Written on 2003-06-11; Read the original post on LiveJournal
Why do people think that women should write female characters?
I've seen many, many reasons offered, but these come up again and again:
There aren't enough strong female role models in literature for girls to emphasize with.
People can only realistically write a character of the same gender.
Not writing a female character could indicate that a woman is alienated from herself.
Writing male characters is a cop-out.
A woman who doesn't write female characters isn't a feminist.
And this is why those don't work for me:
This may be personal, but I don't understand the need of many people I've met to look at the television screen or the printed page and see a reflection of themselves looking back. It's usually not a perfect reflection, of course- that is, the character need only match whatever they think is most important about themselves, be that gender or race or religion or sexual orientation or background or something else, not everything. But I don't understand the females I've met online at all who say that the lack of reflections means a lack of role models, and that if they don't read books with "strong female characters" (all variously defined, of course), then they feel worthless themselves.
Can someone tell me where the fuck this idea comes from, please?
I read a lot of fairy tales as a child, and fiction. Most of them were about animals, as was all of the non-fiction I read (for example, TIME books about evolution, insects, and so on). I ignored the human characters. Yet somehow I didn't need human "role models." The animals usually had human characteristics, of course, but the simple fact that the main character of Bichu the Jaguar was a jaguar instead of a girl did not make her story less touching to me, or her courage less inspiring. The way that some women talk about books with male characters, it's as if the idea that the character has a different set of genitalia immediately cuts off all ideas of commonality. Oh, piffle. These are people so strongly identified with themselves that they can't look beyond themselves, that they need outside validation. If there are people whom you state you can't emphasize with, how is that any different from a man claiming that he can't emphasize with women? That would be wrong, though, according to these people, because men need to nurture "their feminine side." What about girls needing to nurture their masculine side? Or- simplest of all- just reading books that have really neat stories and good characters? Is a character better because she has breasts?
Piffle, again. Someone who is not very skilled may not pull off writing a character of the opposite gender well, but again I think that's a self-centered problem, stemming from the idea that you must live in your own head at all times and hold onto your identity as if it were a liferaft. I've encountered girls online saying "I'm afraid to write male characters because I don't really understand men." How do you know if you do or not until you've tried? And how do you know that you won't understand your particular male character? The best characters are individuals, not stand-ins for men or women everywhere.
This only applies if you think that the physical sex of a body determines everything about the person inside it. This is the province of the people who think that women are "naturally" good mothers, sweet, good communicators, in touch with the earth, and on and on with all the sweet bullshit, and that men are "naturally" nasty boorish jerks, with bad breath. A woman who writes male characters is supposedly "conditioned" to write that way. This again takes up the idea that humans are machines, and that the people declaring that these women are conditioned are the lucky ones who stand outside the cage. Tell me, dear ones: if this conditioning is all pervasive, how did you escape it? Answer, of course, is that they didn't; they have just declared that in order to escape it, one must follow a certain prescription. Then the person who follows the prescriptions can join the people who believe they are above the "sheep-like masses," and enjoy looking down on others. Hell of a reason to write women, if you ask me. Wouldn't you write a character who came to you and yelled in your ear about the story, regardless if you're writing a man, a woman, a wolf, or a sentient sword?
How, exactly? A cop-out to what? There's an idea here that a woman is letting her "side" down if she writes a male character. I will tell you this: I refuse to think that just because I was born with a certain set of genitalia, that makes me part of one army or another in the "endless war of the sexes." Not all women are my sisters or my enemies; not all men are my brothers or my enemies. I've known nasty bastards, and nasty bitches. I don't think I'm "copping out" if I write a male character, which most of mine have tended to be so far, because I don't tend to think of myself as writing in a particular tradition. Tell me what tradition I'm writing in, and what its signifiers are- and then show me outside proof, beyond your own ideas and the writings of your own "experts."
This is the weakest objection of all, since it goes right back to the idea of letting someone else label you. So someone reads my story where the female character tries to murder her lover and is murdered back, and declares me "an anti-feminist." Does that make me one? No, of course not. Other people may decide that I am, but unless they can convince me of it, I am not truly that. I am what I say I am, not what they say I am. People get far too upset about labels and insults, as though someone saying, "I think you're a bitch!" should be taken seriously and angsted over. I've never yet seen a definition of feminist that was consistent from group to group or had any objective criteria, so I feel perfectly free to call myself what I want and label the others as I want. If they get upset about it, waaaah.
This grew from hearing female readers rate a book low because the female character- who betrayed her lover for money and was smarmy all the way through- died at the end of the book. "How dare she!" they shrieked about the author. "She's saying that killing women is okay!" Never mind that the author is female, and that the other female character in the book, who was much stronger and had plenty of virtues, lived. No, she killed a female character. How dare she. This will make young girls lose their self-esteem for the rest of their lives.
Makes me sorry that I was born a woman- or at least that I share certain physical features that will make assholes look upon me as a natural ally.