Friday, April 22, 2016


Back when I first learned to read, I noticed that men in the stories had a large variety of jobs, while women had a very limited choice - mother, nurse, teacher, airline stewardess, secretary. Even in science fiction it took awhile before I encountered stories with women who were pilots, doctors, professors, captains, owners of companies, soliders, admirals, or leaders of colonies. Once I did find an author who wrote about women working the same jobs as men (not in a spotlighted manner, but just as if it was perfectly normal in that society), I hunted for more of her or his work.

Representation is important.

I've blogged before about gender roles, mainly in fantasy. But this is a topic that bears repeating.

In the real world, the glass ceiling hasn't been completely broken yet, but the cracks are still spreading. Gendered terms for occupations have slowly dropped out of usage - authoress, stewardess, hostess, actress (still in use but slowly fading). I don't automatically assume a doctor is male. I have worked with nursing students at a university long enough to know that not all nurses are female, either.

So where could someone come up with a list of occupations to use in a science fiction world? I start with what jobs exist in the present and spin off from there. The Occupational Outlook Handbook details numerous jobs in the U.S. Seventh Sanctum has a page of generators. The one under Classes/Professions allows you to choose a category (cyberpunk, fantasy, science fiction, or steampunk) and create a list of occupations for that universe.

Role models don't always have to be the main character. What about secondary or background characters? When I need a walkon character - someone to do something to help the main character (or villain) and not be seen again - someone identified by a occupation, I'll choose the occupation first, and then decide, does this character need to be a man or a woman? Does it matter? And if it doesn't matter to the story, why not a woman?

When you read, do you occasionally check to see how many male characters are mentioned versus how many female? Do you notice their occupations?


  1. A good topic, Kathy. If you remember Robert Heinlein, he went to considerable lengths to have females in all roles, such as doctor, pilot, warrior.
    One of my protagonists starts the story as a 15 year old girl taken into slavery, who ends up as the war leader of her people.
    In my current work, the main hero happens to be male (in this life), but in fact his wife is the stronger person, and when he temporarily collapses under the strain, she takes over.


  2. Good one. In Larry's first sci-fi book, THE McGREGOR CHRONICLES: BOOK 1- SAVING MIKE, the male protagonist has to give up his ship to a female pilot. She ends up saving him. In BOOK 3 - ALIEN INVASION, the sister in the family has to step up to the command position.

  3. Interesting subject, Kathy. I haven't really thought about it, until now. I like to write about male characters. Maybe it's because I have three sons. I'll have to look at the books I read and write now. You've made me curious.