When can you tell the gender of a writer?

The writing process, writing advice, and updates on your work in progress
User avatar
wilderness
Posts: 541
Joined: February 21st, 2010, 6:25 pm
Contact:

Re: When can you tell the gender of a writer?

Post by wilderness » June 20th, 2012, 12:52 pm

Doug Pardee wrote:I dunno... for those types of characters — tough women — it's difficult to put a feminine edge on them. I'm not sure it's necessary.

From a commercial standpoint, it appears that this isn't a big concern. In Carl Sagan's movie Contact, Ellie could just as easily have been a man with almost no change in story or dialogue except for the brief interlude with the preacher. Janet Evanovich does very well selling her Stephanie Plum series, and one thing that put me off from the series is that, at least in the first book, Stephanie's feminine aspects are caricature. Stieg Larsson stripped all of the femininity from Lisbeth Salander, and people love her.
Whoa. There are plenty of reasons besides the commercial to avoid perpetuating female stereotypes. But if you must get down to brass tacks, consider the following:

1) Contact is decades old, as are many of the most commercially big sci fi books. Expectations may be different now.
2) There may be a reason that science fiction carries such a tiny market share that has nothing to do with whether women like technology. Actually women love technology

To create a believable woman character, I would consider deeper traits than an affinity for shoes. For example, women are generally thought to be more astute at observing human behavior and interpersonal relationships. Women are thought to have a greater concern for human life (though I would be careful with how that trait would be used since a woman in the military would still have the necessary pragmatism when it comes to death). A woman in a male-dominated field would likely have a thirst to prove herself, which might lead to unnecessary risk-taking. There is also the physical: women are smaller, generally have less upper body strength--although there are still plenty of women who are so athletic that those things don't matter.

Polymath's point about causality is a very good one, and definitely helps you create more real characters. I do still think there are subtle ways where women may react to the same thing as a man a little differently. There are some innate traits that are more prevalent in woman. You wouldn't want to use all of them; not every woman has every feminine characteristic.
Last edited by wilderness on June 20th, 2012, 1:35 pm, edited 2 times in total.

Sommer Leigh
Moderator
Posts: 1624
Joined: April 2nd, 2010, 11:07 pm
Location: Omaha, NE
Contact:

Re: When can you tell the gender of a writer?

Post by Sommer Leigh » June 20th, 2012, 1:05 pm

I've tried to respond to this post a hundred times, but I always ended up rambling off in some weird direction and then deleting the whole thing instead of posting it.

So the first time I tried to respond my reaction was - People are people. You write unique people, despite their gender (or religion or skin color or ethnicity or whatever).

The second time I was like, no, that's not right at all. As a woman I have unique identifiers as a woman that you can't fake away that make me specifically female, even if I am not stereotypical in a lot of ways. And the more I thought about it, the less I liked the idea of creating a character first, then assigning gender. Our gender defines us at a social and cultural level, whether we go with the flow of the feminine ocean or whether we row against it.

My third answer is - creating a character is like creating a person and while people are people and they are as individual as a snowflake, their snowflake is dependant entirely on the experience of being who they are - gender maybe the most influential.

My final answer is - you cannot divorce the character of their gender until it's important. To make a believable character, you have to look beyond the fact they are: Weak, Strong, Soft, Hot, Ugly, Mommy, Tomb raider, Assassin, Damsel, Tom boy, Girly-girl, Superhero, or Manipulative bitch. Something made them that way and society reacts to that personality type in specific ways.

For (generalized) example, a tom boy character is going to be treated differently by men and other women than a girly-girl. Girly-girls tend to accentuate their physical female traits - their pretty features, their hair, their bodies, while tom boys are either shy in that area, are disinterested in that stuff, or emphasize other parts of their personality to compensate in a society that expects them to act like girls.

So upon visually meeting someone, men are going to pick up on more of the sexual cues of the girly-girl and will actually treat the tom boy more as another guy. Women, on the other hand, may generally treat the girly-girl as competition or a comparison to themselves and treat the tom boy more honestly because they don't see them as competition. This is all generalized of course, but you don't have to have a character trying to make out with the protagonist in order to display their gender. It bleeds through in lots of ways.

I think if you don't take their gender into account in their make-up, you run the risk of not creating a "generalized" character template. You run the risk of creating a generalized MALE character template that you can assign a few female characteristics to, depending on their "role" in the story.
May the word counts be ever in your favor. http://www.sommerleigh.com
Be nice, or I get out the Tesla cannon.

Mark.W.Carson
Posts: 233
Joined: December 15th, 2011, 9:20 am
Location: Northeastern US
Contact:

Re: When can you tell the gender of a writer?

Post by Mark.W.Carson » June 20th, 2012, 1:08 pm

Cheeky,

First off, congrats on all the success you've been having. It's a tough biz, so you must be doing something right.

That being said, this is a YA book with a supernatural/paranormal spin (though not a paranormal romance, really). The MC is a 16yr old boy. The girl he has feelings for is also 16, and while not a "nice" character in many ways, being that she's flawed, and makes a lot of bad choices, he still likes her because of what he believes he sees in her.

User avatar
polymath
Posts: 1821
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 11:22 am
Location: Babel
Contact:

Re: When can you tell the gender of a writer?

Post by polymath » June 20th, 2012, 1:26 pm

Doug Pardee wrote:In Carl Sagan's movie Contact, Ellie could just as easily have been a man with almost no change in story or dialogue except for the brief interlude with the preacher.
Ellie portrays the unique to womankind nurturing (community bonds) instinct in opposition to the menkind instinct to conquer the hill (king of the hill playground game). Pivotal for the novel, first contact tableaus traditionally have been menkind instinct tableaus. This speaks strongly to theme's inspiring and unifying strengths for dramatic action, character, setting, event, voice, and subtext development, and the building blocks of motif, symbolism, and imagery.

Sagan wrote a special female character, one who is unique and at the same time represents all womankind. That is, it is the artful and subtle quality of depicting private and public stakes and motivations, and larger than life characters. Sublime.
Spread the love of written word.

User avatar
cheekychook
Posts: 685
Joined: May 26th, 2010, 8:35 pm
Contact:

Re: When can you tell the gender of a writer?

Post by cheekychook » June 20th, 2012, 2:03 pm

Polymath: Regarding the perfumed lotion soldier request. Everything you said was valid, but the point I was making was far simpler. The consistent request for items like that tells me, as a woman, that these women want a very basic level reminder that they are, in fact, still women. Some little tiny seemingly insignificant thing that for two minutes can make them think that they're home, doing something as normal and basic and human as applying lotion to dry skin and smelling nice afterward. (For me, although I'm female, that item would never be something scented, because scented lotions make me sneeze at best and itch at worst.) Actually, all the soldiers, male and female, requested things that would allow them even the briefest moment of feeling normal---that's why they so often request something as simple as a letter from a stranger, talking about the weather or what their kids did at school. They just want a touch stone to a safer more secure memory of everyday life. That's not that different from what a writer needs to do to add nuance to any gender of character. Let the reader know a trait that humanizes the person whether it's something unique or something stereotypical, just to define the character.I'm female and most who know me would say quite feminine, I don't care much about shoes, I obsessively crave chocolate, I'm a nurturer and wear makeup every day, but I'm not a girly girl, can't stand pastel colors or ruffles or lace and tend to curse like a sailor. Most people are like that---they have some stereotypical characteristics and they go against the traditional definitions in other ways. For me, writing characters is no different than getting to know a new acquaintance. Some you like, some you love, some you can't stand, but the more you get to know them, regardless of how you feel about them, the more you notice the little things that make that person who he/she is. Those are the things that tell a reader about your character. At least for me they are.
Image
http://www.karenstivali.com

Passionate Plume 1st Place Winner 2012 - ALWAYS YOU
Published with Ellora's Cave, Turquoise Morning Press & Samhain Publishing

User avatar
cheekychook
Posts: 685
Joined: May 26th, 2010, 8:35 pm
Contact:

Re: When can you tell the gender of a writer?

Post by cheekychook » June 20th, 2012, 2:09 pm

mark54g wrote:Cheeky,

First off, congrats on all the success you've been having. It's a tough biz, so you must be doing something right.

That being said, this is a YA book with a supernatural/paranormal spin (though not a paranormal romance, really). The MC is a 16yr old boy. The girl he has feelings for is also 16, and while not a "nice" character in many ways, being that she's flawed, and makes a lot of bad choices, he still likes her because of what he believes he sees in her.
Thank you. And congrats to you too---I just read your pink line post in the squee thread. :)

I don't know if I'm doing anything right. I'm just doing my best.

When you say "what he believes he sees in her" does that mean he sees good in her that no one else sees? If so, is it really there? Does she know it's there?

I think it's okay to do some amount of gender reversal (seemingly weaker guy and tough as nails/hardass gal) but usually that works best if you showcase some opposite behavior at some point. The badass girl does something selfless or sweet and/or the meek guy faces up to a big challenge or does something uncharacteristically brave/bold. I'm not even sure if that's what you were asking.
Image
http://www.karenstivali.com

Passionate Plume 1st Place Winner 2012 - ALWAYS YOU
Published with Ellora's Cave, Turquoise Morning Press & Samhain Publishing

Mark.W.Carson
Posts: 233
Joined: December 15th, 2011, 9:20 am
Location: Northeastern US
Contact:

Re: When can you tell the gender of a writer?

Post by Mark.W.Carson » June 20th, 2012, 2:28 pm

Thanks. This will be number 2 for me, assuming everything works out there :).

She knows he exists. She actually sort of likes him, but she's attached to a guy who is very possessive and borderline abusive (maybe not so borderline, though not physically).

He's smitten with her, and she IS a good person, I just have to figure out how to portray that. It is there, or it should be there, rather. It's one of those things where her wants are not in sync with her actions, mostly due to familiarity and feeling trapped in a mirror of her parent's relationship. She wants to be happy, but she is not really, though she lies to herself. (yes, complicated for a 16yr old girl).


He is not the weak one to her strong one. This is told in the form of a flashback to a time when he was weak. It's a "love story" but it doesn't mean he ends up with her.

User avatar
polymath
Posts: 1821
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 11:22 am
Location: Babel
Contact:

Re: When can you tell the gender of a writer?

Post by polymath » June 20th, 2012, 2:40 pm

cheekychook wrote:Polymath: Regarding the perfumed lotion soldier request. Everything you said was valid, but the point I was making was far simpler.
And I built on your point to illustrate a parallel point, that identity markers are meaningful when they have accessible underlying meaning. Thank you for providing such an insightful and artful base example from which to build.
Spread the love of written word.

User avatar
cheekychook
Posts: 685
Joined: May 26th, 2010, 8:35 pm
Contact:

Re: When can you tell the gender of a writer?

Post by cheekychook » June 20th, 2012, 8:43 pm

mark54g wrote:Thanks. This will be number 2 for me, assuming everything works out there :).

She knows he exists. She actually sort of likes him, but she's attached to a guy who is very possessive and borderline abusive (maybe not so borderline, though not physically).

He's smitten with her, and she IS a good person, I just have to figure out how to portray that. It is there, or it should be there, rather. It's one of those things where her wants are not in sync with her actions, mostly due to familiarity and feeling trapped in a mirror of her parent's relationship. She wants to be happy, but she is not really, though she lies to herself. (yes, complicated for a 16yr old girl).


He is not the weak one to her strong one. This is told in the form of a flashback to a time when he was weak. It's a "love story" but it doesn't mean he ends up with her.
Is the story written from his pov? If it's in her pov then her wants/true feelings can be shown in internal thoughts even if the actions don't seem to match up. If it's his pov, describing her, then he'd have to pick up on things he does that allow him to see that she's not truly like what she's "putting out there". Like Sawyer's character on LOST (if you watched that)---outwardly the jerky obnoxious bad boy, but not really.

Oh, and most 16 year olds are pretty damn complicated. Not to mention really great at thinking they know everything and lying to themselves.
Image
http://www.karenstivali.com

Passionate Plume 1st Place Winner 2012 - ALWAYS YOU
Published with Ellora's Cave, Turquoise Morning Press & Samhain Publishing

Mark.W.Carson
Posts: 233
Joined: December 15th, 2011, 9:20 am
Location: Northeastern US
Contact:

Re: When can you tell the gender of a writer?

Post by Mark.W.Carson » June 20th, 2012, 9:25 pm

The book is mostly told from his perspective (Yeah, weird for the angsty one to be the guy, right?). In his perspective it is first person, yet when it switches to his sessions with a psychiatrist, it goes to third person, but from the doctor's point of view.

I have not watched a single episode of lost, sorry. Also, she's not outwardly mean to him. In fact, she's actually usually pretty nice to him when it is just the two of them. He's safe, he's helping her with school, etc. Her boyfriend, however is big, popular, good looking, muscular, etc. Unfortunately, he's also totally wrong for her because he's controlling, possessive and verbally abusive, plus he doesn't take her needs into consideration in the relationship. It's one of those relationships of convenience (the kind you usually put in romance novels, except there are no white milky breasts swaying in rhythm). Not to give all of it away, but she hasn't really gotten very introspective on her relationship, because once something about it comes up, she shuts down that topic.

A point my wife made was that a girl would not do that, per se (maybe just people she knows, not sure). She believes that the girl should make excuses for her boyfriend's behavior instead.

User avatar
cheekychook
Posts: 685
Joined: May 26th, 2010, 8:35 pm
Contact:

Re: When can you tell the gender of a writer?

Post by cheekychook » June 20th, 2012, 10:54 pm

mark54g wrote:The book is mostly told from his perspective (Yeah, weird for the angsty one to be the guy, right?). In his perspective it is first person, yet when it switches to his sessions with a psychiatrist, it goes to third person, but from the doctor's point of view.

I have not watched a single episode of lost, sorry. Also, she's not outwardly mean to him. In fact, she's actually usually pretty nice to him when it is just the two of them. He's safe, he's helping her with school, etc. Her boyfriend, however is big, popular, good looking, muscular, etc. Unfortunately, he's also totally wrong for her because he's controlling, possessive and verbally abusive, plus he doesn't take her needs into consideration in the relationship. It's one of those relationships of convenience (the kind you usually put in romance novels, except there are no white milky breasts swaying in rhythm). Not to give all of it away, but she hasn't really gotten very introspective on her relationship, because once something about it comes up, she shuts down that topic.

A point my wife made was that a girl would not do that, per se (maybe just people she knows, not sure). She believes that the girl should make excuses for her boyfriend's behavior instead.
Gonna have to side with the wife here. Girls, regardless of how in control or cool they think they are, and no matter how outwardly okay with things they seem to be, are very introspective and are experts at making excuses for people who treat them poorly. I'd like to say it's something we outgrow, but for many of us it's a lifelong problem. She'd be rationalizing what's going on in one of many ways---either by thinking/saying "all guys are like this", or by consciously/subconsciously thinking she doesn't deserve better, or by outright making excuses (he wouldn't act like that if I didn't make him feel that way, it's my fault; he's got a rough life; he's had a bad day; he wouldn't get so upset if he didn't really care about me; it doesn't matter that he treats me poorly because it's not like we're getting married or anything; all guys act like that....).

Since you're writing from the boy's POV I'd think he'd pick up on what she's doing. My male friends were always the first ones to call BS and catch me doing my girly rationalizations/excuse making. Plus guys tend to spot other guy's bad behavior from a mile away, so they're more aware that the girls' rationalizations are just that. And even if your character isn't that astute or doesn't really know what he's sensing, the psychiatrist would be perfect for making your guy come to the realization "So you're telling me your friend is doing x, y and z---why do you think she's doing that? Do you think she's got an accurate view of her boyfriend's motives?"

In any case, making excuses for someone else's bad behavior is one of the key features of most any abusive relationship, and self-blame is another. Spoken as a girl, an ex-therapist, and someone who's been in more than one less-than-healthy relationship.

Hope that helps.
Image
http://www.karenstivali.com

Passionate Plume 1st Place Winner 2012 - ALWAYS YOU
Published with Ellora's Cave, Turquoise Morning Press & Samhain Publishing

User avatar
Hillsy
Posts: 303
Joined: December 9th, 2009, 4:33 am
Location: Gravesend, UK
Contact:

Re: When can you tell the gender of a writer?

Post by Hillsy » June 21st, 2012, 4:46 am

Hmm...well it's been an interesting back and forth and reasonably edifying.

As I suspected the problem appears largely with myself. Most everything mentioned about typical female perspectives got me internally wincing and sending my stereotype alarm wild. Course, after some rumination I realised that stereotypes are, after all, based on truths somewhere down the line, just distilled into parodies. So largely I'm taking a traditional female identifier, immediately extrapolating it the the nth degree and thinking it's a sign of stereotypism, which of course it would be. A wonderful habit that which is why i'm even worrying about this thing in the first place.

Ugh, Doubt! Anyone know a spell or something to deal with it?

Mark.W.Carson
Posts: 233
Joined: December 15th, 2011, 9:20 am
Location: Northeastern US
Contact:

Re: When can you tell the gender of a writer?

Post by Mark.W.Carson » June 21st, 2012, 8:10 am

Short of sending you for spa treatments, no, sorry.

Do what you think is right for you and your story. If you invent a world, then stereotypes are what you make them. You can make it so that all farmer's daughters think about is how to make butter, and yet women who slice their arms to take up the brotherhood of the sword, and thereby give themselves their first scar of battle are hardened to the point that dresses seem as foreign to them as drinking blood.

You can make it so that boys stay with their mothers until they turn 25, and that they become a man on the day of their marriage. It is your world, and if it doesn't have a message, THEN that is the problem. :).

User avatar
polymath
Posts: 1821
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 11:22 am
Location: Babel
Contact:

Re: When can you tell the gender of a writer?

Post by polymath » June 21st, 2012, 10:14 am

Hillsy wrote:Ugh, Doubt! Anyone know a spell or something to deal with it?
Yes. Though the cost is steep, not my charge for sharing the spell, the personal cost and effort. Dissolving doubt results in and because of personal growth that may alter life to the point a major paradigm change occurs. Growing apart from family and friends, from workplace and social acquaintances, from home neighborhoods, from belief systems, from self-identity. They will not want to let you go on the journey. They will buck every slightest change. They will blame you for their sorrows and curse you for your joys. After the long dark struggle, there's a light at the end of the tunnel.
Spread the love of written word.

User avatar
Mira
Posts: 1354
Joined: December 7th, 2009, 9:59 am
Contact:

Re: When can you tell the gender of a writer?

Post by Mira » June 24th, 2012, 10:33 pm

Wow. What a great thread.

I want to chip in my 2 cents.

First, kudos to you, Hillsy, for asking this question. It's a really good one.

Btw, I also assumed you were male. But I've heard that every writer has a voice, and that voice can be either feminine or masculine, but it doesn't necessarily relate to their gender. I've also heard that the gender choice of protagonist doesn't relate to the writer's gender. Some people always pick a male protag, some a female protag, some both. Which is all very interesting.

So, I think if you want to write about someone who is different from you, there are a couple of things that can help. (And this can include people of different genders, races, cultures, ages, etc.)

a. Research. Which is what you are doing! Asking folks about their experience. But I wouldn't just ask what they think. I'd ask what it is like for them. You might ask some women what it's like being a woman, for example. Read books written for women by women and see if you can get the flavor of what it's like to be female.

b. Going inside. There is a part of you that can empathize with every other human on the planet. Not only is there a female part of you, but there is a part of you that can imagine what it's like to be in a woman's body. Once you do your research, take what you find, and really imagine that you are a woman moving through today's world. Interacting with other women, with men, with yourself. What is it like? What does it feel like? How do you feel about being a woman?

Those are my best suggestions! :)

Good luck, and kudos to you for asking! I hope you come back and share what you've learned sometime, Hillsy.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests