It's question time again and here's what our three mystery authors are answering today: Are female victims over-represented in fiction and if so, why?
MARY JANE MAFFINI:
I haven't done the math on this! However, I think it's possible because I think we may be more outraged by violence against women than men. Kids and animals are verboten. But a bigger concern is the graphic description of torture or sexual violence, quite aptly called 'torture porn'. It ratchets up our outrage. but is it serving another purpose and one which should make us think twice.
My own feeling is that they are not over-represented. I think the fiction is mirroring what we read about and view in the media every day. Females are, generally speaking, more vulnerable in society. They therefore are prime candidates for the role of victim in fiction, as in life. I agree with MJ about the taboos surrounding children and animals, even though not all authors adhere to these. So, next in line are women. Members of minority groups are also on that continuum but are not as frequently portrayed as the victims in fiction.
I can’t say I have ever noticed if too many victims are women. I might even suspect that more men get killed in crime novels, because they are the ones more likely be involved in violent situations.
Normally I don’t pay attention to gender distribution. But not long ago I found myself having to read a lot of mysteries, more so than usual. As I’m reading one book after another, it suddenly struck me that in many of them there was a much higher proportion of men in positions of authority or power than women. Most of the female characters were in supporting roles as wives, girlfriends, sidekicks, etc., with few taking on any significant role in the stories. Even the bad guys were more likely to be male than female. Now I did notice that this tendency seemed to be more apparent in books written by men than by women, but still many of the female writers were just as guilty.
So I asked myself why this would be the case and I’m afraid the only answer I could come up with was that the stories being written are essentially reflecting the real world. It also explains my inattention to gender distribution. I am just reading what I see happening around me on a day-to-day basis.
So my fellow writers maybe it is time we did something about it and add a little more gender equality into our writing. But you know what, even as I write this I am realizing that the majority of characters in my current book are male. Sheesh, you can’t win.