Gender –

Can I, as a female, write through the eyes of a male character?

I have to admit, that I have done it countless times without ever questioning myself. It is something I have done on not too rare an occasion, break literary rules. This is not because I think rules are made to be broken (how can any mother of young children think such a thing!), but because I do not tend to guide my writing. What happens, happens.

Yes, I am even trying to publish a short story that alternates viewpoints, and one of them is male! But, it is quite possibly my favorite short that I ever wrote, so I am not re-writing -YET. And if I do, I think the entire story will be from the male perspective.

Recently, it occurred to me: what if my characters are not realistic – what do I know about being male, after all? Yet, this is one criticism I have never received from any of my male readers. In order to still my fears, I have decided that fiction is fiction, and if I can write a story with women as leading characters living in conditions that are not mine, then I can do the same thing with men. It brings to mind the fantasy author Robert Jordan that I began reading as a teenager, and how impressed I was by how accurate his females were. Perhaps many of my characters come out as men, because I have read so many novels with a man’s perspective.

18 thoughts on “Gender –

  1. The main character in my current work is a man and I too worried about my ability to write believably in his voice, but so far no one in my critique group has laughed.

    And I remember being surprised that Wally Lamb was a man.

    1. Yes! If I stop to think about it, I can ask myself the same question about most of what I write. “what knowledge and personal experience do I have to be writing about these thing?”
      I am always surprised by the positive reaction from people who are exposed to my writing, for this reason. When I write I become thoroughly ingrained in the scene and the characters. I have been asked a few times from other writers about my method of writing and I think the answer is: I do not have a method. I do not think about what will happen or what a character will do, but then in the end when I am done my draft I am finding loose or ends and discrepancies. I become so attached to my original that when I begin editing I find it painful, but once I see the result it becomes a pleasure once again!

  2. I think you should right as you feel you should. There are books written by people with initials for first and middle names (that means, it isn’t always easy to guess the gender of the writer) and these writers are able to convincingly portray realistic characters. In my own case, an agent thought the female character viewpoint (third person) was convincing but not the male. There are no definite rules on this.

      1. The agent is a female who very much liked the female protagonist in my first novel.

  3. Harry Potter was written by a woman. I wonder if that’s why she used her initials.

    I’ve only written one short story in a man’s pov and found it easier than I expected. It probably helps if you’ve had brothers or sons, but even if not, I think if you’re creative enough to write, you’re creative enough to explore other realms.

    1. How did I not think of JK Rowling?? I wonder if that did have something to do with it. I always assumed it was along the lines a pen name. Sounds good, doesn’t it? I’ve often wondered if I would use a pen name. Something more fun and catchy:)

  4. My protagonist is male, but he has written himself beautifully, and none of the men who’ve reviewed my work have complained about his authenticity.

    Children now . . . I have a twelve-year-old girl in my story and I’m having a horrible time getting into her head! I’m afraid she’s too vague to be believable at this point. I wrestle with age more than gender differences.

    1. I still feel like a kid, so I’m quite comfortable with kids. I wrote through the pov of a Vietnamese child. Now that was a bit tricky at times – required some cultural research. It’s fun to put on so many faces!

  5. I am torn by this discussion. Obviously, the sentiment should be that, as a “good” writer, we should be able to create a character of any gender. And, if the ideals of the character are human then the axiom from Terence “Homo sum, humani nil a me alienum puto” (“I am a man, I consider nothing that is human alien to me”) should be an accurate concept.
    However, I recall taking a graduate level Creative writing course at the University of Miami in the mid 1980’s co-taught by Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer who had his own axion: “Write from the home.” And from then I focused on what I knew about in terms of place, age, gender, and circumstance.
    It is possible, I believe, to tap into the Human Reservoir for Eternal Concepts that transcend place, age, gender, and circumstance. But I am not sure to what degree they will have weight if there is not empathy.
    I have only written two short stories with unnamed female characters as the lead. They are, at best, generic yet still entertaining. It all depends in the end as to what you wish to achieve.

    1. Wow – that must have been quite the experience, Isaac Bashevis Singer!
      I see what you’re saying, and in the end, I just don’t want to pull my reader out of the story by making them wonder about authenticity. I think for each writer this line would be different…

  6. Interesting post!

    One of the great exercises in most law, philosophies and conflict resolution disciplines is to argue your opponents position. And it’s hard! – so much harder than expected, and really, really difficult (but rewarding) work if you’re approaching it from an earnest and willing place – but it is oh so effective in understanding other perspectives and lines of thought.

    While the male/female thing isn’t quite the dichotomy as arguing sides of case law, it’s still an exercise in getting outside of our own world-views. Definitely an interesting idea to entertain…

    I liked the idea of “writing from the home”, but surely, to really learn about the world through writing processes, we need to put on a costume, get outta the house and try something new every now and then?

    Very cool to think about this.


  7. Hi Ash, thanks for joining the conversation! Yes, getting out once in a while is certainly a GOOD thing! Since I began writing I have discovered so much about human interaction and behavior, and all though my characters. Quite something.

  8. I think it can be done. I also think it can be done wrong. 🙂 I recently read a thriller by James Patterson where he wrote in a women’s POV. It was also written in first person. The sad thing is that I didn’t know his MC was a woman until chapter 5. I was like, “What?????” LOL Not only were the words he used to describe her actions very masculine words, like, ‘she chugged her beer,’ but the dialogue seemed like a male speaking too. So anyway, I think it’s very possible, but we have to be careful. I think that’s where readers of the opposite sex (the one we’re trying to portray) come in handy. Readers are awesome!

  9. It makes sense to me. And I think that there are enough human qualities that transcend gender that writers can pick them up and show a realistic man (or woman) without stretching the reader’s belief.

    And as for the exclusively male or female traits, Memoirs of a Geisha is a book that comes to mind about this. It’s written by a man about such female situations that I couldn’t trust the dust jacket. I had to look it up and make sure a guy had really written the whole thing himself. So it must be possible!

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