Aug 20 2013 10:30am

“A Vicariously Slutty Life”: Author Gender Switching

Author Ian Fleming

Slate recently had a portrait gallery of erotic romance authors photographed in real life. The comments section (note to everyone: Don't read the comments) included some posts by people who thought that these ladies write erotic romance because they can't get a date in real life.

As if comments like that aren't frustrating enough, there's the fact that female authors often get asked questions in interviews that male authors would never get asked. In Whack Magazine, the double standard is exposed when the interviewer asks male authors Chuck Wendig and Stephen Blackmoore questions normally reserved for female authors:

Do you think you are living a vicariously slutty life through your characters?

How do you balance writing and touring without feeling like you are abandoning your family?

You are known for your potty mouth and books that feature characters that are, well, I’ll just say “easy” and lots of violence. What do you think your children will say about that?

Do you feel pressure to have children before it’s too late?

Ideal relaxation day?

Let's switch that up for a moment, shall we? What if we're talking about male authors? Would they get the same interview questions? Would comments at Slate be the same if it were, say, George R.R. Martin pictured in a portrait gallery?

Do you think GRRM writes what a great swordsman (not a euphemism) Jaime Lannister is because he can't really swing a sword in real life? How about Vladimir Nabokov? Would people say he wrote Lolita because he couldn't get a twelve year-old girl to fall in love with him? Did Ian Fleming create James Bond because he wasn't able to be a spy in real life?

To bring it back to erotic romance, specifically to comments on the Slate piece, would people suggest that male erotic authors write what they do because they can't find a real partner?

The Wendig/Blackmoore questions show the same inequality, positing that female authors are living the lives of their characters, that they should be their characters in some way, and that their writing is deleterious to or a reflection of their own characters in some way, and their choice of profession might somehow compromise their personal lives.

We can't add anything to the discussion that hasn't already been said ad nauseam, but romance readers have had the same double standards applied to them and their choice of genre as well—questions that pry into a reader's personal life, either about their amped-up sexual drive or their lack of a real sex life, how their family feels about their choice of reading, and what the characters they read about reflect on their own morality.

What kinds of prejudice have you encountered about the genre you like to read? What's the worst thing anyone has said? How do you combat those kinds of comments? Help our community out!


Megan Frampton is the Community Manager for the HeroesandHeartbreakers site as well as an author. Female in gender. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and son and puts bacon on the table both literally and figuratively.

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Megan Frampton
1. MFrampton
I am very lucky in that very few real life people have disparaged either what I read or write. But that might be because I come out swinging, and I have already arrayed my argument before the other person can come out with some sort of dismissive comment. But reading those comments on the Slate piece reminded me that I am not immune to romance reader/writer rage, so I wanted to bring it up--again--until it's not an issue. Which will be never.
Laura K. Curtis
2. LauraKCurtis
I rarely get questions like this, either, but then I, too, am a New Yorker and apt to come out swinging.

I have one close friend who told me she didn't read romance because she didn't "get" it. I thought that was quite sad, but I left it alone. When she read my romantic suspense, she told me she loved the story but had to skip the sex scene. So it occurred to me that that's the thing she can't get beyond...she doesn't want to read romance because she doesn't like reading sex. But she doesn't say that because she may not even see it herself. My mysteries, which she loves, have romance in them, but the sex is all implied, not explicit.

I think very often that those who sneer at romance novels have either never read one or have only read one or two, often books from the 80s with forced seduction scenes and the like. Or they've read a very sexy book when they'd really do better with a Presents. Or whatever. It would be like someone judging all Sci Fi based on reading a couple of L. Ron Hubbard books.

I think part of the problem romance faces is that it's a bit too close to realism--no one asks fantasy readers/writers if the reason they read fantasy is that they wish the world were really run by Lannisters. They don't ask crime writers whether they really want to crawl into their characters' skins and get beat up by thugs and killers in pursuit of justice. All that stuff is so far away from real life that no one even considers it. But love...love is something we can all get, or at least hope we can.
Christopher Morgan
3. cmorgan
No, but if you are seen reading fantasy you are assumed to be a man-child, incapable of mature thought or intellectual discussion. That you would prefer to live out escapist, mysoginistic fantasy instead of have an informed opinion on weight lifting and/or sports. Let alone have a wife that works in the fashion industry.

If I had a penny for every sneer, snicker, or judgmental stare I got for reading what I read on the Subway, living in NYC really wouldn't be all that intimidating. The one redeeming moment I had was when I was re-reading Fellowship and some 60+ year old waspish woman was getting off the train, she tapped me on the shoulder, then told me that that was her favorite book of all time with a warm, dimpled smile. Totally worth every other time.
Lege Artis
4. LegeArtis
I love to read military SciFi. I love that genre, one of my favorite authors in genre is a woman (Bujold), but even now you'll meet readers who would tell you that you as a woman can't possibly understand and enjoy that genre.
"Ah, you are woman...I should have known." - worst comment ever.

If we're talking strictly romance genre (and variation of) I think the most commomn predjudice is presumed inbalance of characters-That woman is weaker character who needs a hero to save her from baddy. It's not. From classics like Pride & Prejudice to modern novels, romance writers are writing strong women, capable to look after themselves. Whenever I hear such comment I urge people to give romance genre a try. :)
Lege Artis
5. LegeArtis
I made a mistake and read comments on Slate despite your warning. ::facepalm::
Aliza Mann
6. AlizaMann
You're right. I shouldn't have read the comments.
I recall a course during my grad course work (an MFA - creative writing, no less) where I mentioned that I wanted to write romance - as in, I want to write in this genre for ever.
I could hear the 'tsks' from around the room. It is really sad.
7. wsl0612
@LauraK, but also love is something many have lost or desperately wanted, and perhaps that prevents them from reading romance too?

I couldn't really think of a good comment to this article that wasn't a sort of "who cares, what a bunch of tossers", I just want to give them all the middle finger for this, sigh.
Rakisha Kearns-White
8. BrooklynShoeBabe
What a great rant and article. Sometimes you don't realize the sexism, sizism, racism or whatever negative ism there is until you reverse it. My family has no problems with me reading romance and sharing it with them. My mom and aunt both read romance novels. My husband doesn't care as long as I don't talk about it with him ( just like I'm not allowed to talk about my drooling lust for Hugh Jackman with him, lol). My daughters are 6 and 8, so they certainly don't care although my 8 year old and I had a conversation about being brave to enjoy something others may ridicule you for. I forget what her specific problem was, but I told her about how I was afraid to read the books in public because I was afraid my co-workers (librarians) would make fun of me. (They don't. Like my husband, they're tolerant but it's not their genre.)

I think of myself of the genre warrior at the library. Whenever a parent downs graphic novels or adults feel embarrassed because they want to read Twilight (or other YA novels) or a teenager wants a copy of the first easy reader they mastered as 1st graders, I quickly squash the shame. There's no judgement in my library. You want to read a book, and I want to put it in your hands.
Megan Frampton
9. MFrampton
@BrooklynShoeBabe: Your last sentence has absolutely made my day. Thank you, genre warrior!
Carmen Pinzon
10. bungluna
I skipped the comments. I'm tired of the constant denigration.
11. ladynat
I'm a woman that when I got power tools for Christmas my sister said I was a boy. I like comics. I play RPGs. I read fantasy. I wathc Doctor Who. I watch anime. I watch violent movies. Squeeee Riddick! Return of a Jedi is still my favorite movie. I am a fangirl.

I also read romance novels. I watch Asian dramas (mostly Korean for easy of access). I am a hopeless romantic. I love watching people fall in love.

Do I enjoy a good hot scene. yep. Do I sometimes find myself skipping them to get back to the good story. Yep. Am I living Vicariously? nope.

Oddly enough the same sister that called me a boy for wanting power tools, is also the only person that ever comments on what I read. We have never seen eye to eye so whatever.

Being a fangirl you would except me to catch all kinds of heck from the boys in the group, but nope. They respect my choices.

On the rare chance that someone does as I simply say i love watching people fall in love. That usually gets me the response of "Oh you're a romantic. That makes since. " They usually leave it alone at that.

One thing being a fangirl has taught me. People either get it or they don't. If they don't, I'm not going to waste my breath trying to explain it.
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