Gender Questions: Why Can’t A Woman Write More Like A Man?

WOSLetterGDon’t panic. This (infuriating) title is just an adaptation of lyrics from a song I can’t get out of my head. In case you’re puzzled, Rex Harrison posed a similar question in My Fair Lady, ridiculous as it seems, because given the choice between him and Audrey Hepburn, would any of us really choose to be more like him?

Lately, aside from singing, I’ve been reading a lot of blogs, long before the start of the A to Z challenge. I wanted to hear other voices, see what others had to say, and connect with those who share my interests. I started to notice that men’s blogs differ from women’s. Not all of them, and here I should mention that I’ll be making generalizations rather than offering statistics or divulging the findings of lengthy scientific/psychological research. Of course, each of us is unique, every voice has its own edge, but I did notice distinctions that made me think. And also made me wonder: should I write more like a man…

  1. if I want to get noticed;
  2. if I want to get taken more seriously;
  3. if I want to kick ass…??? (And being a girl, I’m wondering, can I say ‘ass’?)

Even the questions make me cringe. I love being a woman, for too many reasons to explore in anything less than a multi-book series. Women are smart and caring and can cook and clean and raise children and be breadwinners and Secretaries of State and they’re all full of curves and can fight fires and catch criminals and produce and direct movies…and…and basically, they can do anything men can. And more. Men can’t have babies or breast feed. They have trouble multi-tasking. (Ask a man to have a conversation while he’s scrambling eggs, and watch them burn.)

But here’s what I noticed on my blog tour:

  • Men apologize less, if at all. (Did you notice that I’ve already apologized…twice?)
  • Men head into conflict with mouth guards in, helmets and gloves on, looking forward to the pounding they’re about to give. They even enjoy the pounding they get.
  • Men don’t think you should buy their books. They know you should, and they’re not afraid to tell you so. If you don’t, you’re the one who’s losing out. And you’re a jerk.

Look no further than JA Konrath and a piece he wrote lambasting Donald Maass, kingpin in the world of literary agents. No matter how rich or widely published I get, I will never have the spunk to write something like that. It was marvelous. Irreverent, confrontational, fearless, unapologetic…spectacular in its in-your-face-ness. The collective response was similarly ecstatic. And I couldn’t help thinking if a woman had written it, she might have gotten into a lot of trouble.

There are plenty of women who write scathing, witty, controversial articles; novels that easily join the ranks of America’s best; award winning fiction and nonfiction that open our minds and hearts; and the playing field is more level than it’s ever been, but there are signs that we still have a way to go.

Here are just a few of the questions I hope someone out there can answer:

  • Why do so many women choose to use their initials instead of their first names on writer community boards and book jackets? Even JK Rowling comes to mind here, and her pseudonym, Robert Galbraith, could just as well have been Rebecca or Rachel. Can it be that in certain genres, male writers attract more male writers, and thereby carry more weight?
  • Why is there even such a thing as women’s fiction? Ever heard of men’s fiction? Why exclude an entire gender from a readership demographic because seriously, how many men read women’s fiction? Why don’t they? They don’t because it’s women’s fiction. Does that make it boring/inferior/meh? Aren’t our inner worlds, conundrums, relationships just as interesting to men as they are to women?
  • As women, is our writing intrinsically different from that of men?

And on that provocative note, I’m off. I have to make sure my daughter has bananas to take with her to ballet, that Fifi goes out for a wee, change a bulb, fetch the laundry and speak to my mother. Then I have a couple of thousand words to write and an article to edit.

But before all that, I’ll just say this: A woman can write more like a man. The question is, should she? My answer, without beating about any bushes, is Hell No.

PS Any idea how many men are doing the A to Z Challenge?

Next up: Robin with ‘H.’



27 thoughts on “Gender Questions: Why Can’t A Woman Write More Like A Man?”

  1. Women can write like men. I’ve read thrillers and literary fiction and fantasy and whatever else by women. I love the work of Val McDermid, and in that genre you have Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs, and whoever else. Are they held in the same esteem as Thomas Harris?

    Aren’t there statistics about women reading more than men, and reading both men and women? There is no doubt a disparity between a man who will dismiss a woman author, and a woman who reads men and women. I’ve too much to say and no time to say it, Jennifer. Good post though. Thanks.

    1. Tana French is one of my favorites Richard, I’m sure you know her too. And I agree that this is a discussion that merits reams of writing:) Thanks for popping in.

  2. Why is there women’s fiction? That’s a good question. I must admit that 95% of the books I read are written by men, but I think I see a different kind of story telling, different kinds of ideas and thoughts when I read a book by a female author (the last one was Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotays). It might be just because the brainsof men and women work slightly differently >:)

    1. Hi CA, yes, I think men and women are wired differently, but there are fundamental qualities of humanness that run through both genders. Maybe it’s time to explore more of the intersections than the disparities. And maybe the disparities are good. I’m so glad you stopped by:)

  3. I read plenty of men. Not as many men as women…
    I hate to play favorites, but very few men have a “voice” that appeals to me.
    If I write like a woman, it might be because I AM a woman, hmm?

    1. Oh my, joeyfullystated, how provocative:) Voice is one of the first qualities to grab our attention and hold it, so what you say is interesting to me. I’d love you to expand on this.

      1. I don’t know that I can expand on it. A good story is a good story, regardless of gender, but there’s something more familiar, easier to connect to? when I find a female voice I like. Mimicry, maybe.
        There are male writers who have the same familiarity. The first one to come to mind is Michael Cunningham, via Flesh and Blood. But that easy telling is not a frequent find for me.

  4. Omigosh, Jennifer! What a fabulous post! I am going to tweet/FB the link so more can read this. I would love to sit down for a conversation over a glass of wine. We’d have a great time!

    So many issues you raised, but to weigh in on one: yes, I do believe male writers are privileged (thus women writers using initials or even male names as pseudonyms). There is still the prejudice that what men write is weightier than the topics in books by women. How dumb is that??? Thanks again for a provocative blog challenge series.

    1. Hi Sharon, a glass of wine it is, any time! Thanks for tweeting and FBing, and for stopping by. I think so many of us feel this way.

  5. Another good post! “Irreverent, confrontational, fearless, unapologetic…spectacular in its in-your-face-ness” all come to mind when I think of the male approach. I like reading books by male and female authors alike, and I happen to believe that both can write from the female and male perspective. I get Rowling’s reason for using initials, too, and you make a good point. It IS odd that there has never been anything called “male fiction.”
    Hope the ballet session went well, Robin. I have fond memories of those sweet ‘pink-slipper’ days…so long ago now 🙂 {{ok…I think I’m caught up now on your posts}}

    1. Hi Sharon, it’s Jennifer, and yes, ballet’s always good, if a monster challenge:) Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Great post. Loved your final answer. No! Of course, women can write just the way we are. Maybe we do post in different ways, but that’s OK. As for writing stories with male and female characters, my first novel was all about boys and so was the second. I get good feedback from male readers who say that I was right on. (“Where’d you learn that boy stuff?” was one comment. Answer, I raised three boys.) I think a good writer can write about men and women successfully, so Rodney I would read your books. I’m just not into bodice rippers, but I would read a romance store that had depth. After all, it’s the human experience that resonates.

    1. Hello Janet, lovely to see you here. You’re absolutely right, and I agree that at the heart of good fiction lies the human experience, which embraces both genders.

  7. D.B. Sieders is correct. As a male author who writes (bestselling) women’s fiction, I have seen the blade swing the opposite direction. I have been told to my face by a female reader (several, actually) that she didn’t believe I could write the type of story she likes, that I couldn’t write the romance, couldn’t write complex emotional feelings. I have seen eyes averted as women readers rush to the tables of women writers, as if I didn’t belong there.

    I’m curious about everyone’s take on this opposite side of the coin–when you want to curl up with a good emotional story, do you stick only to female writers? Be honest…

    1. Hi Rodney! Nice that you’re a bestselling author, and interesting that you consider what you write women’s fiction. Personally I’d like to see the genre disappear–there are plenty of genres that can absorb it. Something to consider though is the whole issue of setting narrators and protagonists up as belonging to genders/cultures/backgrounds different from our own. That takes multi-dimensional skill.

      1. I prefer the term “emotional family drama”, although I have to somewhat conform to industry standards. “Women’s fiction” is the closest, and “Romance” doesn’t seem to do it justice. My work would certainly fall under “Mainstream Fiction”. Ah, the joy of genre.

        My novels have themes of loss, regret, love, and second chances. Plus a big dose of fatherhood. For comparison purposes, my stories (and style) are similar to Jodi Picoult and Pat Conroy.

        But literary awards and bestselling status won’t matter if readers hang onto their prejudices.

        1. Well, to a degree, bestselling status indicates that a lot of readers have gotten over their prejudices, and literary awards do lend credibility to a novel. It’s all a process I guess: building trust and a following, then delivering on a promise.

        2. I enjoyed getting your perspective, Rodney, and I’m sorry you’ve had those negative reactions and experiences.

          I find it bothersome that anything ‘romance’ or with strong romantic elements often gets boxed in to the ‘fluff’ or ‘not serious fiction’ category. I’ve read plenty of books by both male and female authors that incorporate romance into their stories in a decidedly non-fluffy/frivolous way. I think as more male writers embrace and own those aspects of their stories (kuddos to you for doing that!) and as more female writers own their kick-assitude aspects of their stories, we’ll see a breakdown in those stereotypes.

  8. Thought provoking post – Thanks for sharing! I write as D.B. Sieders for the reasons you discussed. I think it would be a very eye-opening experiment to have a male writer publish something under a female pen name to see if it changes the dynamics of his readership. And this affects men, too as some male romance authors take on gender neutral or feminine pen names because of the myth that men can’t write about love (or write a decent sex scene). Indie authors seem to be breaking down some of those stereotypes and barriers, so I hope the trend spills over and benefits all writers.

    1. I agree that it applies to both genders. It’s interesting, because we so often come across men who say they just don’t get women, and that may have something to do with women’s distrust of men writing as women. Can they, as men, really get into a woman’s headspace? Writing sex, do they understand what women need/want? Pornography, for example, has traditionally been male-centric, objectifying women and doing little to advance female sexuality. That may just be the nature of porn, but yes, because of it and society’s historical attitude to women, men writing as women also have to earn a female readership’s trust. Thanks DB for weighing in:)

  9. “…should she [write more like a man]? …Hell No.” Hell yeah, Jennifer, you said it! I’ve always felt a something different but never been able to clarify/articulate – thank you for doing it so perfectly here. Wonderfully thought-provoking. Gotta take Pretzel out for a wee…

    1. Oh Nicki, that’s funny (Pretzel’s wee). Thanks for popping round, and I’m glad the post resonated:)

  10. JK Rowling actually shortened her name to JK for the Harry Potter series, because she didn’t think boys would want to read the series if they saw that it was written by a female author. Wild!

    I’ve seen a few male bloggers participating in the A-Z Challenge and I’m following a couple blogs that are written by guys. The biggest thing that jumps out to me, is they post shorter posts and the non-A-Z participants only post once or twice a week on their blogs. And it works.

    I think when the challenge is done I’ll actually be following suit and just do 2-3 posts a week on my blog-a more laid back blogging schedule sounds lovely, if only I can get over my insecurities (will I lose followers, relevance etc etc). Sigh… lol.

    1. Hi Finley Jayne, I’m happy you’ve weighed in here. This is good to know, and interesting about JK Rowling. Haha, so with her it was the boys. Also, I don’t think posting once a week is a bad idea. Maybe twice is a happy balance, unless like us you’ve got a group contributing. I really think it’s quality rather than frequency that draws people. Going to check out your ‘G’ book…

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