Sooo Many X Chromosomes

((If you’re looking for information on actual chromosomes, check here.))

One of the disappointing aspects of Pern Fanfiction is the utter lack of men. We have something like 40 active writers in my club, and currently, not a single one is male.

Actually, I’m not being fair. There are men out there in Pern fandom, somewhere. We get them once in awhile, but they never seem to last. If they do, I’m convinced they must be a very particular sort of man, and I’m not entirely sure what that is. On the other hand, we get women of every sort under the sun.

I called this disappointing above because I think a good balance of males and females makes just about any situation better. In fact, I worked in an office for awhile where there were no men at all. It was a rotten working environment. There was so much cattiness and gossip and general snarkiness that it was sometimes almost unbearable. The competition between women can be so much more vicious than that between men, because for some reason, we can’t keep it professional. Competition isn’t just about the job, climbing the corporate ladder, or earning the boss’s respect. Competition is personal. It’s about who is a better person, who did what to hurt whose feelings, who is the boss’s favorite.


The most amazing thing is, in most situations, all you have to do to put women on better behavior is toss one man into the mix. I’m not being sexist, I’m not being anti-feminist. I’ve just observed this as a fact of life. Generally speaking, one Y chromosome is adequate to bring the dizzying swarm of X chromosomes back to some level of humanity. (Now… I have NO idea what would happen if you tossed a very effeminate man into the mix. That might not help at all.)

The exact same situation is not necessarily true in fiction writing groups. I’ve been in my club for nearly 10 years, and during that time, I’ve seen maybe ten different men pass through the club. None have ever lasted longer than a year. For the most part, we do well enough without them. Occasional snarky fits or hormone-induced rages are impossible to avoid, but don’t tend to get too out of control. We take great pains to keep said fits off the public spectrum, at any rate, so if they do happen, they don’t ignite a great firestorm of name-calling, hair-pulling, or eye-poking.

Perhaps the fact that we can keep it under control is partially due to the fact that we all write for at least one male character. That is a rule. When all your writers are women, you tend to wind up with an unnaturally high proportion of female characters, so we instituted a rule that each writer must have at least one male character. It works surprisingly well. So perhaps being forced to assume a male perspective now and then fills the same role as having an actual man in the room to keep hormones at manageable levels.

But why the dearth of males to begin with?

I wrote a very interesting paper in college. It was about gender roles in the Writing Center, where I worked. There were 60 writing consultants, and our job was to help students with writing they had to do for classes (primarily). The ratio of male to female consultants was 1:5. Since the school was about evenly split between sexes, there had to be a reason for this odd split in the WC. Eventually, I concluded that it had very much to do with the connection of sensitivity and writing. That is, people who write by choice often tend to be more sensitive in all aspects of their lives. (A vast oversimplification of the best Topics paper I ever wrote, but I bet no one reading this cares.)

That, I believe, is reason #1 there are so many more women than men writing fanfic. I haven’t done my research, but I’m willing to bet that phenomenon is present in all fanfic, not just Pern-based. Women are usually more sensitive than men. Sensitivity and writing go hand and hand. If A=B and so forth. Perhaps the parallel is that men, being more physical creatures, are more drawn to games like Dungeons & Dragons. Something about being able to swing a real (okay, plastic) sword around is more appealing to that Y chromosome.

Reason #2: Anne McCaffrey’s world is very attractive to females, or those of feminine persuasion. Why? I think there are two primary reasons. The first can be found in many romance novels or other smut geared directly toward women: perfect male characters. They are handsome, charming, secure, romantic, willing and able to rescue damsels in distress, and always ready with witty repartee before bringing down the bad guy.

I personally find this aspect of her writing to be pretty awful. We don’t allow our own members to write characters like that (not on purpose, anyway), but if you’re the author created the world in the first place, I guess you can get away with anything. Ew.

More important, though, are the dragons. In Anne’s world, dragonriders are very special. It begins when a person with potential to become a dragonrider is picked from a crowd of teenagers by a searching dragon. The searching dragon is able to sense something about the one individual that makes that person special, more likely to be able to form a good bond with a newly hatched dragon. (Score one for self-esteem!)

Then, this new candidate is stuck on the sands in front of a bunch of dragon eggs, either to be chosen or sent home rejected and unloved. The statistical odds would be about 50/50 (twice as many candidates as there are eggs), but of course, the character you write is better than all the rest of those bums, and will obviously impress one of the hatchlings. (Score two for self-esteem!)

Better yet, dragons come in different colors, some of which are more “special” than others. Green is most common, blue and brown fairly common, but gold and bronze? Those are really unique. Less than ten percent of eggs that hatch are bronze, and about 1% are gold. These colors, when they appear, are especially attracted to people who are excellent leaders, highly empathetic, and generally good people. So if you are chosen by one of these dragons, your self-esteem soars through the roof. You know, without question, that you are the best of the best. You don’t have to prove it, because the simple fact of being a rider to that dragon proves it for you. (Score ten for self-esteem!)

And any dragon gives you something else: unconditional love and companionship for the rest of your life. Imagine your favorite pet. Now, imagine you could speak to each other, that the pet would live through your entire lifespan, and you could use that pet to travel to anyplace in the world within seconds. It doesn’t get much better than that.

I’d be willing to bet my left shoe that if you took a survey, nearly all women involved in Pern Fanfic got started reading Anne’s books in their early teen years. That is the stage when you are looking so hard for personal validation, for an indication that you are special and lovable. If a dragon couldn’t do that, nothing can. And so teenage girls dive into a world of fantasy, imagining themselves on the backs of a golden queen, all their insecurities erased by the fact that the gold dragon was able to see past their nerdy, unpretty exteriors.

I don’t blame them. I feel the appeal myself. I have my gold dragon so I am allowed to look around and judge everyone else. 😉

Men don’t work like that, I don’t think. If they have insecurities as teenagers, they don’t need proof that they are lovable, they need proof they are macho or manly. An opportunity to run around with a fake laser gun is probably more appealing to the nerdily inclined among them.

What then, the fate of our club and all our X chromosomes? We’ll carry on as we always do, imitating the Y chromosome as it suits our needs and smiling curiously at any legitimate Y chromosomes who drift our way, counting the days until they drift off again.


2 thoughts on “Sooo Many X Chromosomes

  1. This Pern universe seems like it would appeal to a teenage Shawn. I think your inclinations about sensitivity and writing are correct. People always referred to me as sensitive as a child, and I was, but not in the way they wanted me to be. For many people sensitivity carries connotations of being emotionally fragile. For me, being sensitive means being highly aware, not only of your surroundings but the emotional wavelengths of the people around you. I was not afraid of being emotionally hurt as much as I was afraid that I would unintentionally hurt others emotionally. Seeing as how most people are not burdened with this dilemma, I’ve become more calloused to other’s feelings as I’ve gotten older. It’s also hard to respect feelings based in irrationality, but that’s a whole blog in itself.

    I think there might be two main reasons the men don’t stick around in your groups:

    1. Writing is work. I admit that a video game where you would try to cultivate a golden dragon you could then ride around sounds more appealing to me than writing about it. But then again, that’s my beef with most video games today: they’re essentially production-line offerings that are lacking in some aspect, whether the plot, the gameplay, the design or a combination of the three. I look at many good concepts for games that are never fully realized and I think “Hey! I could make a way better game than that!” If only I knew how to program.

    2. It’s hard to work your way into an established community. People tend not to side with you in disagreements which ultimately leads to feeling like an outcast or outsider.

    That being said, I want to read this essay you wrote for the writing center.

  2. Having been a part of several different forums I can say that you are totally correct about the gender thing. The forums I’ve visited that pertain to TV shows, video and computer games all have pretty even male-female member ratios, but the Lost Boys forum I frequent has maybe three male members and all the rest are female. And I don’t think I’ve even seen a Pern fanfic that was written by a man.

    When you think about it, vampires and dragons do have a few things in common. After all, you must be very very very special if a vampire who has been single for the past few centuries decides that he wants to spend the rest of eternity with you.

    I think you’re really on to something here.

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