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On Writing Women. Looking for honesty...

Dark Squiggle

Troubadour
I don't think female empowerment is an issue with my mother. She did give up practicing law to be a "full time mother" when my sister was born, but she's practicing again and she spends probably 90% of her time being the tough one in the room, so I doubt it. I guess it's just that my mother and I didn't get along so well at the time.
 

rhd

Troubadour
Yes, this makes perfect sense. The Virgin Mary character is such an interesting character, and one I would love to explore more. Have you read Untie the Strong Woman by Clarissa Pinkola Estes? (You, being a feminist may at least be familiar with her work?) She has another one on the wild woman archetype in fiction called Women Who Run With The Wolves. I love both, but Untie the Strong Woman really changed my view on Mary as a character. That has nothing to do with this conversation though, it was just a musing :)

Yes. Good point. I'm realizing this now.

Damn I LOVE Clarissa Pinkola Estes, I love her rich style of writing!!

Too add, this is me quoting her in my art journal.
 

rhd

Troubadour
Funny. I found Women who run with the Wolves in the basement when I was about 12, and my mother took it from me as if it were something evil and forbade me to read it. I never saw a copy again and I still haven't read it. Is there something really offensive in there?
She didn't want you to turn wild and all.
 

KC Trae Becker

Troubadour
Chiming in late, but this topic is a juicy one.

I found my way to Tolkien in middle school. As an introverted Tom-boy, previously all my books had male protags w/ animal companions. I loved the Hobbit and devoured it like candy. I didn't really notice the total absence of females. After reading Susan Cooper and King Arthur stuff, a year later when I found The Lord of the Rings, I noticed, the under representation of women w/ sadness, but still found the hobbits down-to-Earth and child-like enough to be relatable and still loved the stories, though a skimmed most of the battle scenes after Eowyn defeated the Witch King. The scene between Frodo and Sam on the Winding Stairs into Mordor is one of my all time favorite scenes in literature.

Despite much mockery from our Tolkien loving family, my daughter who has read The Hobbit somewhere close to 15 times and written many fanfics that sound similar to some of the stories requested on this thread, cannot get through The Lord of the Rings, though she loves the movies.

I read Dune on my husband's recommendation post college. My expectations had changed dramatically by then. I got through it, saw the value of reading the first book, but didn't connect w/ any characters and couldn't get through the second.

Now my husband is enamored w/ Gene Wolf and keeps recommending him to me. I sampled his writing. I can't stomach it. Not only don't I like the vague open-to-interpretation style but the pre-960's view of women is a real turn-off.

Alternatively, the Mists of Avalon and Andre Norton feminist fantasy stuff of the 1970's and 80's was similarly stomach turning for me. There was way too much misandry for my worldview.

As for men writing believable female characters, you won't please everyone, but basing your characters on a real woman or a combination of a few real women, and/or getting critiques from women should help you to pull it off. Just try to have the female character's backstory be well rounded. Most people are pretty complex, but women tend to be less straight forward, more global thinkers and so the need to understand their many thoughts from many different perspectives on an event regardless of how they actually respond will help make the characters more dynamic and less flat in your head. It will probably come out in your writing if you actually get to know your female characters well enough for them to feel real to you. We women can be a lot of work to understand :) but we're well worth it to help make your story come alive, and not just for the women readers.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
Coming in late, but I hear I was summoned. ;)

Lots of great thoughts in this thread, and it can be boiled down to a single sentence: Women are people. The thing is, in media we are often not allowed to be. We have to be conventionally attractive, we have to be the Strong Female Character, and above all we have to be Likable.

I have a choice gesture for all of this.

Women are people. Lets make sure to write them as complicated. Vexing. Funny. Liars. Fat. Cowards. Trans. Sexual, but on their own terms. Mistresses of their fates. Unlikable. Unrelatable. Curiously ugly. For pity's sake, middle aged with crunchy knees. Women are people.
 

Annoyingkid

Banned
I remember people on another writing forum disagreeing with me when I said, females of fantasy races are not women.

From a feminist position, a female of a fantasy race doesn't say anything about a human female. If you write a female elf or dwarf are clever or strong or capable, you aren't saying these things of human women. Personally I don't consider it a feminist statement unless it concerns human beings. With one exception. If the fantasy creature is being used allegorically, to mirror the realistic experiences of women, under a patriarchal system. Therefore the Strong Female Character doesn't count.
 
D

Deleted member 4265

Guest
Well, I'm a bit late to the party, but its an interesting question.

Growing up, male-centric fantasy never bothered me. I've always had trouble relating to other girls, so I just figured that if I couldn't relate to women in fiction it was because I couldn't relate to them in real life. Every time I pick up a book and I actually like the female characters in it, it's such a rare event that its worth celebrating. For the longest time I refused to read anything with a female POV if it wasn't "balanced" by a male perspective.

And honestly, now that I'm older I still prefer my fiction more on the male dominated side (I enjoyed Mists of Avalon but my favorite characters were the Merlins). But while I think that part of my dislike for female characters comes from my own inability to relate with my female peers, I've also come to realize a lot of it has to do with the fact that women are written badly. So while, I would still prefer to read books from male POVs, I can no longer tolerate one-dimensional female characters even if they're only side characters.

And recently, I have become more interested in reading female perspectives. By now I've read enough that I've actually liked to think that while they are rare, they're not just freak accidents. But while women can take on any role in urban fantasy, secondary world fantasy is usually based off of historical time periods (obviously you can make the gender roles in your story whatever you want, but Medieval Europe is the standard) and I think its a mistake to just try to put women in male roles in that context. Like someone else pointed out, gender swapping in Stranger Things wouldn't effect the story that much, but gender swapping LOTR is a whole different thing. I'm not saying there isn't a place for female-centric stories in secondary world fantasy, I just think its going to have to take on a different flavor than male-centric stories.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
I would recommend starting with an essay by Kameron Hurley called, "We Have Always Fought." Throughout history, women have held roles traditionally occupied by men, from baker to general to ruler and everything in between - but many of those women have been erased from the narrative and are only now being rediscovered. We have never been limited by our sex to being wives, mothers, whores, and queens, and this needs to be reflected in fantasy. We need our chosen farm girls going on grand quests, because it simply reflects historical reality.
 

pmmg

Vala
Honestly, I find that quote by Mrs. Shear to be a bit vapid, which pre-supposes an untruth in the way it often gets used.

From a feminist position, a female of a fantasy race doesn't say anything about a human female. If you write a female elf or dwarf are clever or strong or capable, you aren't saying these things of human women. Personally I don't consider it a feminist statement unless it concerns human beings. With one exception. If the fantasy creature is being used allegorically, to mirror the realistic experiences of women, under a patriarchal system. Therefore the Strong Female Character doesn't count.

I don’t see why it would necessarily be disconnected from showing things in a way that would be easily correlated to a human woman's experience. One of the things that we get to do with fantasy is use it to illustrate the things we find true in the world around us. Before I can write an elven woman, I must first apply my own human thought as to what she must be like, living as one of her race, in her specific culture, and in her world. To some degree, that must first start with something of my own human understanding, which ought to mean it cannot really be wholly separated from the human condition.

But I think there must also be some truth to this. If I write a race where the women are giants say, and the men are not, their condition and life experiences would just be so very different from that of what human women know, and so their issues ought to be just very different as well, while still being true to them, and possibly speaking to things being true beyond them, but perhaps not.

I think this is a neat point to raise.

Though, I am not really interested in writing from a feminist position. I just what to capture what is true for the characters, and the world they live in. Different genders experience the world differently, and all must find a way to make their way in it. And in a diverse world, some will lend themselves into espousing feminist ideals (in the context of their own place), and some wont. I don’t see it as my goal to insert things that would not be true for the characters anyway.

People are people, and they are diverse and come in many stripes, with so many different facets and values and beliefs and things they hold true that it would just not do to curtail that for an agenda, or show them to be villains and heroes solely on the way they line up with today's notions.

The answer to how to write women is the same for writing any character. Write them as people. I don’t think that is radical. It would seem an easy thing to do, but apparently is not. To write them honestly, I think, is not to presuppose things upon them that don’t come from their story. People are complex, so writing anyone well ought to capture that.

I do think there are many things that make men and women different in the way they experience the world. I don’t think they are equals in natural physical attributes, or in the ways they develop around their differences, but I do think they are balanced and equal in that the gifts of one are capable of being proven insufficient by the gifts of the other. That to me, just seems like nature's way. And given the wide variety that people can be, there will always be some who do better than others, and some who just don’t seem to fit the mold. And heck, those differences make life beautiful.

This thread is asking why are women missing or shown in unrelateable ways in so many previous works of fiction. You know, they all existed in their own time, and they tried to relate what they saw in the world, and what they wanted to say. I am glad they wrote them, cause I have read a lot of them. But we are all up at bat now. Its our turn to hit the ball. Give the world believable characters and great stories, and we can be the topic of a thread on writers groups some distance off.
 
To paraphrase from the Discworld: Stories are a mirror that you hold up to reality. [Or is it the other way round, that reality is a mirror that you hold up and create stories from the reflections? I can't remember.]
 

Chessie2

Staff
Article Team
My last heroine was a chainsmoker and somewhat of a man-eater. The women in my books have bad attitudes, feisty attitudes, respectful attitudes, they cry, they curse, they smile, they love, they hate, they're everything in-between. Write them as people is spot on, pmmg.
 
I noticed a few posts, including from myself, that were pretty much just replies to Heliotropes concerns coming from her female point of view and the dudes going 'well, in my opinion...'. I think it's interesting, that clash of just sometimes not being able to 100% see the point of view of another gender. Here's an example:

Today I rewatched an episode of the TV show Twin Peaks: The Return (a show, which anyone who's caught me in the chat knows I talk too much about because it's the best thing of all time). In this episode there was a sex scene that was incredibly complicated. There are a lot of layers to the scene cinematically but I'll narrow it down to the basics. It went like this;

1. The is an evil version of the main character (as in they are doppelgangers) who does a very, very terrible action towards another character
2. Later on the good version of the main character and the other character have sex, but because of this terrible action made by his doppelganger, the other character doesn't want it.

When the episode premiered, I noticed right away that male fans and female fans interpreted the scene differently. The women knew immediately that she wasn't into it, but the male fans (including myself) didn't notice she didn't want it until she was literally covering up the main characters face and began crying. Most of the male fans also felt that they were both forced into having sex during the scene in some kind of ritual attempt (that's difficult to explain without the context of the show but like I said it's a very complicated scene in a very complicated series that contains 100% puzzle), while most of the female fans were grossed out by the main character's lack of sympathy and general coldness in the scene, which I had and many male fans had interpreted as nervousness or his own unwillingness to do the act.

The series being a series of absolute ambiguity made intentionally to make people question what they're seeing, not only is the scene horrifying and sad but genius. The director of the series, David Lynch, is very close to the actress (who's a pretty big feminist) who did the scene and has films people have interpreted as feminist (Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and the entire Twin Peaks franchise). Although many instances in this particular series feel old school hollywood in their portrayal of women (he even plays a character in the school who describes himself as 'old school' in the same way people described Harvey Wienstien as old school) but I believe it's all intentional because in this particular this series he shows great understanding of women's lives and fears and I think he intentionally plays with how different people will interpret it differently.

So I think this scene is a great example of how men and women think differently. After hearing the thoughts of women who'd seen the episode, and rewatching it a second time, I couldn't help but look at it in that point of view. And it was twice as unsettling of a scene. So, other than just praising some scene to a TV show I just saw, I think what I'm trying to say is that expressing different points of views are important and can change another's view. I think it's great to call out classics for their problems.
 

Annoyingkid

Banned
An old lesbian friend of mine actually preferred that I didn't pair up my two main female characters at all. Despite them being her favourite characters in the story. I agreed as I think some characters just work better as symbols and absolutes, or ideals or clear concepts instead of the really humanized portrayal.
 

TheKillerBs

Inkling
Given that I write romances, my approach to writing characters is going to be different than another author catering to a mostly male audience. Let's face it: that's just the way it is.

I write mostly to a female audience, and I have to be very careful as to what issues and insecurities these characters deal with. They tend to be heavy because it's what I love exploring. My heroines usually have deep issues that stand in the way of their emotional fulfillment (the last one had daddy issues). But given that it's romance, this sort of character exploration is expected. Is it in an epic fantasy? Like, the kind some of our members write? I'm thinking of Skip who writes his historical fantasy novels with goblins. Would a young woman with daddy issues be a character male epic fantasy readers would want to read? Uh...probably not. They'd call her a whiner and be over it. Now, put that same character in front of a romance reader who wants to see this heroine's daddy issues NOT keep her from love with the man of her dreams. It turns into a conflict that drives the story. It wouldn't be so if Lila were a character in Skip's book. See where I'm going with this?

I think Helio's main concern can be explained by this: you were not the target audience for those books. Since you like your female characters a certain way, and like to learn things when you read, then those books won't satisfy you as a reader. They don't satisfy me much either. I do love Tolkien, but he's about the one exception besides C.S. Lewis.
I see your point. I don't fully agree with it. I can think of plenty of media that's aimed at a mostly male audience where important female characters have issues and insecurities they have to deal with. If your heroine were dropped into an epic fantasy, she would probably still be loved by male readers who want to see her daddy issues NOT keep her from kicking butt and taking names, or perhaps even fueling her desire to kick butt, lol. Worm, a superhero web serial, has a a teenage female MC with, erm, let's just say, issues. Daddy issues are just the least of them. It's probably the most successful web serial out there. Dark, though. Very dark. Apparently hits every trigger warning on Ergohacks.com. So yeah. I don't think target audience is a reason to let Tolkien or whomever off the hook.
 

Annoyingkid

Banned
I see your point. I don't fully agree with it. I can think of plenty of media that's aimed at a mostly male audience where important female characters have issues and insecurities they have to deal with. If your heroine were dropped into an epic fantasy, she would probably still be loved by male readers who want to see her daddy issues NOT keep her from kicking butt and taking names, or perhaps even fueling her desire to kick butt, lol. Worm, a superhero web serial, has a a teenage female MC with, erm, let's just say, issues. Daddy issues are just the least of them. It's probably the most successful web serial out there. Dark, though. Very dark. Apparently hits every trigger warning on Ergohacks.com. So yeah. I don't think target audience is a reason to let Tolkien or whomever off the hook.

This is about degree. It shouldn't try to compete with a book that's dedicated to relationship drama. Tolkien was right to do a few things well then trying to do too many things and please too many people. Try to please everyone and you please no one.
 

Heliotrope

Staff
Article Team
I noticed a few posts, including from myself, that were pretty much just replies to Heliotropes concerns coming from her female point of view and the dudes going 'well, in my opinion...'. I think it's interesting, that clash of just sometimes not being able to 100% see the point of view of another gender. Here's an example:

I really appreciate the fact that you noticed this :)
 

Svrtnsse

Staff
Article Team
I think it's interesting, that clash of just sometimes not being able to 100% see the point of view of another gender. Here's an example:

A good example of this that has stayed with me for a long time is the meaning of the word used. I read about a survey where participants had been asked to rate whether they found certain words to be positively, neutrally, or negatively charged. According to the survey (which I've not been able to find again), males found the word used to be neutrally charged, while females found it to be negatively charged.

It's a small detail, and I'm sure it's not universal, but I think it's a great example of how people from different backgrounds can related differently to the same thing.
 
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