Monday, September 9, 2013


When a Man Writes a Woman

When men write women, the results are tiresome. Reading at random, you will occasionally come across a Lisbeth Salander, a Maria Dmitryevna Akhrosimova, or a Ma Joad, a character with interiority and what feels like her own life off the page. Far too often, though, when you open up a book by a male writer—even a good male writer, and occasionally even a great male writer—you encounter ladies who are a variation on one or more of four themes: virgin, whore, mother, bitch. Sometimes, the ladies begin as one (usually "virgin") and progress through the others by the end of the book, because character development! Emma Bovary holds the distinction of kind of being all four at once. (And, as I’ve argued, Daisy Buchanan does too.)

The Manic Pixie Dream Girls of fiction—sometimes virgins, sometimes whores, depending often on the point of view of the author or narrator—existed long before the MPDGs of the screen added twinkles and quirk to the lives of boring dudes everywhere. Enough already! Where are the Queen Elizabeths of male narratives, the Eleanor of Aquitaines, the Sei Shōnagons? Why is there only one Becky Sharp and why does Thackeray seem as repulsed by her as he is fascinated?

If you want to deliberately seek out an author-guy with the revolutionary understanding that women are people, you do have choices. You can pick up almost anything by Larry McMurtry or Michael Cunningham. You can turn to the much maligned but insightful Jonathan Franzen, who pays his women the compliment of being just as fucked up as the men, or, if you like women warriors and don’t mind the questionable consent bits, George R. R. Martin. (I wanted to name my daughter Arya, but my husband said no. MEN.)

The point is, it’s not impossible to find good female characters in male writers’ books. It’s just much harder than it should be. Which is why it is was refreshing to read in the New York Times Magazine recently a profile of Norman Rush, who said about the brilliant, complicated woman at the heart of his brilliant, complicated novel Mating, “I wanted to create the most fully realized female character in the English language.”

According to the profile’s author, though, “a few outliers didn’t buy Mating. … Among the male writers I spoke to who were not taken with the book, the reason given was that they didn’t believe this could be a woman’s voice.”

Charming, right? Seems like those “male writers” think along the lines of Jack Nicholson’s male writer character in As Good As It Gets:

(Q: “How do you write women so well?” A: “I think of a man, and then I take away reason and accountability.”)

Those “male writers,” who were presumably scared to put their names to their admission of A-level misogyny, may not agree, but the consensus seems to be that Mating’s unnamed heroine is one of the most fully realized female characters in literature. Years after I first read the book, things she said and did still bubble up to the surface of my mind, as though she were a real person I was once friends with.

Here are some others to keep her company: not the funniest or the “strongest” female characters written by male authors, but the most successfully human.

Dolores Price, She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)

It takes guts to start a 20th-century novel with a pre-teen heroine named Dolores. Lamb pulls off her voice perfectly and creates around it a story that captures the lust and hunger, sadness and confusion of adolescence and its aftermath. Towards the end, when life delivered Dolores yet another setback, I remember throwing the book against my bedroom wall in fury at the unfairness of everything—and then crawling over to retrieve it because I couldn’t stop reading.

Lady Macbeth, Macbeth (Shakespeare)

Not an archetype for nothing. Lots of Uncle Willy’s ladies, especially the ones in the comedies, are awesome—they had to be, to impress Queen Elizabeth—but Lady Macbeth is an enduring figure, compelling and tragic. Without her and Hecate, there would be no play.

Ora, To The End of the Land (David Grossman)

Perhaps the ultimate book about a mother, one that deconstructs the myth while at the same time conveying the incomparable intensity of maternal love. The Timesreview of this anti-war novel calls Grossman a “genius” and says, “Ora’s level of self-consciousness, her alertness to the emotional contours of things, her exquisite introspection, give this story the depth and privacy of an Ingmar Bergman film."

Betsey Trotwood, David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)

Possibly the only character in the Western canon to storm away in anger when a child turns out to be a boy and not a girl, the stubborn, principled Miss Betsey Trotwood reappears in the narrative to do what’s right, including save her great-nephew, make us laugh, and show that there was at least one generous, good-hearted person in David’s childhood, which is otherwise as scummy as a prison shower.

Little Bee, The Other Hand (Chris Cleave)

Raw, vital, vivid, absolutely engrossing—the character and the book both. A necessary story about the post-colonial world as seen by a scarred Nigerian girl who refuses to accept the unfairness of life as she knows it.

Winners in the Young Adult Category:

Charlotte, Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)

Matilda, Matilda (Roald Dahl)

Violet Baudelaire, Series of Unfortunate Events (Lemony Snicket)

Lyra Silvertongue, His Dark Materials (Philip Pullman)

White Queen (Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll)


Previously: Daisy, You're a Drip, Dear: Detestable Literary Characters Who Are Not Technically Villains

Ester Bloom is currently working on an update of The Canterbury Tales, so she gets to spend a lot of time with that best-of-all female characters, the Wife of Bath. Follow her @shorterstory.

142 Comments / Post A Comment


White Queen <3

Also, if anyone wants to talk about 1Q84's Aomame, I'm definitely up for that.

Gen. SmedleyT.Butler

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll Aomame! Ooh, I loved her. But we can't -- at least not here-- Hairpin's all like, "no more talking about tiny sex-crazed assassins named "green bean", we're over it"....


@Gen. SmedleyT.Butler

I missed an earlier discussion of her? Oh no! When?

Gen. SmedleyT.Butler

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll No, sorry, I was just being silly. I admit I found IQ84 a bit of a slog by the end, but I certainly found Aomame compelling as hell. I don't know if Murakami should get thrown into the pool of contemporary authors who create well-drawn female characters -- maybe characters of any gender are't really what he's about, so much as his weird blend of ennui and magical realism? I find the women and the men in his books to be equally sad and smart and horny and disconnected and yearning....


@Gen. SmedleyT.Butler

Okay, now we're talking!

I guess what I found so interesting about Aomame in the context of this discussion is that, while she's once again that male writer's fantasy of a woman ("tiny sex-crazed assassin" is a fair description!), I felt that she was at the same time treated sympathetically in a way I've never seen with characters like that, such that it wasn't grating to read her chapters. A new experience. And a relief, because a simplified-to-the-point-of-misogyny female protagonist would have ruined the rest of the book, which I loved (esp. the bizarre use of foreshadowing techniques).


@Rock and Roll Ken Doll Im reading that book right now, and I do love Murakami in general, but the boob job thing that comes up in several of his books keeps weirding me out...


Oh my, I guess I haven't read those ones!


That can also be said about men, however they're not men, they're assholes and women seem to go for assholes.@l


Lyra Silvertongue!

May I ask why the YA ones are just listed off and not blurbed? I would have loved to read your thoughts on those as well!

*throws out a vote for Molly Grue*

you're a kitty!

@Scandyhoovian Ooh Lyra wouldn't have occurred to me, but absolutely.


@Scandyhoovian I'd love to read those too, and will throw out a vote for both Tally and Shea in Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series. They are amazing characters, with nary a glimmer of MPDG between them.

(I'd add Sophie and Agatha from The School for Good and Evil, but I suspect - though haven't yet confirmed - that author Soman Chainani is a woman.)


@Bittersweet Chainani's a dude.


@Scandyhoovian Molly Grue! what a brilliant character.


@Scandyhoovian We named our daughter Lyra, on the rationale that every badass little girl should have another badass little girl to emulate.


@rangiferina Molly Gruuuuue *keens* And Amalthea too, while we're at it.


@Ophelia This makes me so, SO happy.


@wee_ramekin Also, two other awesome YA female characters written by men are:

Sally Lockhart from The Ruby in the Smoke (and subsequent novels), by Philip Pullman. Get it, Philip Pullman, you bad-ass male-writer-of-female-characters, you.

Princess Eilonwy from Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain.


@rangiferina @rangiferina Word to the other Last Unicorn fans! I loved Molly Grue even when I was in kindergarten watching the cartoon movie. When she sees the unicorn and rages at her for not coming sooner? It really hit me then that the pretty young girls in stories eventually get older and are no longer pretty and no one cares about writing stories about you when you're no longer young and pretty and it's not right! Molly Grue got Little Me thinking about some tough feminist ideas, damn


SHE'S COME UNDONE. I actually could not put that book down.


@lora.bee Wally Lamb was my first thought! Heart him to pieces.


@lora.bee I think I really didn't understand, when I was reading that book, how much it was getting inside my head and changing the way I thought about some things. so good.


@lora.bee Absolutely love Wally Lamb and that book. And I had the same reaction that Ester had to She's Come Undone to his (first?) book - This Much is True. I was furious that this stuff could be happening to these real people...



She's Come Undone Note my name and pic.


Lyra, Matilda and Violet (mostly Violet, I love how she is super good at building things, not a "girly" talent at all) are some of my all-time favorite characters. Lady Macbeth is great (obviously) and I read David Copperfield a long time ago, so I don't remember Bestey. I will check out the others!

Lucy B.

What's the consensus (or debate) on Isabel Archer (Henry James, Portrait of a Lady)? I know, I know, Henry James, but Isabel was one of the first modern male-written female characters I read where I really did feel that she was a real person, one I might have known, one in whom I recognized myself (for good and ill.)

Lili B.

@Lucy B. My partner (an English PhD student) has said to me that HJ was one of the first authors to open his eyes to the problems of women in literature, in that (in partner's words) "All of his male characters have human problems, but all of his female characters have women problems."

I've never read any HJ so now I'm torn.


@Lucy B. Well, she has to be more of a human than any woman written by Dickens, at least. Right?

Kidding (kind of) (I actually love lots of the women in Dickens) (but Dickens was a messssss). I think sometimes Henry James pulls off Women Are People instead of Women are Sort of People, but they do tend to have women problems, as Lili B.'s partner said. Though, of course, there are a number of factors that contribute to that, aren't there?

But I mostly get Henry James secondhand through Martha Nussbaum articles, and Nussbaum luffs him, so.

de Pizan

@Lili B. I don't know, Wilkie Collins was about a decade before Henry James and definitely writing about women problems. And then while I'd never accuse Anthony Trollope of being a feminist; his female characters often had women problems and were more complex than some of his contemporaries (like Dickens).

Lucy B.

@Lili B. @Lucienne @de Pizan My admittedly optimist-spun take on HJ is that, insofar as he writes "women's problems," e.g. Isabel's anxiety about the marriage market, he also writes them as problems often created by men's systems. I also have a difficult relationship with Dickens: love the prose, find the angels in the house annoying as heck. But Betsey Trotwood is far from the only great, complicated female character. I need to read more Trollope, as an unsuccessful run-in with Barchester Towers is as far as I've gotten. I loved Collins' The Woman in White but/and it also made me want to read All The Gender Studies Criticism.

de Pizan

@Lucy B. I have a fraught relationship with both James and Dickens; I feel like I ought to love them, so keep trying to read them; but either can't finish, or finish and dislike it (usually James is the former, Dickens the latter, although I did love Bleak House). Wilkie Collins definitely does the women's problems created by men's systems thing. His Man and Wife starts out with a diatribe from the author about the unfair inheritance laws against married women, and then that's the plot of the novel. And there's No Name, about two women who are disinherited because of their illegitimacy and one of them sets out to get her revenge on the relatives that inherited over them and threw them out. Or Hide and Seek about how a "fallen woman" and her daughter cruelly mistreated. Trollope is nowhere as overt, but several of his novels deal with themes of the unfairness of laws and social conventions/double standards towards women, especially Lady Anna, Can You Forgive Her, Miss Mackenzie, and He Knew He Was Right.


Lyra's real last name is Balacqua, I believe?


@Megasus To be fair, I think it's both - Iorek does name her Lyra Silvertongue in there. But Belacqua is definitely her name when we meet her.


@Scandyhoovian @Megasus yeah, her official name is Belacqua but her chosen name is Sivertongue after meeting Iorek.


Has anyone read The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles? I thought the lead female character was written very well and convincingly, without the reliance on the tropes mentioned above. After I read it, I was surprised to discover that the author is male.


@ghechr Ditto! I loved that book, and I was pleasantly surprised by the author's gender after the fact.


@ghechr I could not agree more. On the whole I thought she was relatable, real, and - perhaps most importantly - written without judgment from Towles himself, all of which was incredibly refreshing. It catapaulted to my top 3 favorite books of all time, and will be one I revisit a lot.

Kelly Baden@twitter

@ghechr LOVE that book. One of my favorites of this year.


I'd echo Lyra Belacqua, as the other commenters said, and add Pella Affenlight from Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding, who is not only a phenomenally realized female character, she's a phenomenally realized female character written by a man in his first novel ever.

Lily Rowan

I was shocked when I realized She's Come Undone was written by a man. SHOCKED.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@Lily Rowan Yes. I remember thinking, "Wally...can that somehow be a woman's name?"


@Lily Rowan I love Wally Lamb's writing. The one he wrote a few years ago, The Hour I First Believed, is also really great, although it didn't wreck me in the same way. And apparently he teaches writing to women in prison, which is pretty rad.

chickpeas akimbo

@Lily Rowan @joie there's a neat book of essays by Wally Lamb's prison students: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780060534295


I'd like to add a vote for Tiffany Aching, from a series of YA novels by Terry Pratchett (The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, and I Shall Wear Midnight).

I might also suggest Harriet Vane, from Dorothy L. Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. She isn't quite fully realized in Strong Poison, where she first appears, but in Have His Carcase -- and most especially in Gaudy Night -- she's fantastic. I want Harriet Vane to be my friend.


@snowmentality Not that Dorothy Sayers is a man. But I mean, great women in literature.


@snowmentality YES. Tiffany Aching is absolutely wonderful.

you're a kitty!

@snowmentality HARRIET VANE THOUGH. Someone once asked what characters i identified with in fiction, and I felt like I couldn't include Harriet because she's a whole other and complete person. I can understand her, and I can love her, but she's not a blank template to reflect my own fears and hopes and ideas — she has way too many of her own. Basically I also want to be her friend.

Dances With Nerds

@snowmentality Tiffany Aching is the absolute best! The scene where she goes after the Wintersmith because he has the gall to go after the lambs, ah. Though any of the witches, really–Granny Weatherwax, in particular, particularly in her relationship to her sister.

Briony Fields

@snowmentality I fell hardcore in love with Tiffany Aching.

Snood Mood

@Dances With Nerds Yes, Tiffany is great and all, but my love will always be for Granny Weatherwax. I adore the interactions between Granny and Nanny Ogg, too.


@snowmentality YES. I basically stalk bookstores, waiting for Pratchett to write me more Tiffany Aching.


@Dances With Nerds I love Tiffany- it's probably a tie between her and Susan for favorite female Pratchett character. Although I totally have a soft spot for Magrat. And Igorina (and all of the other Monstrous Regiment women) was/ were totally awesome. In general, once you get past the early stuff, the female characters in most of his books are really enjoyable.


I just got paid $5628 working off my laptop this month. And if you think that's cool, my divorced friend has twin toddlers and made over $8.1k her first month. It feels so good making so much money when other people have to work for so much less. This is what I do, www.Best96.com


@CelineFrosterson00 Why do you need to work? Aren't you still attending Hogwarts?


HAHAHA that video's title. So brave. So edgy.


I read Mating this year and it made me uncomfortable because it gave me the feeling of a man trying to write as a woman. Am I the only one?I still read all gazillion pages though...

Heather Funk

WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT PATTY. (I love Franzen AND Leslie Knope.)

I just have to mention the worst two female characters as written by men I've encountered in recent years: Katya/Kate from The Rules of Civility, which I managed to finish, and Zelda Fitzgerald in Beautiful Fools, which I threw down in disgust, probably because you don't mess with the Zelda I fell in love with through Sally Cline's biography Her Voice in Paradise.

What is it about the Jazz Age that makes it even harder for a man to get inside a woman's head? Does the idea of the tomboyish flapper make them think they don't have to try as hard?


@Heather Funk
So did you hate Patty, like so many people did? I did not, I loved her. Why did so many people hate her? I mean, they tell me they hate her, but they don't tell me their reasons, or I just don't understand them!

Heather Funk

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll
I loved Patty! She was messed up, everyone was, but she was wonderfully messed up and everyone hurts everyone in every book by Jonathan Franzen, that's kind of the point.

To be honest, I read the book in maybe 2011, and I'm a "gobbler of books" (to quote A Little Princess) so I probably need to refresh my memory before I give any deets.


@Heather Funk
My best guess is that the people who don't like her don't experience enough self-doubt in their own lives to empathize? Like how others' health problems are usually really boring unless you have a similar health problem?

If that's the case, then I rather envy those people.

Heather Funk

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll

I really like that theory. If you enjoy characters others have trouble sympathizing with because of their own lack of self doubt, I really recommend Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley. It's another tale of a group of people with complex motivations making dire mistakes with each other, PLUS CULTS.

Also I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds conversations about health problems really boring.


@Heather Funk
Added to my Google Doc of books to read!


@Rock and Roll Ken Doll My guess is that she is too realistic an example of a "type" that people have encountered in their lives and disliked. But that doesn't make her a bad character! That makes her an awesome character! In my mind it's like when people say they hate the character of Peggy Hill. In other words, WHATEVER.


@Heather Funk I loved the Kate character in Rules of Civility! Kate was very... direct and cut through the crap people kept trying to feed her.

Heather Funk

I thought she was compelling, and I liked the story okay, but I really couldn't shake the fact that she was jut kind of a sexy fantasy of Amor Towles's. Maybe I didn't read enough into her though.


@Heather Funk I pretty much felt she was me, and I'm definitely not a living fantasy.

Heather Funk

I understand, I mean, she was interesting and had this je ne sais quois, but being able to identify with a character doesn't always equal complexity (look at Bella from Twilight). Kate's relationships with everyone but her inner monologue struck me as really hollow--like Towles didn't even want to try to get into the meat of how a woman really related to a man, or with other women, despite the fact that these relationships were the core of the book. I mean, Kate's "spunk" was a core element too, but it didn't carry the novel for me. Of course, this is just my opinion--I'm not trying to insult anyone who identified with the character, because it's your perogative to do that or not to do that or to like the book or not. I just think there are other men (Jonathan Franzen, of course, and Jess Walter, who is a man, Ian McEwan sometimes, Jeffrey Eugenides, who handled the challenge of writing an intersexed character in a famously beautiful and thoughtful way) who do it better. There are also some authors who can't write any character in complex way. Charles Bock, author of Beautiful Children, comes to mind. I thought all his characters were just his idea of what "interesting people" would be like if he actually liked people.

I also just couldn't get over the feeling that The Rules of Civility was written in a lustful way--not to be confused with a sexy way. Even though the book was written in first character I got the vibe that the author was just really horny for his heroine.


Okay, so, I'm saying this earnestly and would like honest feedback. When I write female characters, as a man, I....

Don't really do anything at all differently? Like, when I am done & edit, I go back to look and make sure that there's bechdel-compliance, but I just...I dunno? I'm not very good, so everyone I write is just an amalgam of people I know in real life - and in my experience, the interesting things about people I know in general is rarely their gender, unless it is a *specific* struggle with that gender, which, while a totally valid and often engrossing story, not one I'm ever going to write?

Like, if I am writing about young professionals coming to terms with the fact that they are now just blurry-faces of a bureaucratic world they dreamt whilst young of rebelling against, or some other such overly-on-the-nose kind of thing, why can't I just write a character who is an exact one-to-one stand-in for me, but her name is like, Elaine instead of Leon?

Or is that missing something that I *should* be seeing, and failing to give women fairness by reducing everyone to men? Which, to be fair, in a way I do reduce every character in anything I write to male while writing - but not to "maleness" in general, just, everyone I ever write is, necessarily, a thing from inside me even when based on someone else, so of course it will always have some aspects of me. But like, I feel like the best thing I ever did wa just take a thing I have written and find+replace to switch the main character and his love interests names around, so the piece wasn't changed at all other than that the "main" character was now a woman and the love interest was a man.

UGH. I'm so sorry that that's barely coherent. I - just, I dunno, I am hoping for all of the thoughts from any gender on how men write women is always something I'm very interested in hearing.

Cat named Virtute

@leonstj Hi Leon! I think that is a pretty good start. One thing I would suggest you consider is issues that your female characters might face that men wouldn't. Not that your entire focus necessarily has to be Young Professional Elaine's straggle against the glass ceiling, but if you are writing about a female version of yourself, consider how your character responds to things like the pressure to marry and have children, the kind of sexism she might experience and how she reacts to it, how she feels about birth control and sex, etc. It's not that these considerations should be obvious on every page--that would make literature about women super boring. But how your female character feels and responds to these issues/pressures/scenarios man indirectly inform a lot about subsequent parts of her character and the decisions that she makes on the page.

Quinn A@twitter

@leonstj The ways in which people are oppressed have a pretty significant impact on their lives, and I think that if you don't take that into consideration, your characters won't feel as real as they should. To use your example, Elaine's experiences as a young professional will almost certainly be markedly different from Leon's experiences (and Xue's experiences will almost certainly be markedly different from Elaine's).

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@leonstj I'd like to posit that Elaine would have a completely different worldview from Leon because Elaine didn't grow up with the cisgendered male privilege that Leon probably did. So, Elaine would likely view conversations, subtle power plays and other everyday things through a completely different lens than Leon would. He wouldn't even notice the things she does, in most cases.

Quinn A@twitter

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose Yep, all of that.


@leonstj I think the biggest problem men run into is in thinking they are doing just what you are doing, but being mistaken. By itself, it is a good idea. & it is a huge leap forward when men write characters by asking "how would I feel if I were a woman" instead of "how would 'a woman' feel" -- it is self-centered but in the best way possible, because the understanding that "I" could be a woman but for an accident of birth and that every woman is an "I" to herself is not so obvious to everyone as one would think, and it is a much more important feminist epiphany than any garble about social pressures. which are real, but secondary considerations.

Dorothy Sayers has some words on the subject:

"A man once asked me ... how I managed in my books to write such natural conversation between men when they were by themselves. Was I, by any chance, a member of a large, mixed family with a lot of male friends? I replied that, on the contrary, I was an only child and had practically never seen or spoken to any men of my own age till I was about twenty-five. "Well," said the man, "I shouldn't have expected a woman (meaning me) to have been able to make it so convincing." I replied that I had coped with this difficult problem by making my men talk, as far as possible, like ordinary human beings."

she was kind of an asshole but I like this quote very much because it says everything and then CLOSES THE SUBJECT.


@leonstj i write mostly male characters and find myself unable to think about it too much either - i operate under the "how would i feel if i were a person born in this specific set of circumstances, one of which includes gender" but who knows how effective this strategy may be


@queenofbithynia or I guess a better way to say it would be that women are humans-plus (all the usual parts, plus a little extra misery, degradation, oppression and whatnot -- you know, the spice of life) rather than humans-minus. So to draw a woman, you would take a human being and let history beat on her a little bit if you felt like you really had to, BUT NOT take a human being, take away all her human characteristics and motivations and replace them with privilege relationships to explain why she is the way she is and why she does what she does.

I mean, if you are going to take the prevailing advice on this thread, and start considering your female characters in light of axes of oppression and power relationships and what-all, that is only, only OK if you start doing the same thing for your male characters. because otherwise what you get is a world where only women have a gender. that is not a representation of reality but that is the problem with a great many pseudo-empowering books.

e.g. sexism hurts women but it also gives men things they don't deserve, and you cannot show only the first half or you are falsifying life in a worse way than you would be by just ignoring all this crap. if social awareness comes into it, it can't be a burden that only the female characters are made to bear.


@queenofbithynia - I love the Dorothy Sayers quote. It's something to think about.

The issue Quinn & Rose bring up gets at my concern a lot more succinctly than I did - because, yeah, sure, when I rewrite, there are little things to think about constantly. I mean, the example I always think of is when I'm walking home just after dusk, as a dude, and a pretty big dude at that, if I'm just about the only person on the street, and the only other person on the street is some other dude walking 15-20 ft behind me, I tend not to give a shit. Whereas if I was a women, you know, different scenario.

But it's this constant thing of, okay, I can academically or whatever 'get it', but on some level I'll never fully "get it", ya know?

But at the same time, nobody ever can fully get someone who isn't them, regardless of whether they are more or less or just parallel but differently privileged - so we have to put ourselves in other peoples mindsets, or what is the point, you know? It's just such a minefield.

I think though it's such a large part of why I love reading this site, and more than anything, the comments. Seeing how such a diverse sampling of women respond to different things is always such an eye-opening experience - although of much more use in everyday life than the five or six hours a year I spend writing purely for personal satisfaction, and never for publishinng.

Thanks so much for your feedback!


@leonstj "if I'm just about the only person on the street, and the only other person on the street is some other dude walking 15-20 ft behind me, I tend not to give a shit. Whereas if I was a women, you know, different scenario."

I'll take your word for it because you know best what kind of woman you would be, but if I were a woman [1], I wouldn't be in a position to give a shit or not in the first place, because I wouldn't notice unless he were in the act of grabbing me, because I make no effort to be aware of my surroundings in that kind of conscientious after-school-special-recommended kind of way. This is kind of a case in point of what I mean.

[1]note: I am a woman.

[another note: why did I say e.g. before when I meant i.e.? SEXISM.]


@queenofbithynia Yeah you're right exactly (I mean, obviously you are because you're talking about you, but your larger point) - I guess the reason I say that i just kind of write women not as like, anything different than writing men (I mean, obviously the individual characters are different - just, the process is the same for both) - is that any single trait I can think of "Women" or "Men" having, I can find someone who identifies as that gender who doesn't have that trait.

universe of unique snowflakes and all. but god damn, does it make it hard to do.

Li'l Sebastian

@queenofbithynia DAMN. Your comment (starts with humans-plus) is amazing. Making-noises-outloud amazing.


@leonstj I think that is a very good place to start.


@queenofbithynia Your comment confuses me. You don't pay attention to your surroundings? Huh? I guess Leon's comment about that only being a priority for women was a little confusing to me, too. I just generally think it's a good idea to be aware of your surroundings, and what's going on, whether or not you're a man or a woman. Because PEOPLE get mugged, and shit.


I just thought this looked like a good time to mention how much I love Matilda and also Michael Cunningham.


@Mira Okay, so I only read one Michael Cunningham book and kind of hated it. But maybe I just happened to pick the Worst Michael Cunningham book? A Home at the End of the World? Like, I feel like I will get around to reading The Hours because it's inevitable that I do that (even though I sort of hated them movie) - but I'll get around to it a lot faster if someone tells me The Hours is way better than AHatEotW.


@Lucienne The Hours is wonderful. It really is!

I also met Michael Cunningham once, and he was so delightful and kind that I will probably pretend to love even the stuff of his I don't actually like very much, so I guess what I'm saying is, take my opinion with a grain of salt. But also read The Hours!


E M Forster was kind if a misogynist, but his women are all brilliant.


@Lucienne That should be "kind of" a misogynist. "Kind, if a misogynist" is also true of him sometimes.


I really like the female protagonist from Chris Ware's Building Stories too.


YES! Do you live in Chicago or Oak Park? Do you think about her all the time when you are walking down the street?

Building Stories is the only comic book I can enjoy, because it's designed for the eye to flit about the page.


Another YA option: Kyra Sellers in Goth Girl Rising. It's by Barry Lyga (the follow up to The Astonishing Adventures of Fan Boy and Goth Girl) and the fact that it's written by a man blew me away.


When I started reading this I thought, "Yes, that is the problem I had with Little Bee!". Both female narrators were fairly flat and the the whole 'white middle class savior' and 'noble foreigner' thing squicked me out. Was surprised to see it on the positive list.


Agree, so much. I hated Little Bee. In fact, I hated it so much I wrote a Goodreads review on it, which I never do.

From 2011(when I read it):
I'm always a little wary of male authors who write first-person fiction novels from a woman's (in this case women's) point of view. I'm not saying it can't be done, but I think that's where Little Bee falls flat. That said, I understand what Chris Cleave was trying to write and I didn't altogether hate this book. Unfortunately, it was riddled with too many plot inconsistencies and cliches, which bogged down the inner thoughts of two women characters central to this "magical" tale. Yes, I know that there are a lot of monkeys and jungles in Africa, and yes, I know that morning commutes in London must be hectic. What I don't know is why so many bad decisions were made by women in this book.


@AmandaElsewhere And apparently my hate for it grew with time.


@MEGA VENUTIAN SPACE SCORPION yeah, that surprised me a bit. I did genuinely enjoy Little Bee while I was reading it, but once I actually stopped to think about it... there was a lot that bothered me. mostly related to how he wrote female characters/the narrative voice(s).

Roxy Throatpunch

@MEGA VENUTIAN SPACE SCORPION @AmandaElsewhere I hated hated HATED HATED Little Bee. If I'd seen your Goodreads review, I probably would have Liked it, which is also never do. UGH.

chickpeas akimbo

@MEGA VENUTIAN SPACE SCORPION I loathed Little Bee for these exact reasons, and also because I bought it in an airport and it seemed like the best option and so I was STUCK WITH IT on a plane and then another plane and I felt SO BETRAYED and then I read the whole thing because if you don't read the whole thing it's like the book wins and I didn't want the book to win so I made myself finish it and probably I would be a happier person if I didn't do that.

I should probably just buy cheap paperback thrillers in airports because AT LEAST THEY WON'T LET ME DOWN.


@chickpeas akimbo That is exactly why I read it! It tricked me with its only semi-terrible cover, and quotes from decent newspapers. I hate it more every time I think of it.


@MEGA VENUTIAN SPACE SCORPION I loved Little Bee; it was very well written and added a face to tragedy from a perspective and situation we rarely see.


Speaking of women with interiority, Mara Wilson is very intelligent, and has a good twitter account.

Quinn A@twitter

I recently read "Clara Callan" by Richard Wright, and was really impressed by how well he wrote Clara (and how well he handled various issues like rape, abortion, and affairs with married men). I don't feel like he wrote women as well in one of earlier books that I read, but he definitely got it right in "Clara Callan".


Okay true confession time: I loathed She's Come Undone, it was the first and last book I ever hate read.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@cupcakecore What did you loathe about it?


@cupcakecore ha ha ha, wasn't it lousy? (SO lousy.)


@cupcakecore I read it a long time ago but I recall not caring for it much. I remember it seeming kind of tawdry and unpleasant and a tour through mid-century America that had been done before. But I like I said, long time ago.

fondue with cheddar

@cupcakecore I didn't like it either. Dolores felt like she was written by a man.


i would like to add GIRL by Blake Nelson !!

(and I def 2nd She's Come Undone... thinking about rereading)


@sarahspy Oh god! I loved that book. It's really fucking great.

Briony Fields

I kiiiiind of didn't find Lisbeth Salander all that well written though, am I the only one? She really struck me as some fantasy male stereotype. Like, this teeny punked out slip of a girl who "was beautiful enough to be on any billboard in the world". Of course she has to *actually* be hot underneath whatever facade she has. She was still badass and probably the best developed character in that series, but I still thought she was far from an ideal female character. Am I nuts?

Koko Goldstein

@Briony Fields Yeah, and then she gets a boob job! Because that's what all flawed goth hacker chicks really want.


@Briony Fields Nope, did not find Lisbeth Salander a particularly realistic character really. She is a very specific type of dream girl for a very specific type of man.


@Briony Fields Yeah, I was basically coming down here to go "Her?"

mayor of crazytown

@Briony Fields Yeah, I even googled her because my first reaction was also "What?" and thought maybe I'd gotten her name wrong. Throwing in a traumatic childhood doesn't automatically constitute interiority.


@Briony Fields I don't know. She did deliberately hide her beauty, thus making her character subversive. It also made it easier for her to disguise herself. To be beautiful conventionally was to be anonymous, if you recall. The boob job was part of the disguise, made her look less like a young girl (and perhaps less subject to men's pervy girl-fantasies, believe me, I've been there and it's gross), made her less remarkable looking when she was on the lam. I got the impression, too, that it was almost a way of copping out, retiring from being who she was. She was tired. Hell, I've gone totally conventional more than once, myself, before being myself again, just out of fatigue or necessity (employment).

I don't object as much to Lisbeth Salander as to other neurotic women characters written by men who seem to think their neuroses makes them attractively fragile. That bugs the shit out of me. Anyway, the whole Dragon Tattoo series was not realism at all, it was activism disguised as adventure. The guy wanted to make a point about all the shit he'd seen done to women during his career. No one would be interested if it was boring and not action-packed with a sort of comic book hero.
I mean, go ahead and read sociology books if you have the attention span. You're more likely to get fired up by the Dragon Tattoo.


@carolita That part has always bothered me because it seems so out of character but I really like your take on it.

Also, Larsson witnessed a brutal rape as a teenager and it haunted him for the rest of his life. Lisbeth was partly based on that girl. Seems like the fantasy was largely one of elaborate revenge against those attackers... and all the other Men Who Hate Women. That's a fantasy I can get behind.


@Briony Fields Totally agree with you. I found the books tiresome and voyeuristic. Lisbeth is one-dimensional - like a boring comic-book heroine. As opposed to an awesome comic book heroine, like Alana from Saga.


Allison Poole in Story of My Life by Jay McInerney was written in the first person.

Koko Goldstein

I approve of this post.

It also reminds me of this dude filmmaker at Cannes arguing that women fantasize about being prostitutes. Good job dudefilmaker! http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/cannes-francois-ozon-says-a-525566


@Koko Goldstein
THR: How did you come to the conclusion that is a theme in women’s sexuality?
Ozon: It is the reality. You speak with many women, you speak with shrinks, everybody knows that. Well, maybe not Americans!


Late to the game, but Sabiel and Lirael written by Garth Nix are pretty fabulous YA examples of a man writing women characters. I always thought they were well-rounded, interesting persepectives on what it means to be a girl in her late teens/early 20s. Fantasy fiction for the win.

Mr. B

1. When I read Mating, I found myself becoming extremely attracted to Karen (the narrator -- you find out her name when she makes a cameo in Mortals). So I find hyper-intelligent women with unbelievably large vocabularies sexy, apparently.

2. It's really super unfair and reductive, though, to make Emma Bovary and Daisy Buchanan (and Anna Karenina, by proxy?) into "manic pixie dream girl" tropes. (That term is AWFUL and has got to go, by the way. Or maybe peeved male readers can come up with a catchphrase to describe fantasy male characters which are JUST AS COMMON, but I doubt that will happen.)

3. The issue (if it is an issue) really goes both ways with respect to women writing men, I think. There are some wonderful female-created male characters, of course -- Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell and P.D. James's The Children of Men spring to mind -- but for the most part writers write heroes and heroines of their own gender. I love it when either men or women cross gender lines successfully.


I was pretty impressed with Mildred in "Mildred Pierce," actually. Especially considering the time it was written in.


I love Kate Beaton's take on Strong Female Charatcters (tm)


@mochi I tried to link the page but it didn't work out. I'm still learning how to internet. If you click Home it works tho.

eva luna

George R. R. Martin? Really? Yes, Arya is great, but she primarily is presented as great because she refuses to behave "like a girl." I don't think George R. R. Martin is terrible, but I frequently want to throw the book across the room.

I really love Ian McEwan, but maybe that's just me.


@eva luna I thought Briony in Atonement was really well-realized, despite the fact that I wanted to throttle her throughout the book. Maybe because of that, too. I loved Cecilia, but she sometimes seemed a bit idealized.

Florence in On Chesil Beach was less successful for me. I felt like McEwan tried really hard to explain why she did what she did, but I didn't get it. Could be User Error, though.

chickpeas akimbo

@eva luna I think Cersei is actually a better example of Martin's skill at writing women. He does a great job of chronicling her horror and fear as her psychopath son gets more and more out of control.

I see what you are saying about Arya, but she's definitely not the only character to break the "girly" mold. There's also Brienne, the Sand Snakes, Asha Greyjoy, Ygritte... all tough, all fighters, all aggressive. I guess the bigger question is, why is it so easy to sort the female characters into two groups (Arya-like and Sansa-like) and why is there no similar way of dividing the male characters?

Slanted & Enchanted

@Bittersweet Yes to Briony! She is also arguably the most fully-realized character McEwan has ever written (he's said so himself), which is very interesting.

I personally found Florence really fascinating (Edward too, but I didn't have as much patience for him) and heartbreaking. I have read some really unsympathetic responses to her, even in academic literature, though. Whatever, I still cry every single time at the end, no shame.


@chickpeas akimbo I think Catelyn is a good blend of the two - she's tough, level-headed, and practical, but at the same time she's very conscious of being a 'good' wife and mother. She both fills that role and subverts it. And Sansa's character could be read as a commentary of how damaging trying to be a model woman in that universe is (i.e., relying on 'knights' to protect you because you got sold a bill of goods about how they would).


@eva luna I think GRRM has the best of intentions but doesn't get it totally right. They really course correct on the show. In the books I find Cersei to almost be a caricature, but she's a lot more human and nuanced on tv. Like in the book Shae is flippant about rape, while on the show she points out no woman would ever sleep with a guy immediately after being attacked.And there are definitely good girl/bad girl tropes. Like Cersei is being set up to be ultimately punished sexually but "that's ok because she's a bitch whore who deserves it." If that happens I'll be filled with rage. The female characters the GRRM likes seem to be as "safe" as can be in this universe.
I have many, many feelings on this subject.


@eva luna I loved Briony in Atonement but then I read one of his newer (newest?) ones, Sweet Tooth, and it was ENRAGING.

It plays with authorship in many of the same ways Atonement did, so that the main character's first-person narrative is actually revealed to be written by a male author within the story, which could account for the horrible attempt at writing from a female perspective, but it really felt like a huge fucking cop-out to me and not a good enough reason for making a reader sit through hundreds of pages of absolutely exhausting and frustrating depictions of a woman's mind.


@chickpeas akimbo Hm. Maybe we can't divide the male characters into categories because they are all pretty boring (except for Tyrion!)? That series was always about the female characters for me. They are much more dynamic and interesting.
But maybe we can divide them into groups because society is forcing them to choose sides: survive by being totally tough / rebellious or survive by being totally subservient / subversive.

Regina Phalange

A D.C. review of a local production of "A Few Good Men" used the following line to illustrate what they called "Sorkin's woman problem":

"...she’s more a midwife for the betterment of the male lead than a fully developed character in her own right..."

This phenomenon goes so far beyond Sorkin, though, right on into MPDGland.


Whoa there, completely disagree about Emma Bovary. The whole book is about her interior life, and I think she is startlingly human. Madame Bovary could be a modern book, if it weren't for the fact that she has so little choice in her life because of the smallness of her rural world and the societal restrictions on women. At various times in her life, Emma Bovary is a virgin, a mother, a whore and a bitch, sure, but I don't see how that doesn't, in fact, make her more fully realised rather than less.

My submission for the most galling example of a female character written by a man: Madeleine of The Wedding Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. She is basically a placeholder.


a bit late to the party, but anytime this subject comes up I have to give props to William Gibson for Cayce Pollard in Pattern Recognition (which, not unrelatedly, is an awesome book).


@nonvolleyball I was wondering if anyone else thought of Gibson! Cayce Pollard is, as I think at least some kids still say, The Bomb.


It's a young adult novel, but I love Hazel in John Green's novel The Fault in Our Stars. As an adult male writer he captures the voice of a young teenage girl perfectly!




@j-i-a And his men are assholes too!

I've never given Chekhov my full attention when I read him, though. And I don't know any of the plays. Chekhov is difficult to pin down...


Okay, so I is way late to this conversation, but is there really a proper way to write women? I mean, which female character is the right one? Jennifer Weiner's? Toni Morrison's? Alice Munro's? Jodi Picoult's? E.L. James's? We're in a culture where women like Paris Hilton and Lady Gaga and Kim Kardashian are on the screen every day. There are so many different types of women out there and so many different levels of consciousness that each woman brings to bear on the world they live in...is this really a meaningful discussion?

Cristin Hinesley@facebook

I just went through my library reading history to see what I could add to this list-I second the mentions of William Gibson, Blake Nelson, Michael Cunningham, John Green-and I sure couldn't find much. Telegraph Hill by Michael Chabon...? My list goes back to 2007! I just don't read many books by men, or if I do they're memoir or slightly fluffier things like Ready Player One (I live with 2 sci-fi nerds). It's weird/sad to me that we're all coming up with the same slim, slim list.


Casino online has proven to be a good source of enjoyment and money. Casinos are available in several ways and regarded as the most benefited mediums to gamble for real money. Online you can enjoy modern as well as traditional casino games just sitting at your home. Apart from entertainment, online casinos also help to enhance your gaming knowledge in different games. There are certain facts that you should keep in your mind while playing.

Online casinos - play and learn

Currently, online casinos can be considered the right place where one can easily train yourself in their favourite games. It is the only place where one can improve their gambling skills slightly than playing. It is a fact most of the casino competitions boost you prepare and learn yourself for upcoming matches.

Casinos online--- implies to play as per your own convenience

Casino gambling is quite popular all over the world. Online it is considered as one of the most convenient way to save time and earn money. Online you can play casino in day or night as per your choice.

Online Casino options are available paid as well as unpaid. Unpaid casino online is the first choice of the majority of people. Due to the presence of without any cost casino facilities, you do not have to bear the burden of heavy cost. Online casino uses encryption technologies to give you complete privacy. It also helps to understand the tits bits of the games. Casino games include several options such as red dragon, baccarat, bingo, black jet etc. online you will also get a wide variety of competitors, special bonuses & promotions. Almost every player will get an opportunity to play with other casino players at different parts of the world.

If you are searching for casinos online, you have to do proper research because there are many websites that offer online casino services. Most of online casino offers almost all types of casino services like Gclub, Genting and so on. The online gaming industry has increased due to the online betting and increasing number of individuals. The top gaming websites can provide you an exciting gaming experience and also give you an opportunity to rank by top online players as per your ease of use, payout percentage, the fun factor and customer support. Several websites can provide information about the best casino. Online review about casino games will recommend you the best option. Online casinos are secure and keep your all informational confidential. You can easily enjoy your favourite game online.

Reference By dewabet.net


I read Mating this year and it made me uncomfortable because it gave me the feeling of a man trying to write as a woman. Am I the only one?I still read all gazillion pages though...


First you got a great blog. I will be interested in more similar topics. I see you got really very useful topics, I will be always checking your blog thanks. bulk sms in nigeria

Post a Comment

You must be logged-in to post a comment.

Login To Your Account