As an LGBT activist, as a feminist, and as a specific follower (and occasional critic) of Anita Sarkesian’s work, the portrayal of women in different types of fiction is a topic that crosses my mind frequently. It is articles like this one that make me think back to how I’ve treated women in my own work, both before and after such activism became a key component of my personality as both a human being and a writer. The author covers many topics, among them the fact that women are criminally underrepresented in media (the article throws out a percentage of 17% female representation in stage and screen roles being perceived as equality and that 28% of the speaking roles in last year’s “biggest movies” were female), but what most caught my attention was the absence of women in more understated roles, your one-scene plumbers and taxi drivers and clerks.
I think, for the most part, there are three levels of characters in fiction. There are your main characters, your important ancillary characters, and your background characters. They are your pro- and antagonists, your friends, family, and general support characters, and your ‘extras’ respectively. Women are probably underrepresented across all three, but they seem to be especially underrepresented among the latter two, as the article points out. (And to add to that without going too far off course, it’s also problematic that “Strong Female Lead” needs to be outlined as it’s own specific genre as though it’s unusual to find strength in women.)
This is not the case in my own work, and while I don’t have a snappy George R. R. Martin “I’ve always thought of women as people” retort, my inclination is that I try not to write important characters that can be reduced to a stereotype, “the _____.” (Maybe that’s a different explanation for the same thing.) Women play vital roles in my novels (short stories, by their nature, are limited and therefore different), most notably Ellie in The Chosen, Havoc in Arnett Tanner Wants to Die, Madison and Julia in Skankarella, Ellen King in Kissing Ellen King, and Aurora and Lyv in The Red Orchid Blooms. They occupy important support and minor roles as well, though I can’t give too many of those away without spoiling my work to some extent.
My writing most often isn’t a specific decision in that (or any) regard. I simply write the characters I see in the stories I want. As these themes become more important to me (or play a larger part in society as a whole), they are no doubt sure to grow.