Sunday, September 27, 2009

Men Writing Women

This is a repost of a response I did for one of my grad classes. I'd love to know what you think!

Warning – this post might include inadvertent sexism and/or stereotyping.

Not too long ago, my husband and I talked about writers writing protagonists of the opposite gender. This probably stemmed from the fact that Matt's current works involve female protagonists. I stated that I believe it is easier for women to write as men than vice versa. Matt replied, "It is both socially and craftily harder for a man to write as a woman than it is for a woman to write as a man." (Yes, he made up the word craftily).

For an example, we talked about Stephen King and his wife, Tabitha. In Tabitha's book, The Book of Reuben, she writes a very strong male protagonist. However, Stephen King, doesn't manage to grasp the female perspective as well (for a good example, see A Bag of Bones).

Personally, I don't even think Shakespeare could pull off a good woman. Take for example Othello. Desdemona was such a doofus!

The reason I believe this (I won't presume to state why Matt thinks this) is because women are more emotionally complicated than men. True, some male authors manage quite well to write from the female perspective. Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha, Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Nicholas Sparks (though I can't stomach his books!), Phillip Pullman and others had believable female characters.

Yet, oftentimes when I read a man writing for a woman, the woman seems to come off as either too emotional or not emotional enough. Men either don’t seem to grasp the complexity of a woman or they over think that complexity.

However, when I was thinking about this, I realized there is one genre where it seems that male authors are more able to get away with (or better skilled at) writing women. That genre? Fantasy, of course!

So, this got me thinking. Are fantasy writers considered better at writing women because we will allow more latitude with women in fantastical situations? Since the female protagonist in a fantasy is not quite of the world we know, do we not expect that females emotions to be like a woman in this age?

To answer this question, what better book to look at that Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment, where every character is a woman?! I will admit that Pratchett might be a bit better off in the challenge of writing women since his women are pretending to be men, but...

When I first started reading the book, I immediately felt a little uncomfortable with Pratchett's description of Polly/Oliver. Why? Because of how he described her flat chest. The only emotion Pratchett gave Polly was "sheer annoyance that a haircut was all she needed to pass for a young man. She didn't even need to bind up her bosom..." (1). Women with small chests feel one of two things – pride for that chest, or self-conscious inadequacy. Polly should have felt that annoyance that she could pass off as a man because of her chest. However, unlike Pratchett described, she should have kept feeling that way for quite some time.

I got over this, though. I believe I got over this because Polly doesn't live in a world where normal things are happening. Of course she shouldn't feel normally, right?

It's even harder to try and claim that some of the other women are acting like women because, really, what experience do we have with vampires and zombie-like things? How can any reader complain that Maladict(a) and Igor(ina) aren't acting like real females of their species should be?

The question then remains, when we suspend our disbelief of what should happen in a fantasy world, do we often suspend our disbelief of how a woman should act and think? I think we do.

So, for any of the men out there who would like to write female protagonists – your best bet is to put them in a fantastical situation.

No comments:

Post a Comment