My scholarly stuff right now partly concerns what story space is for writers (as opposed to academics) which explains a lot about me, right now. I've sorted out the problem with my Gaiman paper and story space and world building and everything. The results, however, are just more and more depressing. We carry our deep assumptions about rank and importance into story space and we write from those deep assumptions. They're not what we say in public - they're how we view the world. Unless we actively question what we do as writers, this is inevitable.
As writers, unless we do this active questioning, we don't say "Which characters need to be gendered in a particular way" and then make active decisions for all the others, to make them more interesting or demonstrate a more complex world or simply to make sure that 90% of the cast isn't male, we give all the characters default male heterosexual gendering and only give other-than-this where the story absolute demands it. The Three-Body Problem is my today's reading and is a brilliant novel, but it fails on this ground. I'll be relieved to be finished it, because it's so very limited in its humanity because it takes a simple approach to gendering. American Gods also fails on this ground, which is what got me started on this track, a few years ago. What it led me to was thinking about the mechanisms. Obviously it's not enough to say "This is a stupid thing to do, for so many reasons." One has to be able to say "This is the mechanism by which you do it. Here are some other mechanisms you may wish to consider using in your writing."
Gendering is a part of building a world for a novel. If we don't build women in and other genders and different sexualities then they don't exist for the reader. It's no use telling me at conventions (as many writers do) "I live in a complex world: I know these things" - if you have a single default position for most of humanity in your novels and you don't have a clear reason for such a thing, you're not living in a complex world. You're not living in this world, in fact. You're living in a simpler more straightforward world of gender dominance and heteronormativity. I sympathise with you, if this is you (and, to be honest, there are at least a dozen writers who read this blog to whom this generalisation does not apply ) for I won't read your work very often at all. I can't see me in it, and I also can't see a lot of my friends. We don't have to be major characters, but the novel has to be set in a world in which we have the potential to exist.
For ages I've been doing a "What would aliens think?" count of TV programs and films. Currently, aliens would think that we have a dominant and important and highly intelligent and active male gender that comprises between 3/4 and 4/5 of our population.
All this is (hopefully) coming together over the next two months. Still, it makes me fume when I read it in novels by otherwise entirely amazing writers. Invisibility sucks.
PS I'm nearly finished the Cixin Liu and it's a fabulous book. it has more women than many, but it's still a mainly male population and the women are mostly miserable or murdered.