Someone sent this to me, thinking I would like it, and they were right.
As the recent male author of a book with a young female protagonist, and also given to flights of scathing self-reflection, I don’t know what to say about this. The scent test for exploitative writing is to ask yourself if you would write a male character the same way, and if not you should probably not write it. I don’t know if I agree with that, since men and women often experience the world differently, but that perspective itself calls into question my fitness to truthfully write women. Some of the descriptions in my book probably skew a little bit randy … high school girls as well as boys are a randy lot, what can I say? About the best I could do was sexualize the boys as much as I sexualized the girls, because that’s their truth.
I certainly don’t claim to be “living proof that men can write female characters,” like the joker that Gwen C. Katz calls out. That didn’t need living proof – it’s physically possible and 100% legal. As far as being fair to the characters and inhabiting their truth in a way that women and girls might connect with, I don’t know. I may have failed in any number of ways, as bad as or worse than better artists than me have in the past. My stories aren’t test cases for male empathy (thank God). They’re just stories I wanted to tell, and my story has a hell of a Final Girl.
One thing that I did not do was go overboard on physical descriptions, like Ms. Katz’ jackass of the week. Some of my favorite characters in novels are not described physically, outside a salient detail here and there. My imagination populated the physicality, and in many ways that made the character more “mine,” like an old friend. I know other people do the same thing, judging the outcry that happens whenever an actor is cast in the film adaptation of a popular novel franchise. Some contingent of nerds is always on hand to say “So-and-So doesn’t look like that!” “There’s nothing in the book describing So-and-So like that!” Or the alt-right 4chan version … “So-and-So isn’t black!”
So … women are writing how they think men would write them, if they felt the need to front-load physical description. It’s scathing, and hard not to acknowledge as partially accurate. Almost as scathing, though, is the fact that by writing these descriptions, these women bare their own insecurities.
What do you think it takes for men to do justice to female protagonists? Any good examples?