Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gender

I was writing a book several years ago when I realized I needed to get inside the head of the female main character, in a girly way, and I just sat there looking at the blinking cursor.
What did I really know about women? Really? I’m married to one, but she is a singular person, and besides, who wants to read about my perfect wife? There is no conflict about her at all; indeed, her mere presence in a room will smooth out conflict. She eats conflict for breakfast.
Sure, I could observe the feminine critter in her natural habitat, but that didn’t tell me the why. Why does a woman say, “I’m sorry” when what happened was not her fault?
Actually, I figured out that girl-speak on my own: “I’m sorry” translates (this is for all you guys out there) to “I’m sorry that happened to you” or “I’m sorry you are feeling bad.” To a guy, however, “I’m sorry,” means “I'm sorry I did this bad thing. It was my fault.
The noticeable gender differences are so vast, even the simple act of nodding is different. When talking to another man (in the United States, nodding can vary per culture), if he starts nodding, he’s saying “yeah, I get that, move on to the other good parts,” but when a woman starts nodding she’s saying, “This is interesting, tell me more.”
So now, we have two people nodding at each other, the first going, “This woman will not shut up! I GET IT ALREADY!” and the second going, “This guy is about as dumb as a box of rocks!”
Thus, when faced with touching the deep well of femininity that I do not have (and trust me, I don’t), when the going got tough, the tough did research.
There were many books out there on gender differences, but most of them were full of crap. Really full of crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, (crap).
Nevertheless, I found some gems. The door opener was Brain Sex: The Real Difference Between Men and Women. That book was a huge revelation and led me in many different directions, all of them tied with evolutionary theory and chemical neuroscience.
Observation is a writer’s tool, but so is experience. Could Stephen King have written Under the Dome right after Carrie? King is a great observer of human nature (and of course, fear and terror), but his latest novel is obviously a mature effort. He gets things.
How about you? Do you find yourself wondering if you’ve portrayed the opposite gender correctly and more importantly, did justice to the character you created? Alternatively, do you worry that you’re just telling based on gender behavior portrayed in movies, TV and books?
I must confess I’ve read some recent books lately where I could swear the female author had an honorary penis. There wasn’t a single simplistic male in her book, yet the men were men and they did manly things.
I eventually overcame that blinking cursor. It wasn’t easy. Some days, as a writer, I'm very fascinated by the opposite sex. Other days, girls have cooties.

2 comments:

  1. I've read a couple that are decent.
    "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" is okay.
    "You Just Don't Understand" is pretty good.

    My female characters aren't super touchy-feely, but I try to think of what's really important to them. Connection, being heard, security, comfort, family...and fighting anything that threatens those things.

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  2. I enjoy writing male characters, but I do worry about whether they are believable as men to male readers.

    ReplyDelete

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