A bridge over a beautiful waterfall

A bridge over a beautiful waterfall
Nature brings magic

Monday, August 23, 2010

Gender imbalance

Today I read an article that was linked in one of the various Twitter chats I follow frequently.  It was to this post:

Type M for Murder - Gender Balance

I find myself disagreeing with the author of that post.

What brought this to mind is that on the way to Dorothy’s on Friday I listened to a radio interview with the British writer David Mitchell. When Mitchell said, my wife is an early reader of all my work and she helps me with the books, I rolled my eyes. But then he went on. Men, he says, can’t write women well, but women can write men because they grow up paying attention to men’s behaviour, whereas men really don’t notice or care the way woman act or think. 

I’d expand that thought a bit. Women not only grow up having to closely observe the men they encounter in life (primarily a safety issue, but still our model of ‘success’) but women are constantly exposed to men’s world-view in movies, TV, books. Men might pick up a book written by a woman with a female protagonist, but not often. Remember that Harry Potter is a boy so that boys would read the books and Joanne Rowling is J.K. so they don’t know the author is a female. 
 That is a direct quote from the post, for those of you who might not be interested in reading the whole thing.  I didn't grow up having to closely observe the men I encountered.  I ignored them for the most part, actually, unless it was my dad or church authority figures or my teachers at school.  Anyone else tended to be chalked up to being one of the faceless masses.  I was cautious, of course.  I paid attention to my surroundings and if something did seem off I'd focus on that person - but that could have been either a man or a woman...or another teenager.

Yes, I'm exposed to a world where the views of men are given more airtime than the views of women.  But here again, I don't analyze the way these ideas are presented or how they might have been conceived of in the minds of those who thought them.  Instead I look at if I need to incorporate them into my own worldviews or if I can file them away as "interesting but not my cup of tea" moments.

I can't argue the point about books written with female protagonists.  But I'll tell you right now, I know a LOT of guys who own books by female authors.  Fantasy and science fiction readers tend to be an expansive lot.  I don't know if in other genres it's different.  I'll read just about anything that looks interesting and pay attention to the author later.  That's how I've found some of my favorite authors, in fact.

I got into the Harry Potter books well after the 3rd or 4th one came out.  I knew by that time that Rowling was a woman.  I found it interesting to note that most of the boys (and adults) reading the books talked about Ms. Rowling quite cheerfully.  Many of them wanted to meet her - several still do.  I know I owe her a debt of gratitude.  She's the one who convinced my nephew that video games are all well and good, but books are AWESOME.  He's been an avid reader since the day he picked up the first Harry Potter book.

Another point I have is the author of the blog states "...men really don't notice or care the way women act or think."  I'd like her to meet my husband one of these days.  He's got a lot of good insight on the way people - all people - act and think.  Same with several of my male co-workers, a few of my friends, etc.

I dislike generalizations like what came out of that blog post for a reason.  Not everyone fits inside that kind of worldview.  I need my husband's eyes on my early manuscripts because he's the one who tells me if the voices of the characters are off, if I'm too pretentious and verbose, if a guy "just doesn't think like that", etc.  Without him I doubt I'd have gotten very far with any of my projects because I'd have been perpetually confused.

So whether you're someone who relies on critiquing groups for help, your wife, your husband, or your kids...whoever you trust enough to read through your early manuscripts is the right one for you.

1 comment:

  1. It’s a generality and it is based in some fact, but it’s largely an opinion. I’ve read a lot of early works for would be authors, way too much fan fiction and more than my share of published material that proves ‘in general’ men do have a harder time connecting with the things that make a female convincing to other female readers; this is part of the reason it has become so popular for women to write women’s fiction—we know what we want. At least in general.

    On writing the opposite gender—yes women do spend more time studying our daddies and brothers, and in general being raised to believe that the masculine is the ideal, and so psychologically many of us will devote way too much time to analyzing why that is… to the point of absorbing a lot of nuance that would serve us very well as a writer. Men are strongly discouraged from being involved in anything too feminine—from playing with dolls, to watching TV geared towards girls or even tea parties with their sisters. Granted, this isn’t across the board for all families (my boys have been raised way different and one tour through our family photos is proof of that), but in general, a boy who devotes too much time dwelling on the feminine can quickly find himself labeled a queer by the old and new school definition.

    Because of these deep rooted beliefs of gender roles in society, it is much harder to find a man who can write women particularly well. The exception generally proves the rule, because when you find said author, usually you can look into their background and they were raised differently than most of their peers, or they had some other unique relationship with women early on that allowed them this complex understanding of the opposite sex.

    Because of the gender roles being what they have been, it has been much easier for women to convincingly write men. That however has been changing. Younger female writers are finding it much harder than the generations before them to pull off the same trick, because many of them still have the desire to study the male ideal, but few have that male ideal in their homes. Society says that the man is strong, that the man is the bread winner, that he is the protector of the house and family—this is difficult to support when more and more American families (likely their own) is a broken one and there is no father in the home. So, what they end up doing is, making Daddies for themselves, mixing memories and TV characters along with characteristics from the stronger women in their lives—and they may be strong women, but they are still women. The men in their fiction come off like little girls wearing their daddy’s clothes at best, and at worst it’s complete garbage where no one involved has an identifiable sex, and that is just grating and confusing.

    I’ve read lots of work by men where I felt the women were written well (if just a tad masculine or one note), and I’ve read lots of work by women where I felt the men were written about as close to real men as I would want to read (there are just some nasty habits I’m cool with leaving to the imagination). I’m willing to bet they were all smart enough to have beta readers of both sexes and didn’t turn their noses up at advice concerning masculine versus feminine voice. I know I certainly don’t. I need all the help I can get…writing women. Go figure.