I’m Kellie M Cox, author, counsellor, creative coach, dog mum and owner of Strong Female
Protagonists Publishing, Changing the Narrative of Gender in Storytelling.
So, what does that mean? Are we as writers supposed to change the way we tell stories,
making the women the protagonists and men the antagonists? Of course not, but are we as
contemporary storytellers compelled to consider the narratives we create? Most definitely.
Ernest Hemingway is one of my favourite writers of all time. He has been described as a hard
drinking, womanising, misogynist. If this is the case, why are his stories considered classics?
It is when we read authors like Hemingway or Miller, we read them within the constraints of
the time in which they were writing. Even as a mature reader myself, I still cringe at the
numerous references to a certain unmentionable four letter word starting with the letter c and
the references to women as if they were disposable commodities. Would their novels be
published by the big five today? It is highly unlikely because they would be considered
offensive to some, sexist to many and not marketable to the largely mainly female cohort of
readers buying commercial fiction. But we readers keep reading the classics and rightly so.
Sometimes cringing, but with fascination for a time long past. Reading the classics is one
thing but writing those gender narratives in contemporary society won’t wash, fortunately so,
because we have matured in our view of gender equality.
Moving forward to more recent storytelling with the enthralling Tarantino movies of the Kill
Bill series. We loved watching Uma Thurman in a yellow jumpsuit making accountable all
who did her wrong. She avenged the man who assaulted her sexually, emotionally, and
physically. She became the strong female protagonist of her own story. Why did we love
these movies? We loved seeing a person overcoming incredible hardships and avenging the
wrong perpetuated against her by the cruel villain of the piece. I would suggest modern day
storytellers are moving beyond the male as the villain and instead are seeing kick arse women
just being inspiring, whether they are planning a massive jewellery heist (Oceans 8) or saving
a city from the supernatural (Ghostbusters) as in our latest reboots of popular movie scripts.
These examples form a progression of the narrative of gender in storytelling but where are we
at today? Today we are in a world of non-binary, non-gendered language. We have in many
countries around the world acknowledged our lack of understanding of forms of love and
changed legislation around rights to marry. We have non gendered language in schools,
teachers speaking to parents about their little person or their student rather than their son or
daughter. We have real life inspiration around us in people transitioning from the body they
were born to into the body they identify with.
In my novel Murderous Intent, I wrote a gorgeous character – a fun loving, risk-taking
creative. Someone living not within a box, for he never knew a box existed. He is in a
relationship with another man, and during the story, enjoyed a sex scene with his female
writing colleague. A reviewer wrote about this character identifying him as gay. I wanted to
question the reviewer and ask her how she came up with this label. The character himself had
some inspiring dialogue, once saying ‘We are artists my dear. We cannot be concerned with
society’s rules for us. We simply don’t conform and why should we. We must take every
moment. Every passion. Every ounce of beauty and live it. For then we create with that
moment in time something extraordinary to share with the world.’ In another moving
monologue, this same character describes himself as saying, ‘My dear, we are writers. We
must partake of whatever devilish desires our little hearts crave. It is what allows our artistic
juices to flow.’ In our current understanding of sexual attraction, this character could identify
as gay, bisexual, or pansexual, but he doesn’t sound as if he wishes to label himself at all and
why should we as writers or reviewers try to do that for him.
So, what are we as modern-day storytellers responsible for doing? We are mindful of writing
characters who identify outside of their gendered role. We are creating storylines of women
doing amazing things without the antecedent of a traumatic event perpetuated by a male
villain. We are creating characters who were born brilliant and who are courageous enough to
live the life they dream to live without generations-old views. We are keeping abreast of
changes to language to identify with the subtle differences that are happening every day. We
are writing not to fit any stereotypical norms, but instead writing characters who our readers
— female, male, non-binary, non-gendered and transitioning – can relate to.
Well done to those writers who are thinking ahead while still appreciating the words of our
great classics. I believe it is the creatives who change the world, and the power of our words make a difference.
Are you, in your current work in progress, keeping abreast of how our readers are identifying? This is a good question to ask with every draft and every edit. You are the writers creating the storylines our future generations will love reading, for they will see themselves in your worlds. Our future readers will appreciate that you took the time right now to consider the narrative.
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