As a fandom, we’ve had plenty of reminders that there’s often a stark gender divide in Star Wars. Emily and I have sounded off on the topic in the past. It can be tough for female fans, but it’s just as tough (if not worse) for writers. Expanded Universe author Karen Miller sat down with Tor’s Liz Bourke to talk about that and other topics today.
The Star Wars fan audience, on the other hand, is overwhelmingly male. At least as far as I can tell. The vast majority of writers who do the tie-in novels are also male. There is a definite predominance of male voices and male POVs in Star Wars novels. And that makes a huge difference in the reception of the material.
Everything I write is grounded in character. Everything. It’s the people that make a story for me. So my Star Wars work is as much a character study or exploration as it is an action adventure romp. For some readers, that was brilliant. For others, it wasn’t. For a lot of Star Wars fans—the guys in particular—the story is about fighting and space battles and stuff like that. For them, that’s the whole point. For them, the intricacies of psychological investigation are boring and unwelcome. And I completely accept that. But it’s not what floats my starship—and I felt strongly that I can’t be the only one who is in love with the story because of the characters, not despite them. Or who wants to take a breath and spend some time with them as human beings, who wants to explore what makes them tick, the relationships between them, the strengths and fragilities they contain and share.
She is onto something there. It’s a big reason that things like Fate of the Jedi sell well while more intimate books in the same universe struggle to keep pace, despite the fact the former books aren’t as critically well received as the latter. Another key quote from this interview:
Looking at this, thinking about it, there’s a temptation to castigate the fandom as being unwelcoming to female writers and, by extension, female fans. And to an extent, I think that is the case, which breaks my heart. Some of the vitriol and virtual violence flung at Karen Traviss, for example, is horrific. Absolutely, there is a segment of the male fanbase that resents any incursion by a woman. But since that’s true on a wider societal scale, really, all that proves is that fandom is a microcosm of society.
Let’s just get the Traviss thing out of the way first. The only issue I take with this entire interview is that Miller misses the mark on why there was fan backlash towards Traviss. It was largely to do with Traviss’ professionalism towards fans and her employer, but in fairness to Miller, I have no doubts that there were a minority of fans that did take issue with her gender.
But the macro point Miller is making is spot-on. As a fandom, Star Wars hasn’t felt very welcoming towards female fans and authors. The mere suggestion that the EU creative staff needs to do a better job crafting and utilizing its female characters incited an over-the-top defensive firestorm from fans and necessitated a bunch of followup retorts to illustrate that, yes, there is a problem with how female fans, writers, and characters are treated (see the links above).*
*Required reading: John Scalzi’s post entitled “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting“
What’s the takeaway here? I don’t know. When in doubt I usually go with the philosophers Bill and Ted. Just be excellent to each other, okay? If what Miller said gets a knee-jerk, negative reaction from you, take a minute to analyze why that is. Nothing she’s said here is particularly inflammatory. They’re issues that we, as a fandom, need to discuss and take seriously.