Crime fiction tends to be a male dominated fiction. Lot's of male writers, lots of male characters, lots of male perspective.
Female characters tend to be the victims. Female characters tend to get pigeon-holed into convenient categories (femme-fatale, damsel in distress, something to be fucked, conquered and fought over, something to be rescued) rather then given a personality or even a third dimension.
Female characters in classic noir fiction tend to fall into one of three categories: the murderous femme fatale; the long-suffering wife who keeps asking the hero, “Why can’t you just let this case go?”; and, of course, the beautiful victim.The lens that a lot of crime fiction is viewed through is the presentation of masculinity in a world where gender roles have changed. But if the definition of masculinity is changing shouldn't crime fiction change as well. If it doesn't will it be left behind? Is it an anachronistic presentation taking the place of protest in the face of these changes.
Daniel Mennaker stated that the modern incarnation of the tough guy is a "sociological outgrowth of some gender-role ambiguity introduced beginning in the '60s or '70s, when the way a young guy ought to be became less clear."
What I've been concerned with lately is that I've read some manuscripts where narrative possibilities are presented then not explored. In one manuscript a sheriff in a small town has a, *ahem*, business relationship with a local crime boss. They are each getting long in the tooth and each have daughters. It's hinted that the one daughter is a lesbian. I was really hoping that the two daughters would get together, knock off their respective fathers and be the next generation running the town.
That didn't happen though.
I'm not arguing for some sort of hedonistic, pulpy story where two lipstick lesbians get together and do hot crime things. What I am saying is why can't the girls have the reins of power sometimes. And sometimes, why can't there be no dudes in the picture. Or if there is a dude he doesn't have to rule the roost. Remember that chilling moment at the end of Mystic River where Annabeth reveals her Lady MacBeth side. Now there was a story just dying to get out.
It also doesn't have to be about the women getting together. How about a more recent example. Yesterday we saw Savages (really liked it too!) and there was a point in the movie where Elena says to O that Ben and Chon really love each other and that's why they are able to share her. Imagine the narrative possibilities if Ben and Chon reached the same conclusion and decided to not save O. Then O becomes the daughter that Elena wanted and they team up. All of a sudden the rug has been yanked out from under the viewer, the entire premise has been realigned and, because this is all I'm really arguing for, new narrative possibilities have opened up.
I'm not pulling these narrative possibilities out of my ass though because they were already there to begin with. They were just left unexplored.
Thought exercise: Think of a crime novel that you read recently, or even a favorite. Now imagine if all of the genders in it were reversed. What would it look like. What if all of the genders were the same. I think either of those simple shifts in perspective would/could open up a new realms of possibilities.
what if women started stepping up to fill the traditional male roles? The tarnished knight? The stone-cold amoral thief? The wisecracking sex machine? Would a Black Dahlia-style victim-obsession plot work if the genders were reversed?
Readers: Keep an open mind because only then can new things be tried.
Writers: Don't be afraid to add new spices to your story. Who knows what will open up.
Currently Reading: The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett