S.M. Carrière . com


Writing Women

Posted by S.M. Carrière on December 18, 2013 at 10:45 AM

Good morning, Readers.

I hang my head in shame today.  I did nothing yesterday.  No writing, not editing.  Nothing.

I can't offer an excuse, because there really isn't any.  I got distracted by the wonderous 'innernet' (Sleepy Hollow reference... I'm a woman obsessed) and ended up reading articles all day.  For the sake of my pride, I'm calling this 'research' instead of what it actually is (laziness and complete lack of both focus and will-power).

Despite my general poor performance yesterday, I'm still determined to be productive today.  Better late than never, right?  Right?  Ahem.

But that's not what I intended to write about.  I was actually struck by something Éric Desmarais said in his review of Ethan Cadfael: The Battle Prince (if you haven't read it yet, but want to, click HERE).

What he said was:

It’s not easy to write a female warrior without falling into stereotypes.

And it got me thinking about why this might be the case.

On an online article discussing the pathetic way two very prominent comic book writers treated their female characters (which they defended by claiming that women don't read comics, so who cares?  I'll spare you my outraged rant), I had a very long argument with a person (man) who supported the idea that writing women as fully-formed people was 'extremely difficult' and felt that, because it was so, writers who could not write women well were given a pass - they were still good writers.  Obviously.

No. Just.  No.

I'm sorry random anonymous man.  Writing is hard.  It's surprising fact, I know.  But trust me on this.  Writing is hard.  Not everyone can do it, and certainly not everyone can do it well.  In order to be considered a good writer, in my opinion, one requires more than just a pretty good story.

You must be able to form your thoughts into coherent, understandable and (if you're so incline) beautiful sentences, yes.  Yet writing is so much more than just a well-constructed sentence.

Writing requires vocabulary.  It requires imagination.  It requires technical skill.  It requires a knack for holding interest.  And it requires excellent characterisation.

In other words, you must be able to create believable, more than one-dimensional, characters, and you must be able to do this regardless of the gender of that character.

If you cannot do this just because your character happens to be female, you're not a good writer.  You don't get a free pass because you're a guy and women are 'weird/difficult'  (if you choose not to do this because you think female characters are unimportant, you're just an arsehole).

The question remains, however.  Why would writing a female character be so damned difficult?  I mean, clearly it is possible.  Neil Gaiman does it well.  So does George R.R. Martin.  And Joss Whedon.  And countless other people who also happen to be male.

And don't you find it a little bizarre that women writers themselves rarely have an issue writing male characters, but men writing women is somehow thought to be nigh on impossible?

I think, after reading articles about how studio executives instruct writers to write their female characters as "always behind the men" (not as funny, not as fast, not as strong etc), or how they don't give a damn if women watch their hero-orientated shows and sometimes actively strive to get them to stop watching, and then the articles that spew rubbish essentially saying men and women are from different planets, and hearing guys opine about how women are just so damned weird and difficult to understand....  After all of that, and much, much more, I think I understand why it might be difficult for some people (largely men, if we're honest) to write a convincing female character that doesn't seem contrived or entirely one-dimentional.

People are bombarded with how different women are from men everyday from every possible angle.  There are people actively perpetuating ideas that women are somehow unbelievably non(or sub)-human.  Apparently women don't like video games, or sports, or beer, or food, or science, or maths, or (insert other inane thing that most people agree that most guys like).  It's that or they're just not as good as the listed things as men because... women, amirite?

Here's the thing though, and this is the one fact that will help anyone write a better female character, we're not that different.  At all.

Certain things are different.  You know, like, biology and....

Nope.  Nothing else.  Just biology.  Oh, and the way we are socialised (that is to say, marginalised).  But that's a rant for a different day.

What I'm trying to say here is, women like all the stuff that are supposedly only things men like.  Women like video games.  We're gamers, just like guys.  In fact, we make up 45%of the total gamers.  Women like sports too.  Even MMA.  And as for beer (confession: I actually don't like beer), everyone I know at least drinks it.  And as for science and maths, did you know that it was a woman who designed a really kick-arse spacesuit that is the current prototype for human exploration of space?  Yup!  Women science too!  Amazing!

Yes, I just used 'science' as a verb.  Oh, hush!

Turns out, men are from Earth.  And women, well, we're from Earth, too.  We're both human, and our individual behaviours range all over the place, gender notwithstanding.

The stereotypes we see of women in all media, including the written word, are a product of thinking that men and women are far too different to reconcile; that women are somehow the polar opposites of men.  If you find yourself struggling to write women, be you a normal, not-mysogynistic-maroon kind of guy, or a male feminist yourself, you might be surprised to be told that you've fallen into that pattern of thinking.

I think understand why it is so difficult for men to write women.  They are taught that their things, the things the like doing, are the exlusive domain of men.  They're manly activities.  And women do womanly things, which obviously cannot be manly things, because that's what men do and men are not women.  Then there's the constant perpetuation of the idea that women are not as good as men (being called girly is still an insult ("OMG - you punch/throw like a girl!" or the fact that a man wearing a dress is subject to all kinds of ridicule, but it's perfectly acceptable for a woman to dress in trousers because men dress in trousers - men are obviously superior and doing so raises women, not lowers them like a man wearing a dress).

In order for people to write women well, they have a whole lot of gendered bullshit (and it is absolute bullshit) to examine and unpack.  For a gender (men) which is actively taught that the other gender (women) are inferior, it is difficult, I imagine, to reconcile the fact that the two genders are actually exceptionally similar.  To admit that women are very similar to men is to admit that men are actually very similar to women.

And that is, apparently, insulting.

All this unpacking and deconstructing; it's damned hard.

But if you want to write female characters well, if you want to be a good writer, you're going to have to do it.  If you can achieve the understanding the human beings are human beings regardless of gender, that may just translate into your writing.

And it will make you a better writer.

Categories: Writing and Publishing

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Reply Éric Desmarais
11:27 AM on December 18, 2013 
I?m happy I inspired this rant.

I would like to clarify my position however. The female warrior is such a huge archetype because of the way our society is structured that it?s easy to write a character only from that point of view. Easy = Lazy.

You?re right that many people get a pass for writing women poorly and they shouldn?t.
Reply S.M. Carrière
11:45 AM on December 18, 2013 
Éric Desmarais says...
I?m happy I inspired this rant.

I would like to clarify my position however. The female warrior is such a huge archetype because of the way our society is structured that it?s easy to write a character only from that point of view. Easy = Lazy.

You?re right that many people get a pass for writing women poorly and they shouldn?t.

I gathered that is what you meant. It's part of the problem of making female characters one dimensional.