Writing Women

I’ve been sharing the first chapter of a “short” story (It’s 10K) I wrote earlier this year as part of Science Fiction Fantasy Saturday. The main character is a woman.

In the past I didn’t write women main characters. I was crap at writing women. I’ll tell you why:

I believed that I didn’t understand women, despite being one.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

I’m a woman. I thought I didn’t understand women enough to convincingly write one. Yes. Really.

I understood men well enough. I had lots of male friends. Heck, the were pretty much just like me, except they had a dick and I didn’t. In kindergarten, I wanted to be with the boys at recess when they had boys vs. girls, since what the girls were told to do was run screaming from the boys and I didn’t like that.

Yes. Really. Kindergarten recess. There was a game called boys vs. girls where the boys chased the girls who were supposed to run away screaming. It was sexist tag, basically.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

And folks wonder where the culture of rape comes from. Little girls being taught to run away from boys while screaming. And boys being taught it’s fun to chase screaming girls.

I believed the lie that women were meek. I wasn’t. That they needed to be blonde and pretty and airheads for guys to like them. I wasn’t. That they weren’t into science. I was. They didn’t understand math. I did, once I figured out that I reversed numbers. That they hated fantasy and science fiction. I loved these genres with a passion. That all girls were either going to become mothers or English teachers. I wanted to be a biologist.

I vowed in ninth grade that I would never get anything as useless as an English degree, since all the girls were going into English.

In short, I was sexist against my own gender because I believed the lies that our culture taught me about what girls and women were and should be, despite having counter-examples in my own family. My mother was the primary tool-user in the family. She tends to be the more problem-solving parent while my dad was much more the emotional support parent. My grandmother worked pretty much her entire life. My aunt has been a computer scientist since the 60s. She used to give me punch cards to doodle on.

And yet it took me forever to realize that I’d been fed a pile of hooey. In fact, all my peers had, too. I marveled when I found other women like me in high school and college. I was chuffed when I discovered that other women liked comic books. And D&D. And Star Wars and Star Trek and Tolkien and… and…

..and now I wonder how many of those girls I hated were wearing masks because they thought that was how they should act. I wonder if they like Doctor Who. Or the Avengers. I bet they do. I bet we actually have a lot in common.

I’m a woman. I’ve discovered that I’m not unusual in my tastes or desires. I’m not an odd woman or something outside the norm. I’m actually pretty normal.

So what does this have to do with me writing a woman main character? It was only when I stopped trying to write women like I had been taught women should be that I managed to successfully write a woman main character. That is, I started writing them like I write my male main characters–I started writing them as if I could step into their shoes. And low and behold, the characters felt real. Finally.

Funny that. Turns out women are human. Just like men. Just like me.

Oh, and irony of ironies, I have not just one degree in English, but two. Go figure.

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9 thoughts on “Writing Women

  1. An excellent post! So hard to be comfortable or secure in what you are when the public persona displayed for your instruction doesn’t fit.

    • Yeah, it is. For years, I thought there was something wrong with me. Turns out, no. Not at all.

  2. I think the degree in English is pretty much useless regardless of gender. 😀

    But, in all seriousness, this was a great post, and a reminder of how subtly pervasive the more negative aspects of our culture can be.

    Also, rape tag? WTF?? Just one more thing that makes me appreciate my daughter’s all-girls school.

  3. I understand intellectually what you are saying and it makes perfect sense.

    I guess I never suffered from that view, being a guy that really liked girls all my life and loved spending time with them doing anything. My current WIP has a female protagonist, and I am concerned with making her believable. Being a guy I wonder at times if her reactions are normal, but I’ve come to realize that their is no normal. I know women that react the way a stereotypical male would and men that react they way a stereotypical female would. I understand the stereotypes you are referring to but I don’t think they are actually real. It doesn’t stop me from worrying about getting it right though.

    • I don’t think those stereotypes are real now, but when I was navigating my way into adulthood, it felt like that’s the way women should be. Except I wasn’t like that. So my own experience didn’t match what culture said it should be. I assumed I was odd and different and weird because I didn’t match.

      And then I learned what you’ve pointed out…there’s no normal. All people are more than what society says they are. We don’t fit neatly into boxes.

      I think as long as you write characters that are people first, you’ll be fine. And thank you.

  4. Ron Edison

    In our neighborhood (circa 6th grade, 1962) we played a game called “Communist” which involved the girls chasing the boys. If they caught one, they made him do whatever they wanted. (Which mostly involved kissing.) Sounds feminist but from the guy POV, it was just another male fantasy.

  5. We chatted about this on Facebook, but I think one of the reasons we get along so well is that we’re cut from the same cloth. When I was … maybe 10, the high school did a performance of West Side Story. I decided I wanted to be Anybodies, the girl who hung with one of the gangs (the Jets, I think? Yeah. The Jets.) — a total tomboy. But even then, I knew. Of course, when I was eight, I joined the world in meeting a true kick-ass heroine: Princess Leia. She picked up that gun and blasted that door and … man, THAT was the kind of woman I wanted to be. Tough. Fearless. And capable.

  6. I can relate. I’ve always been kind of the opposite when it comes to writing. I’m way more comfortable writing women. I do like writing men; they just…well, they pretty much end up becoming the villains in my stories. I’ve been called a misandrist more than once for my efforts. I don’t believe that’s really true – I don’t hate all men – but I really wish they’d stop saying silly, misogynistic, completely objectifying things to me when the women leave the room!

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