Lucy Woodhull – Flip That Script, Be a Better Writer

I’m romantic comedy author Lucy Woodhull, and I’m back on the CRC blog to talk about the ladiez.

One of the most amazing things to me about writing romance is that I’m doing it within a community of women.  Romance is the genre that is overwhelmingly written by women, edited by women, and bought by women (another is YA).  It’s a lady circle-jerk (ahem, so to speak), and it’s marvelous!  Those of us in the industry often wonder why the rest of the world poops on us — “romance novel” is practically a slur — but one must only look to the fact that romance = women to realize why.  “Pussy” is a slur, too.  “Run like a girl” isn’t that much different than “write like a girl,” although it’ll usually make you sweatier.

Personally, I like girls and women, and I know we’re an amazing, strong, brilliant community the world over.  But I think that we in the romance world can do better by ourselves, if we only set the intention to do so.

I’m going to talk a moment about film and television, and the gender role representation therein.  The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media has published the below data that I’d like to highlight; I haven’t really found the same studies in terms of books, but I believe the problems in representation for women and people of color are very similar.

Gender Roles and Occupations:  A Look at Character Attributes and Job-Related Aspirations in Film and Television.  (I encourage you to read the whole thing at the link.)

 Table 3

Table 4


Table 6


More conclusions from the Geena Davis Institute:

Research Facts

  • Males outnumber females 3 to 1 in family films. In contrast, females comprise just over 50% of the population in the United States. Even more staggering is the fact that this ratio, as seen in family films, is the same as it was in 1946.
  • Females are almost four times as likely as males to be shown in sexy attire. Further, females are nearly twice as likely as males to be shown with a diminutive waistline. Generally unrealistic figures are more likely to be seen on females than males.
  • Females are also underrepresented behind the camera. Across 1,565 content creators, only 7% of directors, 13% of writers, and 20% of producers are female. This translates to 4.8 males working behind-the-scenes to every one female.
  • From 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, as a business leader, in law, or politics. In these films, 80.5% of all working characters are male and 19.5% are female, which is a contrast to real world statistics, where women comprise 50% of the workforce.All facts are supported by research conducted by Stacy Smith, Ph.D. at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism

What is obvious from the study (and, frankly, from anyone taking a critical look at the media we consume) is that it’s overwhelmingly male and white.  I definitely recommend a read of the below PDF as well, the 2014 Hollywood Diversity Report.

2014 Hollywood Diversity Report

 Figure 9

 I’ve talked about this phenomenon before online, and I had a great woman writer friend say she’d never thought about the gender breakdown in her books, but realized once she thought about it that she defaults to male characters unless there’s a love interest needed.  It’s not even weird that she does this — after all, we can learn from the above charts that literally everything we consume teaches us that that’s what female characters are for:  sex, looking sexy, or being a love interest that has a high probability of getting fridged so that the hero can feel sad about something and go kick butt.  It’s what we learn from our earliest age.  Here’s some sexist bullshit, courtesy of Gymboree:

 Gymboree pretty like mommy

As female artists creating media for other women, I think it’s way past damn time to do better by our readers and ourselves.  The above picture reflects a common trope in romance — brilliant Alpha male, beautiful love interest.  I’m not saying that our heroes can’t be smart, but I’m super tired of female characters whose only characteristic is the beauty she doesn’t know she has.  Apparently, women are limited to one attribute, and they’re not even smart enough to notice it in the mirror.

What can we do?  The first step is admitting we all have a problem.  Women are half the world’s population; are they half the population in your latest book?

I’m going to take a look at mine.  First, a chick lit/women’s fiction in the paranormal vein (think Sookie Stackhouse) that’s about 55K words in.  I determined the breakdown just for this blog.  My book is 58% female characters (female-identifying characters) — I’m pretty happy about that!  I set a positive intention to include more women, and I’ve succeeded.

My latest fared a great deal better than my first, Ragnar and Juliet, a rom-com sci-fi romance.  Out of twelve characters, only two were women.  And only one spoke.  Ouch.  OUCH.  Holy heaving bosoms, am I ashamed of myself.  I added a lot more female characters to the sequel (speaking characters, especially), but damn.  Now, I was just as Feminist when I wrote Ragnar and Juliet as I am now but, much like my writer friend I talked about before, I just defaulted to male characters without thinking.  How horrible is that?  My heroine, Juliet, is a strong and vulnerable female character who is Feminist, but she’s not enough.

I challenge you to count up your own characters — not as some sort of contest, but just to see…are you honoring women when you write?  Is your book all white?  I’m white, and yup, I know I can do better.  And I must, or else I’m simply not reflecting the world around me, or the vast diversity of people who might read my books.

Women (of all colors and nationalities) can be that random doctor character.  The goon.  The sharpshooter.  The plumber.  The robber.  The Alpha of the matriarchal wolf pack.  The con artist.  The brilliant physicist.  The computer dork.  We’re all those things in real life and more*!  Shouldn’t we be all those things in books, too?

*Well, maybe not the werewolf thing.  Unless you know something I don’t.

Lucy Woodhull has always loved le steamy romance. And laughing. And both things at the same time, although that can get awkward. Her motto is “Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you’ll short-circuit your Kindle.” That’s why she writes funny books, because goodness knows we all need to escape the real world once in a while. She believes in red lipstick, equality, and the interrobang. Hailing from Southern California, she daydreams with her husband and a very fat cat who doesn’t like you.  Her latest series is the Dimple series, contemporary adult rom-coms about a wannabe actress and the art thief who screws up her life in the sexiest way possible.  Website Goodreads Twitter Pinterest Blog Facebook Newsletter



Lucy Woodhull – Flip That Script, Be a Better Writer — 8 Comments

  1. Welcome back, Lucy! Sobering info about the disparities for women in the film industry. There is also a disparity in characters of color in romantic fiction. Thank you of reminding us of the opportunity we have to help close the gap.

    • Reese, yes, you’re so right. Unfortunately, it’s harder to sell diversity in romance. That’s not a reason not to try, and self-pubbing is a great way to stretch the boundaries!

  2. Not surprised by the stats especially the “sexy” ones. I’m always complaining that there’s not enough sexy male skin in the movies. Why is it that the woman’s clothes get ripped off running through the jungle but not the man’s?

    • Samantha, I’ve already decided that if I get lucky enough to have one of my books made into a movie or TV show, naked men will be a MUST. Yes, I’m just that dedicated to my audience.

  3. Good to have you back at the Cafe, Lucy. I have to admit I have never counted the number of women I have in my books, but I will certainly consider my gender balance from now on. Thanks for a great post!

    • Jana, it was an interesting exercise for me, even though I’m a person who really tries to think about diversifying the characters in my books already. It may seem weird to take a count, but such a nuts and bolts approach might be one of the best ways to resist the programming that we all receive on a daily basis from the male and white dominated media we consume.

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