The New Gender Stereotyping

How do you go about choosing the gender identity/ethnicity/sexuality of your characters?

Question from Writing Forums.

I choose a character. The identity evolves as I write. Ethnicity and sexuality are left up to the reader for the most part. Especially in the case of a short story where character development is as important as the story itself. Let the reader decide who the character is, based on the reader’s own biases.

I’m old school, grew up in the 1970’s when we talked about gender stereotypes rather than conforming to them as people seem to do these days. I knew tomboys. We talked about how incorrect that was. How it limited women, ranking them as real girls or tomboys. As if a girl should not be climbing trees, etc.

Now it seems things have gone off track completely, in the wrong direction. Now we try to put children (and people) into tiny little boxes. Each time they fit into one box we look for an even smaller box to fit them into. Eventually everyone becomes a long string of descriptive words, but they seem to fit in, somehow. A lot of younger people seem to be backing their way into tiny boxes all on their own.

I wonder who decided we all needed to fit into tiny boxes?

I’d rather not. I don’t want to be stifled and suffocated in order to suit an outdated stereotype. Because it is outdated, all that new stuff about gender identity.

Gender is a man or a woman. Either one can climb trees. Why does gender limit people so much more these days?

When I write a character it is male or female. Identity and ethnicity don’t come from the gender of the character. If you carry all that in your crotch, you need to expand your limits. Sexuality is about gender, an aspect of each involves the other. Sexuality should not be limited by gender, any more than identity and ethnicity are.

Why is gender so much more important now than it ever was before?

Do you ever wonder, with so much focus on gender, what you’re missing?

Remembering BackWash

Listen to Your World

In a world of noise and bustle, we very often do not listen to it. Singers have often used city sounds as inspiration. Neil Diamond had a hit a number of years ago about the sounds of New York. As a writer you can listen to the sounds in your world and write about them.

Tonight, as I was arriving home, I heard a different sound in my parking garage. A lone cricket had found his way into the garage and the walls and cars worked to amplify his music. I started thinking about “a lone cricket, a lonely cricket, a lonely cricket attracting his mate… you get the idea. The “what ifs” led me to a poem.

Think about the sounds of your world.
What does your child sound like sleeping?
What are the sounds of your family dinners?
What is the sound of your morning? night?
What does the night outside sound like?
What is the sound of pen/pencil across paper?
What are the sounds of your neighborhood on a Saturday morning?
Listen to the park on a Sunday afternoon as the old couple shuffle hand in hand.
Hear the squeak of the swing.
Be very quiet and listen to the wind whisper in the trees.
Hear the waves on the lake…the roar of the jet ski… and the silence of the sail boat.
And what about the clatter of the diner?
Close your eyes, listen to your surroundings. Be sure to have your notebook with you. After all, you are a writer and I have to assume you have it with you all the time. Make quiet time for yourself. After about 20 minutes, write what you have heard. It will provide you with grist for your writer’s mill. What you write now may not have application, but you are training yourself to see. And those notes may just be the kernel of a story.

The post above comes from a friend I met while writing on BackWash.com. The network is now gone, just archives you can find with the Wayback Machine. The writer is gone too. Marcia was taken by cancer several years ago. I posted this because we are having a BackWash reunion. At first I thought it was ten years but it may be more than that. Anyway, it is at least ten years since the days I was a columnist on BackWash. If you wrote for the site take a look at the reunion site and add your update to the Personalities page. 

Pink for Christmas

I’ve seen the pink Christmas trees, I even bought a fluffy neon pink star for the top of my own traditional Christmas tree. Just thinking about the things you most like for Christmas decorating, what would you turn into something pink for Christmas? How would it turn out, pretty pink, neon pink or very pale pink? Add sparkles?

How would various characters react or describe your pink Christmas creation? Start with someone typically cynical then a child, someone seeing Christmas with a lot of optimism. Write about pink for Christmas through the point of view of three other people.

Faster than a Galloping Horse

You’re in the middle of an old forest. There is a thin path through the trees, otherwise there are just trees, flowers and plant life in general. You are standing off to the side of the path in a patch of wildflowers. As you wonder where you are and how you ended up where ever it is that you are… you hear the galloping beat of a horse. It’s getting louder, coming towards you.

While you wait… imagine the story of the galloping horse. Where is it galloping from? Why is it in such a hurry? Is it running to something or away from something? Is there a rider or is the horse alone? Is this modern times or are you back in the past?  As the hoof beats get louder, you have a steadily shrinking amount of time to come up with a story before the horse comes into view and your chance to create the story yourself will be gone.

When you can hear the horse in your head, start writing. But, be quick! Horses can run pretty fast.

Red Green’s Word Game

On the Red Green Show they have a skit where a word is chosen and Red Green tries to get the guest to say the word. Of course, it’s comedy and the word is not a secret at all. But, the guest is fed clues which lead to the word, pretty obviously, yet each guess is another way of looking at the clue. The actual word is only said at the very end as a mistake. If you have never seen Red Green is it not easily explained. But, it does make an interesting writing exercise.

Pick a word. Let’s say the word is ‘lemon’.

The first clue given is “Something sour.”

The answer is “My Mother-in-law.” (It is a guy show).

The next clue is “No, it grows on trees.”

The answer is “Well, it’s not money that’s for sure. Did I tell you about the time I tried to plant…”

“No, it’s something sour and yellow”

“My Uncle Bob. He stunk real bad too.”

And on it goes. Once you actually try to write it this is not so easy. If you see Red Green come on TV watch for the word game. They do it very well.

Afterlife for a Christmas Tree?

These are all photo sharing groups on Flickr, the topic being abandoned Christmas trees, usually living tress but not always. It is kind of sad to see a tree tossed out on the side of the road, not given the chance to grow somewhere else or at least become compost. What does happen to these trees thrown out in the cold? In the city I would guess then end up in the landfill somewhere. What a waste.

Write about your own Christmas tree this year (assuming you have one or had one). Did it get packed away for next year, left out for the tree pickup or was it a tree with roots and the chance to be repotted? What kind of afterlife does your Christmas tree get?

Life in a Small House

You’ve just won a free house! Of course you are very excited, feeling like you just won the lottery. It comes with the land it is built on and a free trailer hitch (which is kind of odd but you don’t put much thought into it at the time). When you arrive to claim the house and property the lawyer has you sign a bunch of stuff, some of it you read and it all seems straight forward. You actually own a house, all paid for!

When you drive out to see it, plans of moving in, furniture arranging and gardens floating around in your mind, it’s a bit of a shock. Yes, the property is there and there is a lot of land, all you could really ever desire with a lot of fruit trees and vegetable gardens. But… the house is tiny. Minuscule even. You wonder if your queen sized bed will even fit in there let alone your computer desk, china cupboard and the leather sofa you bought out of misguided love a year ago.

Still, it is a house. A home of your own. No money to pay for it. All yours. You can live there for just the annual costs due to the government and utilities not included. So it’s a little small. That’s not all bad. You talked about getting rid of some clutter. Now you can.

When you start really breathing again, what plans do you make? Will you move in, keep it but rent it perhaps or do you just keep some of the land and sell the house?

What If… Paper Were Priceless?

The bank machines and computers have been hacked. No one can use credit or debit cards. Everyone has had to go to the bank and use cash again. Oh horrors! To have to make change again. To have to carry a change purse along. To have to actually think about what you are spending versus cash on hand.

Will they ever catch the fiends who did this? But… worst of all… the trees! Now that there are only cash sales money has to be printed, far more than has been printed in many years. Trees are being cut down in their prime. The squirrels are protesting. They start by disabling cars, buses and trucks. Without the population check of squirrel road kill there are huge swarms of squirrels in every big city, medium town and tiny hamlet (and all in between). Squirrels are rampant!

Someone builds a better squirrel trap. No live captures, none of that. Squirrels are caught by the thousands and disposed of in landfill where they fertilize the new tree crops planted on the new tree farms.

Everyone has a new respect for trees. Paper becomes scarce as it takes a long time for trees to grow into new paper. Paper becomes worth more than the money value printed on it. People begin collecting paper plates as if they were bone china. Suddenly no one is printing anything on paper any more.

Of course, this is about the time they finally catch the culprit who hacked the bank machines and computers. Computers can be used again for banking which is great cause now everyone is ready for online banking, online shopping and no one has to hand out cash at all.

In generations to come, far far down the time line, people still wonder whatever happened to the squirrels and why it couldn’t have happened to the pigeons too. In the future pigeons are flying rats, worse than the land rats because they have used their homing instinct to dive bomb people. In the future, no one goes outside without a hat, if not an umbrella for real pigeon protection.

Just think, none of this would have happened if… ???

Where I’m From

Originally, this was posted to my personal blog, March 2006. When I came across it as I was looking for something else I decided to check the originating link (still there!) and post it again here. Give it a try. My own original “Where I’m From” follows at the end.

The WHERE I’M FROM Template

I am from _______ (specific ordinary item), from _______ (product name) and _______.

I am from the _______ (home description… adjective, adjective, sensory detail).

I am from the _______ (plant, flower, natural item), the _______ (plant, flower, natural detail).

I am from _______ (family tradition) and _______ (family trait), from _______ (name of family member) and _______ (another family name) and _______ (family name).

I am from the _______ (description of family tendency) and _______ (another one).
From _______ (something you were told as a child) and _______ (another).

I am from (representation of religion, or lack of it). Further description.

I’m from _______ (place of birth and family ancestry), _______ (two food items representing your family).

From the _______ (specific family story about a specific person and detail), the _______ (another detail, and the _______ (another detail about another family member).

I am from _______ (location of family pictures, mementos, archives and several more lines indicating their worth).

Here is Where I’m From:

I am from the land of the red maple leaf, from pine trees and silvery birch trees.

I am from the the house with gardens, the kiddie swing set overlooking the wild, deep ravine below.

I am from the sweet william, the violets, johnny jump ups freshly blooming in Spring.

I am from road trips and laughter with Mom, from The Scherles and the Earles and the Armbrusters too.

I am from the easy going and the endlessly critical.

From “no one will ever want you” and “you can do anything you try”.

I am from Irish Presbyterians and grew into Earth Witchery, with a joy for life and nature.

I’m from the Irish, the German, the Scots, cabbage rolls, homemade buns and Mom’s endless soup variations.

From the armbusters – not too proud to be too honest, the lawmakers – far too proud to be pleasant, but always correct and right and just in their minds.

I am from sisters, a brother, Woodstock green, coffee cups and craftsmanship.