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Romance And Gender.

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Anders Ämting, Feb 7, 2013.

  1. Planning a love story from a female POV has made me start thinking about how women view romance. This had the side effect of making me think about how men view romance, which I guess I kinda took for granted before?

    This community seems to have a pretty balanced mix of male and female posters - more so than any other forum I frequent, anyway - so I pose you this question: Is there are difference between the male and female perspective on romance?
  2. PlotHolio

    PlotHolio Sage

    As a man, I'm perfectly qualified to tell you how women view romance. To do so, I'll cite valued scientific sources like the Christian Bible and the Internet.

    I'm kidding.

    The answer is yes. Men and women have very different brain chemistry, which causes them to see a lot of things differently, including romance.

    As for how women and men view it differently, I have a vague idea. I write female characters with relative success. However, I don't really feel like it's my place to fully answer your question. Sorry.
  3. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    Having never been male, I don't know. I think you might need to ask someone who is transgendered how their views on things changed pre and post transition.

    Fortunately, I have spoken on something related to this topic with a trans woman I know. She told me that the way her brain works changed when she started taking the female hormones. Where before she could watch romantic or sad or emotional bits in films pretty much totally unaffected, afterwards she found she would spontaneously start crying (not in a sad way) just like I do when I watch soppy bits in films. Also she said chocolate tastes so much better to her now. So there's that: women get tastier chocolate than men.

    But in terms of the actual question you've asked, I get the impression that for women it's more about feelings and for men it's more physical. Physical doesn't necessarily mean sex, though. Touching, snuggling, being close, being able to hold. Whereas for my part, being held isn't about just being held, it's about closeness and safety and demonstraing care through not squeezing too much and stuff. Though that stuff is about the post-romance attachment.

    I don't really know, I guess. It's a long time since I've been in the position of not being in a relationship. When I was younger I'd have crushes on guys who were nice and looked good. The better I knew them the less I was bothered about appearance. I wanted to be noticed by them without having to put myself out there too much and embarrass myself. I thought that having a boyfriend was important. When I finally started to realise that this guy who I'd known most of my life and who was hanging out with my little brother might be a nice person to date, I started by trying to flirt without actually making it look like flirting. I tried to just be there when he and my brother were playing games on the Playstation One. I thought he was funny and nice. Over time we spent more time together when my brother wasn't around and he started responding to my flirting, not in a flirty way that I was, but trying to show off, trying to make me laugh. We already knew each other fairly well by then, from conversations on the bus home from school and from years of moving in the same circles if not actually being close friends. But the early months we were dating we spent a lot of time getting to know one another better, testing the boundaries, seeing what we had in common and trying things out that we each liked to see if the other did too.

    So now we're engaged. That part wasn't particularly romantic. I guess at the time we had practical things to think of, namely he was skint and still in school, I was working in my gap year before uni, and we were both still living with parents who would tell us we were too young to be engaged, so we kept it secret, bought my ring together, and he got down on one knee in his bedroom after we'd gone out for a meal for my birthday. (We also picked out his engagement ring together, but five years later).

    Not sure what that could tell you about the differences between our approaches to romance, but there it is. I suppose within our relationship, he's more practical and I'm more focused on dreams and aspirations, but that might be more about background than gender - he was a lot poorer than I was when we were growing up.
    saellys likes this.
  4. MotherofDragons

    MotherofDragons Dreamer

    I think even within the sexes there are as many diverse opinions as there are people. Romance, like most things is life, probably rarely boils down to what men think vs what women think.

    If you want to write a romance from a female POV and want it to appeal to the widest possible female audience, there are lots of romance writing websites out there that discuss what romance readers like most. I've done some research myself, and in the most general sense, women readers of romance like happily-ever-after stories (HEA) where they know the hero and heroine will get together at the end and the story is all about how they overcome obstacles to do so.

    A trend I find in the urban fantasy I read is to have a very hardened heroine who refuses to allow romance into her life because it's too complicated/dangerous/she doesn't have time for such nonsense, and of course, she ends up falling in love despite herself, though she fights it every step of the way. (I'm kind of tired of that trope, honestly.)

    Other than that, I think just focusing on the individual character will help you. Is she jaded, cynical, protective of herself? Is she old-fashioned with stars in her eyes? Does she like to be put on a pedestal, or treated as an equal? Is she looking for a challenge, a chase? Or safety and stability? Does she even know what she wants? Does she think she wants one thing but really craves something else? Are her standards impossible to meet? Is the right guy right in front of her and she just can't/won't see it?
    Jamber likes this.
  5. Nihal

    Nihal Vala

    I'm curious to see the replies to this topic. In my opinion, from what I've seen and felt it's more culture-based and less biological than we like to think.

    Because I was taught that men don't care, wanting their own space and being cold I have a hard time to understand them specially when they're infatuated. I've seen friends getting highly emotional, wanting hugs and everything (without being under effect of alcohol haha). It's so... strange. Like seeing underneath a facade I can't relate.
    Aravelle and Jamber like this.
  6. Let me put it like this, then: As a man, what appeals to you in a romantic story?

    *takes notes*

    Women... are... soppy...

    Unfair! o__O

    I'm not sure that's quite right. I mean, physical attraction is important to us, but I've been in love and it was definitely a lot more than that.

    (She wasn't hard to look at, but at the same time not the most gorgeous woman I've met. This sounds cliché, but I think the fact that I'd fallen for her actually made her appear more beautiful to me.)


    I asked my sister (who is the girliest girl I know) what appeals to female readers in terms of romance, and she defined it as: "Girls want what they can't have."

    Based on her explanation, I formulated a theory: Girls, or at least a certain kind of girl, seem to like romance where the conflict is intrinsic to the love interest. (For example, he's from rival faction, or a vampire, or obviously evil, etc.) Thus, pursuing the relationship is in itself a challenge.

    If I had to guess what appeals to us men, I'd say that we regard love as a treasure: Something that has to be earned and kept safe. The conflict doesn't have to have anything to do with the love interest, but I think men feel that they must prove themselves in some way, or they simply aren't worthy of something that precious.

    That's my take on it, anyway.
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2013
  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    MotherofDragons is right, there is enough diversity within either gender that you can find the same approaches to romance in either of them. In other words, your character's reaction to romance should be dictated by the character herself, not by the fact that she's a female (which is a potential trap to draw you into stereotypes). For any reaction you may consider "female," there are plenty of men who are the same way. For any trait you may view as male, there are plenty of females who have it. Get out of the mindset of making your character conform to gender, and just make sure she stays in character, whatever that character has to be.

    Relevant, recent article: Study debunks notion that men and women are psychologically distinct | The Raw Story
    saellys and Penpilot like this.
  8. Nihal

    Nihal Vala

    The thing is, many men want what they can't have too. Every single time a men is trying to flirt with me and I'm not interested, after explaining it they take it as a challenge. Seriously...
  9. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    There is a huge difference between male romance and female romance.

    To understand how women view romance, I think the only way is to read books that women think are romantic, take notes on what connects. I would not recommend reading a romance book just written by a woman, as each writer is different and might not nail what your looking for.
    You want a romance story that women like, so you get a glimpse of what they like and think of. Even asking might get you no where, some women don't know how to explain it.
  10. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    Ah, now, this is a different thing. What a woman wants in a romantic relationship, and what she wants to read in a romantic novel, aren't the same thing. What initially attracted me to my fiance is his sense of humour, his friendliness, and the fact that he can be funny without being mean; he's totally inclusive, and if there is a butt of his jokes it's him. And I like that we had things in common - hobbies, opinions, a level of creativity. What I like to read in romance is the opposite: the protagonist and her love interest should have something that divides them, which ultimately they reach a compromise on, or else he realises he was wrong all along (or wasn't that bothered about his position in the first place, just pushed towards it by a power-hungry relative). Well, they have some things in common, but one big thing that divides them.

    Okay, what I like is Princess Diaries 2, the movie. That's what I like in romance. Though Chris Pine being in it doesn't hurt either.

    He smiles like a cat...
  11. Well, yes. Of course one shouldn't generalize. But diversity is not the same thing as uniformity - just because you can find a certain trait in either gender doesn't mean it's equally common in both. There can still be a typical male and typical female way of doing things.

    All I'm asking is that we compare notes on the subject and see if we can't find anything interesting or useful.

    I'm mostly talking about romance in terms of storytelling, though - what preferences in romance fiction either gender tends towards the most and, much more importantly, how members of either gender approaches writing romance.

    How people behave in real life, while surely related, may not necessarily be the same thing.
  12. Lock

    Lock Dreamer

    There are many differences between the male and female perspective on romance, most of which can be attributed to the gender norms of whatever society the romance is occurring in along with the situational social context of the couple's interaction. However, I can think of no historical society where the strongest and most satisfying male-female relationships have not involved the man leading and the woman following, including present societies. This is a phenomena best explained by Carl Jung, who describes female psychology as being "founded on the principle of Eros, the great binder and loosener, whereas from ancient times the ruling principle ascribed to man is Logos. The concept of Eros could be expressed in modern terms as psychic relatedness, and that of Logos as objective interest." Knowing your world and its social norms will serve as a useful key to judge how your characters will act in all sorts of situations, including romantic ones, defining them by how far they deviate from the norm and the retributions they provoke from that deviation.

    The paths that men and women are expected to follow in pursuing their engendered interests are significantly different--with men usually needing to be more proactive than women, women tending to be a sought after commodity. In writing, this causes a conflict between realism and making the female POV proactive, a conflict that requires pronounced skill to balance believably and according to the stories context.

    I am a man, and when I write from a woman's POV I tend to base my characters on women I know, putting them in the historical period most similar to my imaginary world, adapting and building them into the roles and expectations of their new society, a society I slowly submerge in fantasy, and then continuing to build and adapt the character along the needs of story; usually leading to the development of a character entirely different from the woman I started with. This is useful because if I can't figure out how a character will act in a certain situation I can always ask the woman who my character is loosely based on what she would do.
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2013
  13. Griffin

    Griffin Minstrel

    Women tend to like romances that have conflict: supernatural relationships, the bad boy, the rival gang, etc. This fascination derives from the want to feel special. I am uncertain how it is in other countries, but in the States, women are now raised to believe that feeling special from a guy and love coexist. If a guy doesn't make you feel special, he is a waste of your time and/or he doesn't really love you. If that rival gang leader risks it all to be with the girl he loves, what can be more romantic?

    Men, on the other hand, want to feel like men. That's why action heros are awesome. They kick butt, save the day, AND get the girl. Let's face it, men are proud of their pride. Feeling a little like a hero to their significant other is one of the best feelings of the world. Whether it's proving their man-strength by opening that jar of pickles or fixing a flat tire, they want to show their heroism. In fact, many women's magazines advise women to let their man be the man. I had a coworker, who was tech-savvy, let her boyfriend "fix" her computer.

    Of course, all of this is not 100% foolproof. There are moments where the roles are reverse and the girl is the heroic one. And this varies within the LGBT community.
  14. Nebuchadnezzar

    Nebuchadnezzar Troubadour

    I feel like Twilight is somehow relevant here, since it is the most wildly successful romance novel of the modern era (maybe ever?). Whatever her flaws as a writer, Stephanie Meyer knows how to capture hearts and minds, especially those of women aged say 12-25.

    Every guy I know who read Twilight gives it a shrug. And when I went to see the movies with my wife, I was usually the only guy in the theater...and these are movies that involve vampires fighting werewolves.

    In her wildly successful romance novels, Meyer created a male lead who is unbelievably handsome and incredibly strong and fast, who lives a dangerous life and is a danger to the heroine (but never actually hurts her because of the strength of his love). He is so deeply in love with the heroine that he tries to get himself killed when he thinks she's dead. He is tender, solicitous, constantly watches over her and protects her whether she's waking or sleeping (but in a non-creepy, non-stalkerish way). He also has eyes for no other woman and really wants to have sex with the heroine, but only after they've pledged their eternal love to each other through marriage.

    The female lead, on the other hand, is almost a cipher, allowing Meyer's readers to pretty much make her anyone they want (make of that what you will).

    I'll note that in later books, Meyer introduces another incredibly handsome, strong, effective, dangerous man who is also deeply in love with the heroine. He gets into fights with the main male lead about who is best for the heroine and who loves her more.

    One way to summarize is that Meyer's male leads appear to be so-called alpha males who behave like alpha males in every way except that they don't want any woman except the heroine.

    For the avoidance of doubt, none of this is intended to suggest that this is what women want in real life or even that all or most women find this compelling in romance stories. I merely observe that this approach to romance sold a lot of books, mainly to women.
  15. ArelEndan

    ArelEndan Scribe

    One of my favorite writing resources is Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi's Emotion Thesaurus. They have an online supplement about the different ways men and women tend to express "cardinal emotions," and it includes an entry on love. You might find that helpful.
  16. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    Lots of love for The Emotion Thesaurus on this forum. Many of us use it as a reference.
  17. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    I really have to differ with you on this one. Edward's "protection" of Bella is emotionally manipulative -- he takes parts out of her truck to keep her from seeing Jacob, for one. His constant nightly vigils are nothing but stalkerish -- in midnight Sun, the POV-swap version of Twilight, Edward reveals that he oils Bella's window so it doesn't creak when he sneaks in. And he does seriously hurt her -- Bella wakes up after their wedding night with bruises covering every inch of her body. Not to mention, also from Midnight Sun, his constant fantasizing about how easily he could kill twenty people in a classroom within about five seconds, just so he wouldn't have any witnesses around so he can happily murder Bella and drink her blood. I am not even kidding. Edward is a freaking psychopath.

    / end rant
  18. Alexandra

    Alexandra Closed Account

    Women need a reason, men just need a location... use your imagination.

    Don't over think this subject, only guys do that ;)
  19. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    I don't think he's even close to a psychopath, at least not as portrayed in Meyer's book. His behavior might as well have been lifted right out of Buffy, where Angel exhibits jealousy, secrecy, protectiveness, and stalker behavior, all toward a teenage girl. But you don't get the complaints about that one. I think the analysis of Edward and Bella often comes down to people taking a harmless story and trying to make something sinister of it.
  20. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    I think this focus on gender can lead to a incorrect way of thinking about characters. IMHO writers should ask Is this what my character would do? instead of asking Is this what my female character would do? There's a subtle but significant difference. You said it yourself above. Any trait can be found in either gender, so if you want to write a woman with a masculine way of thinking, it's fine. OR if you want to write a male with feminine traits that's fine too. As long as you're true and honest to the character you defined, nobody can say either is wrong.

    I listened to this Writing Excuses podcast (Writing Excuses 6.15: Writing Other Cultures » Writing Excuses) where they talk about writing other cultures, but I think the following excerpt applies to this discussion about writing the opposite gender.

    I edited the transcript below for brevity. The whole transcript of the show can be found here. Writing Excuses Transcripts - Writing Excuses 6.15: Writing Other Cultures

    [Mary] Well, one thing that I was thinking about, that I really particularly liked in Zoo City, was that you don't depict it as a homogenous culture. That's one of the places that I think a lot of people fall down, when they're trying to write another culture, is that they go from just one source. It's about showing a breadth of humanity, a wide swath...

    [Lauren] Well, I actually have an interesting story about that, which is that I hired my friend Zukiswa Wanner who is an amazing South African writer. She's won several prizes. I hired her to be my cultural editor. I said, "Listen, can you just read this book and make sure that I've got it right?" ...*snip*.... I'm like, "Is Zinzi black enough?" She laughed at me. Because she said, "What is black enough? There are so many different ways of being black." That is not to say that race and culture and gender and sexuality are not really big important parts of who we are, but ultimately we are all human. If you build a character, you have to factor all those things in because they are lenses and it's a way of experiencing the world and it shapes who you are, but it is not all of who you are. So what she turned around and said to me was like, "Okay, don't worry if she's black enough. Worry if she's Zinzi enough. And don't worry, you're fine."
    Steerpike likes this.

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