Writing The Opposite Gender (rehashed in a rage)

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.

Women aren’t pandas. Neither are men. That’s all you need to know.

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 Not to worry if you don’t. I’ve since unpublished it as part of an effort to get serious with my writing.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 -”

“Challenge accepted!”

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).

10 thoughts on “Writing The Opposite Gender (rehashed in a rage)

  1. After the original discussion we had about this I tried something. Something no one noticed. I wrote two short stories in the first person. From a male perspective. And no one said a word. That’s a good thing, right? PS – you need to quit smoking, Mr. We already had that discussion, too! Love, your Doctor

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  2. Interesting. I enjoyed your post, it’s honesty. So far I haven’t written all that many stories, but for some reason the majority is written from either a 1st person male POV or a 3rd person where a protagonist is a male. Once I’ve noticed it and kind of gave it a bit of a thought. I wonder why…. Maybe … I am a man trapped in a woman’s body? Haha! If you saw me I am quite a feminine lady, and I own a huge collection of heels and makeup. Doesn’t get any more girly than that. Maybe I’m a big shoulder pad kind of a woman at heart? Nah, not that either. Anyway, I think it’s still a holdover of gender inequality lingering in my subconsciousness, and I feel as a male character I’d have more freedom? Hmmm. But hey, so far I’m a woman writing men badly haha. Carry on, my friend, and good luck!

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  3. Any time I attempt writing, I seriously struggle with my female characters. At one stage I even tried not to think about gender and wrote a gender neutral named character and used pronouns “they, them, their” – that helped me fight through the barrier!

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  4. This is a good book to read:

    It outlines some actual, biologically driven, personality differences between men and women (average differences, observable on the statistical level with plenty of outliers. Any particular person can be an exception.)

    Beyond that, well, how many woman authors writing about women have you read? I’m a man who grew up on Mercedes Lackey, Anne McCaffrey, and Elizabeth Moon, Madeleine L’engle, Ursula K. Leguin, etc. , and I have almost more trouble (okay, no, I DO have more trouble) writing male leads than female. So I think reading some of that would be a good place to start.

    And you definitely have to look at the character you are writing, start with her as a person, yes, but then acknowledge that she is a woman, NOT a man, and then figure out what being a woman means to HER, a question you will answer with family, culture, religion, personal experience, personal traits, quirks, etc etc etc. Is she okay with being a woman? Or is it a problem for her? What does SHE think a woman is? Does her conscious view of feminine identity differ from her subconscious view? How does she find her place in society? Etc. Sexuality is not the only factor of identity, but it is an extremely major part that subtly shifts every other part of the personality.

    All the same will go for writing a man. There are things men tend to be, and will be on average no matter what you try to teach them, and then there are things that men THINK men are, and try to be because they know they are men and that men should be manly.

    Yes, that’s incredibly complex. For myself, I tend to do a little method acting when I write, trying to feel my way into a character’s head. This means I often have to put myself into a woman’s head, completely (“hmmm… am I into this guy? How do I feel about him…”, or more likely, “How am I going to blow this up without getting shot?”) Yes, this can challenge your masculinity, but I think it’s about the only way to write any good character.

    And a key concept for me is Jungian thought, with a man having a feminine soul and a woman having a masculine soul, or just the concept that men are men, but really DO have a feminine side, and women are women, but really DO have a masculine side (and as always, there are plenty of outliers). This means you, man, have a feminine side you can look to for answers.

    Liked by 1 person

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