Do you remember the time I published a post about Writing the Opposite Gender? I’ll summarise it for you. Just write a person. People are unique, regardless of gender. That sounds about right. We can leave it at that.
But we can’t! Your writing is going to be read (we hope). It will be read by people who think about gender. If you’re unlucky, it will be read by someone who thinks about gender while they read (a very dangerous sport).
You may remember that earlier post, but do you remember the time I wrote a crime novella? Not to worry if you don’t. I’ve since unpublished it as part of an effort to get serious with my writing. It was a silly thing I wrote on a bet. A bet made largely with myself.
“I bet I can write a crime novella in a couple of weeks.”
“What? Why would you do that? It seems kind of pointless if that’s not even the genre you -”
After unpublishing it, I forgot all about the silly story set on the Costa del Sol, Spain. Until I happened to stumble across a review of it online. My first feeling was shock that someone had actually read my little crime adventure. Then a wry chuckle as I saw the two-star rating (it deserved one at most).
I don’t have any problem with criticism. It’s what makes a writer improve. In fact, one of the best pieces of feedback I ever received was a two-star rating. Here’s what this review said: “Men writing women badly”. The reviewer chose not to elaborate beyond these four words (and two stars), so I’ll elaborate for them.
The book’s name is Scarlet Murder. It’s about a woman named Scarlet. She’s a real character (as the name suggests, inspired by Gone With the Wind). Chain-smoking, romantically fickle, stubborn, short-tempered, etc. She goes on a honeymoon with her fiancé Jack to the Costa del Sol. Murder follows, crimes to be solved, romances to be had and cigarettes to chain smoke.
My problems with the review begin here. Men? Nope, just one of me! Women? Nope, just one of Scarlet! I don’t think of Scarlet being either women or woman. She is the short-tempered, chain-smoking, romantically fickle, sleuthing little devil which lives inside all of us. Scarlet is an aspirational concept which transcends the boundaries of gender. Don’t we all want to poison our lungs and catch the bad guys?
Scarlet could as easily have been a wayward male amateur sleuth, but then her name would’ve been Scot. That doesn’t have quite the same dramatic effect as Scarlet.
You know what? I will take up the imaginary gauntlet you’ve thrown down. At some point, I will continue the Studies in Scarlet saga. More cigarettes will be smoked in swift succession. More fickle romances. More stubbornness. More shortened tempers. Sleuthing aplenty.
And I’ll add an extra female character who does none of those things to prove Scarlet isn’t “women”. Something stable and mundane. An electrician, perhaps?
The best way to write the other gender is… How do you write another gender?
“Scarlet was female and Jack was male.”
That’s not a great story. Men writing women badly? I disagree. Man writing story about a woman, badly? I’ll own up to that. Just write about people. Their anatomy is very unimportant (unless you’re writing that genre).