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There was a recent twitter feed that totally made me laugh. I was reminded of it when some delightful woman posted a link to this article on facebook,  ‘Describe Yourself Like a Male Author Would.”

First let me say I am not a feminist, not a SJW, not the least bit interested in rehashing the gender wars through literature, and not a part of the #OwnVoices movement.

I do however, find our attempts to describe the opposite gender when writing to be hysterically funny.  It simply cannot be done. Seriously! I should qualify that, it simply cannot be done in an honest manner that will also be pleasing at the same time. You have to choose between honesty and appealing to your readers. If you’re honest, you’re going to offend them. If you wish to appeal to them, you’re going to have to lie. Yes, lie.

CS Lewis came very close a few times, almost, kind of, but nope. That is not quite a female character, that is CS Lewis’ perception of a female character, one he put  a great deal of thought and consideration into, but she has clearly been written by a man.

I used to read cheap detective novels, also known as trashy, and one thing that always made me laugh was the honesty. Guy wasn’t even trying to create female characters, they were incidentals. Stage props. Background noise “…she had eyes and a personality attached to her somewhere, but who cares, that’s not really what I was looking at.”

Now of course at least ten pages would be dedicated to the crime scene alone and most of the rest of the book to how clever and inventive the hero was. But the female characters, well, what you see above is what we shall call, “brutally honest.” Also, the beginning, middle, and end of the character.

I like to read because I like to study how authors perceive things. It is almost far more fascinating to me to study their character development, to peek into their imagination, and to ponder what may have shaped it, rather than to be pulled into the story itself. I am all about the characters.

Men often get a bum rap, the focus is on them, the cultural outrage, the frustration and resentment from women who feel not heard or not represented properly, and this is a big thing today.

Many women writers have the same dilemma however. It can be very hard to create a male protagonist. He is either going to be a hyper masculinzed caricature or come across as a distinct representation of your cat. I kid you not, cat-man is alive and well. I’ve bumped into him in many books. He’s aloof, until he brushes against your leg and lets you pet him, which of course means he needs to be fed…

Women cannot write male protagonists either. If you are of the feminist persuasion he’s going to sound like one of your radical girlfriends, a fact that is going to make you eventually dislike him even more, because as much as you insist you enjoy getting your nails done together, you actually now despise the man. He’s going to need to run off to Europe to go find himself and you will soon be replacing him with a cat.

Or an alien or a dinosaur or a vampire. Seriously, just about anything would be an improvement over what you have just had the free rein to totally create…..in your own image. I kid you not, many feminist writers will create a male character in their own image and then reject him out right.

A more honest portrayal would be like, “he was neither attractive nor unattractive, not particularly intelligent looking either, but he seemed smart enough to have found the doorway into the building. He doesn’t look like he would be of much use for much of anything. Wait…why is this guy even in my story?”

That really is far more honest, a much better representation of how women tend to perceive men. It terribly unfair. I’m so very sorry.  Never, ever, have I heard a woman say, “He had eyes and a personality attached to him somewhere, but who cares, that’s not really what I was looking at.”

There is no moral to this story, no deeper tale, beyond the simple fact that life is a whole lot better if you can learn to laugh at the absurdity if it all and to embrace a bit of mystery. I don’t know what was funnier in this thread, the fact that the original author actually believed he had done a good job representing a female protagonist, or the fact that so many took offense.

 

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