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Gender Roles in Short Stories.

Inspired by : this post on Women in History, or should I say challenged by, I took another look at short story that I written. I had chosen a male pilot, and a female stewardess. The reasons was exactly the point being made there. It was lazy writing. I didn’t need to think too hard about the back story of these two characters. I picked up a readily-available sterotype and I used it. It was lazy. The story, to my mind, is not changed very much at all by the change of the gender.

What is now the story can be found here: http://blog.valhalla.jara23.co.uk/?p=1299.

It would be helpful to see if people can read both stories and see if this gender swap really does make a difference. People’s thoughts on the matter would be appreciated!

~BX

Noises like that very rarely bode well.

The pilot looked up from his instruments to the panoramic window in-front of him. Smoke was billowing out of the left-hand engine, and the propeller turned it’s last with a grinding, juddering noise. The little EMB 120 shuddered as the second engine took up the strain. With practised ease the pilot began to ease back off the throttle, slowing the plane, letting the other engine pick up the slack. It was not the first time that he’d lost an engine in flight. He jabbed some buttons, turning off the fuel supply to the burning engine, and watched with some satisfaction as the black smoke became grey and vanished. Immediate danger over, he reached for the internal microphone, a weather eye on the instruments. “Ladies and Gentleman, there has been a small technical problem with engine one, there is no need to panic. Our ETA will now be 30 minuets later”. He replaced the microphone, satisfied. No doubt the stewardess was busy handing out peanuts and other complimentary items to take the passenger’s minds off the worrying lack of engine. They had nothing to worry about, this little plane was solid and reliable. The stick juddered in his hand, and his heart nearly stopped. He didn’t need to look, he knew in his gut that that was the feeling of the second engine failing. It took moments for him to know that there was no way he was going to survive the crash. The realisation swept over him, and calmed him. His only option now was to see how many of the passengers he could save. He pointed the nose of the plane towards the river, and tried to slow the decent.

Noises like that very rarely bode well.

She was surprisingly calm considering. The movement of the air-plane suddenly downwards meant only one thing. She fastened her seatbelt like the panic and flustered stewardess demanded, and dug into her handbag for her compact. As she dabbed her face with the powder, she contemplated her life. She was single, by choice, and had a string of lovers in her past, some she remembered with fondness, some she would rather forget but they all rose unbidden to the surface of her mind. As she fixed her lipstick, she reflected that her mother’s warning that she would die alone looked likely to become true. She didn’t care. She hadn’t had to spend her life watching others lives their as her mother had done. She hadn’t had to explain every bruise or black-eye like her mother had done. She had not wasted away mourning a worthless lowlife. She had lived. She finished fixing her lipstick and dropped back into her seat. She would die alone. It was only the thought of no-one to mourn her that caused a single tear to roll slowly down her perfect, paid-for, features.

Noises like that very rarely bode well.

Jonathan was sat next to the sleeping Howard. They had always joked that he would sleep through anything, even the apocalypse, and it seemed that Howard was going to do just that. Jonathan looked at the chiselled features and the mop of red hair falling attractively into his face. They had been friends since high-school. They had survived the horror of college together. They were now young, relatively successful businessmen enjoying what was meant to be a kayaking trip of a lifetime. Jonathan didn’t care for kayaking, but he wouldn’t have passed up a chance to spend time with Howard, whatever they were doing. He was infectious. He was, truth be told, the reason that Jonathan never kept a girl-friend. He wasn’t really into girls. He managed by picturing Howard’s chiselled features. It was a secret that burned in his chest, and always had, since the first time he had seen that playful smile. It really was now or never. Howard hand was limp on the armrest, and gently Jonathan took his hand in his own. The touch was electric. Jonathan squeezed the hand, trying to send all his emotions, all his late-night hoping through that single touch, before Howard awoke and snatched his hand back. Howard stirred, and Jonathan’s heart beat so loud he was sure the entire plane could hear it. Howard squeezed Jonathan’s hand, and held it, tight.

Noises like that very rarely bode well.

Rupert looked at Cynthia’s alabaster face. She was gripping the arm-rests with her claw-like nails, and staring straight ahead. He could see that she was terrified. He could see that she needed comfort, and he realised that he didn’t care. They had been married for nearly 20 years, and he couldn’t remember their relationship ever being that intimate. They had married because it was the thing to do, but neither of them, really, were into any real kinds of intimacy. They had perhaps held hands about half a dozen times, and they had made the pragmatic choice for separate beds over a decade ago. They didn’t row, because they didn’t talk. They had a rota for chores, and they were done. They would come home from work, offer each other the obligatory peck on the cheek, and spend the night perusing their own individual hobbies. Sure they would attend each other’s gala lunches, but only because it would be unthinkable not too. He had never really contemplated that he had no emotion for Cynthia at all. None. Here, in what could be their last moments, he didn’t even care enough to take her hand and offer her the kind of comfort that one human being would offer another. Cynthia looked at Rupert, and he saw in her eyes the same realisation. A calm point in the storm of fear. They nodded at each other, and offered one another what they each, in turn, thought was a sympathetic smile, and both sat back in their seats to contemplate their individual fates.

Noises like that very rarely bode well.

“Father, will you pray for me?”. Her soft voice broke him out of his thoughts. Reverend Ronald Buchanan hadn’t prayed for anyone for months. He had been sent by the diocese on a spiritual pilgrimage, a journey that they hoped would help him find God. Though he had to confess he hadn’t really been looking. He had mostly been site-seeing, simply trying to relax. The woman from the seat behind had come to sit next to him looking at him with pleading eyes. He had seen eyes like that on many men and women. Those that wanted something that he cannot give. They wanted a miracle. They wanted him to pray and take away the pain, to hold back death, to make the world not be the way it was. And he had prayed. He had prayed with all his strength, he had prayed night and day. He had prayed until he was weary, but never once had it made a difference. Never once had what he prayed for come to pass. “My dear… “ he began, wanting to confess his disbelief, but the words died on his lips. His hand went to his neck, the tell-tale collar was missing, he didn’t even ware a cross any more. He wanted to ask how she knew. He didn’t have his title on his passport, or ticket, or even his luggage. “Perhaps…” he thought, and shut it down. It didn’t really matter, it would be churlish of him not to. He dug into his pocket, but there was no breviary there. It was amongst the things he had joyously thrown into the sea a month ago. He took her hand, and dug into himself, looking for words of comfort. “My dear, let us pray”. He began, letting the words form themselves. He let them tumble out as he found himself voicing only that which was on his heart, words of comfort, of peace, of the surety of the love of God. It was not fear that caused his tears to fall.

Noises like that very rarely bode well.

Stephanie strapped herself into the stewardess’ seat, and tried to run through the safety procedures in her head. She clung to them, her only life-raft. She had been in planes that had done emergency landings before, but never had she faced one dropping at such a rate in such a remote part of the world. The noises of the wind was oddly comforting, but that wasn’t the noise that unnerved her the most. It was the silence. In other planes, in other places, similar events had led to short panic screams, men groaning in fear, hushed and frantic whispers to others that it was, despite all evidence to the contrary, going to be okay. The entire cabin was silent, except for a soft murmuring coming from the back, the rhythmic sounds of prayer. But even that prayer was not frantic, not a call to whatever deity to save them, it was simply prayer. She didn’t know what to do with the silence, it was unnerving. She had no-one try to calm, she was being left alone with her thoughts. Her only thought was that she didn’t want to die. She was terrified of it. She opened her mouth, and screamed.

Noises like that very rarely bode well.

In a Brazilian Jungle, there was a brief thunderous noise as the EMB 120 dropped out of the sky, and ploughed into the river, water spraying over the banks. The birds, startled by the sudden noise took the sky cawing wildly to each other. In a few moments, the birds had flown away, leaving behind nothing but silence.

Noises like that very rarely bode well.