t mean all women wanted it, too.

    I feel like I kind of went off on a different rabbit trail towards the end, but I think I got the core of my thought down. xD

    Ahh you should totally read A Little Princess!!! IT IS SO GOOD. ♥ And yes, it does take place at a girls’ school! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, no, I didn’t think you were ignoring me! And I appreciate you coming back and responding! ❤

      I think we're probablyyyyyyyyyyy going to have to "agree to disagree" on this, though. 😉 Which is fine!! What I'm basically trying to say here is:

      To me, the entire system–including cultural, religious, social, and economic influences–that historically placed [and sometimes continues to place] limitations on women because of their gender, is simply wrong.

      It's not that every single person [male or female] who believes in this system or doesn't question it, is BAD, at least I don't think of them as BAD; but the overall system is wrong, historically; has always been wrong, and continues to be wrong.

      It's completely okay with me that some women don't WANT to do all the same things that men have traditionally been allowed to do–adventuring, exploring, fighting on the battlefield, etc. But the restrictions in place to in fact PREVENT women who WANTED to try these things, from trying them … are not cool.

      And the fact that entire societies, for centuries, believed said restrictions were perfectly okay and "normal," is a huge part of the reason (I think) why we have had allllllllllllllllllllll these male-centric stories (usually adventure stories) and few or no female-centric ones. Which … yeah. That reality Irks Me. 😉

      Nice, nice! I'll have to put A Little Princess on my tbr! Thanks for recommending it to me! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. (Also:

        (I wanted to thank you for bringing up such a good, important point in your comment, which I realize now I need to clarify my position on:

        (When I talk about ‘sexism’ and how sexism has influenced our literature, I definitely don’t mean just the attitudes of some men who happen to be jerks in their personal lives, even though such men do exist and are a Problem. Because you’re totally right: their attitude issues alone wouldn’t produce all this!! When I talk about the historical reality of ‘sexism,’ I’m talking about the Whole Entire System put in place to tell women “you SHOULD do X” (X being marry and produce children) and “you MUST NOT do Y” (Y being any other career path or calling, pretty much.)

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  11. Katie,
    Here’s my super late response yet again. xD

    Yeah, agree to disagree (respectfully and with love ♥) will probably be best. 😉 But I’m glad we had a good conversation about the topic! 😀 (It’d be something easier to discuss in person, personally. I’m not good at Long Comment Conversations. xD But that’s okay.)

    *hugs* Natalie

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    1. Thank you for replying, Natalie! I’m so glad we got to talk about this and exchange our ideas! Oooh yes, one day, we’ll be together again in person and we can talk about this (and MANY MORE THINGS!)

      Love and hugs,

      Katie

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