Boys vs. Girls OR Kahn vs. ‘The One With The Whales’

I have been a member of since 2006. It’s an online critique site that, at least for my part, reviews speculative fiction and horror. Over the course of the decades I have had some really good critiques, read some amazing works that still influence me to this day, read some horrible pieces, and had some horrible reviews. Gems are few and far between, but some have been quite good. It is an indispensable place for authors and readers to get together and help each other.

I have noticed, though, a significant difference with gender in their praise or dislike.

Inquefish, which was published in 2008 (and available as an ebook on Amazon), is fairly hardcore Lovecraftian ‘person vs. alien’ kind of horror. When I first had it reviewed in 2007, I noticed this type of response (paraphrasing of course, and I am presuming gender from names which critters need to provide).

Male: This is great! I really liked what happened! It kept me in suspense! Don’t change a thing. Actual quotes: “It’s the best piece of science-fiction I’ve ever read.“ (No. That was not a relative.) “Evocative!”
No mention of plot structure. No mention of grammar. No asking for motivation.

Female: I really wanted to know more about the motivation of the character, nothing really happens to him. He’s just there reacting to what happens. It’s just action. I couldn’t get into it.
Some praise: Moody and atmospheric.
Copious amounts of corrections to grammar and sentence structure. All of which I took to heart and changed presently.

Flash forward twelve years. After huge lapse, I ask for my story Center Hallow (which you could categorize as 'supernatural romance') to be critiqued. Again it shows up.

Male reviewers: I really couldn’t get into it. It seems like it’s a romance with some supernatural tacked on. You should get rid of this character. It should be mostly supernatural. I can’t tell how old everyone is. It’s too easy for the protagonist. I couldn’t tell what was going on. The MC is goofy but that’s ok. Where is the conflict? Why haven’t you explained everything. Good luck on the rewrite.
With some praise; I like the characterization, the dialog is good.
No mention of grammar or structure. 1 incredibly helpful tense/verb critique.

Female reviewers: (actual quotes) “This is near perfection.” “Heartwarming” “Great idea!” “Your characters different personalities really came through.”
Some with very helpful suggestions; flesh out this character, she has a great story that needs to be told. I think you need to clarify this point. Can you clear that up a bit so that it’s less choppy, etc.
Copious help with my crappy sentence structure and tenses, which I know I need.

So the takeaway: The men offer little to no suggestion on how to improve other than “rip all this out” or “change that somehow” whereas the women, “I think you need to add…” “why not explore…” "you really need to fix..."

Now, I’m gonna be the first person to say I can’t stand romcoms (adult ones like “When Harry Met Sally” and “Father of the Bride” as exceptions). I keep my lips tightly shut about anything my wife or daughter reads. I know that hard sci-fi and horror is lost on them. And that is ok. It’s just amazing how compartmentalized we all are in what we like. I know plenty of women who like hard sci-fi, and I know a few men you can dig romance if it has a good hook, but that seems to be the exception rather than the rule. So I completely get that there is participant bias here.

I suppose in the end that gender always has, and probably always will, make a huge difference in your audience (or at least in how they perceive your work). It is long established that the most loved movie for the original Star Trek cast, among men,  is “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” to which I can quote verbatim in my sleep. Whilst heavily drugged. Yet among women the favorite is “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” colloquially nicknamed, “The One with The Whales”.  Action vs. Emotion. Archetype vs. Three dimension. (Not coincidentally sold as a double feature!)

None of this is a huge revelation or some earth shattering holy nugget, but as Spock would say (in any of the movies): fascinating.


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