Some Thoughts on Voice and Gender

I graduated from a women’s university.  It accepts men nowadays, but some of its main focuses are still on promoting feminism and gender equality.  No matter which major you choose, you are required to take at least one Women’s Studies course.  So when I confessed that I didn’t care for books with female protagonists during one of my senior-level courses, you can imagine the raised eyebrows.

Granted, there are a few stories with prominent females that I love.  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (and its sequels) is one.  But in general, I’d rather pick up a book where the protagonist is male and the female characters happen to be well-written.

My classmates leapt on me with questions: what’s wrong with female characters?  Why don’t you like them?  Aren’t you a writer?  Don’t you write in a female voice?

No, as a matter of fact.  I don’t.  And therein lies the reason why I’d rather read Harry Potter than Hunger Games (although I’ve read both).  Every reader needs a gateway into the author’s world.  That’s what protagonists are for; they guide you through the story, and you’re meant to connect to them on some level.  If you can’t, chances are you won’t like the book.  By some bizarre happenstance of nature, I’m just one of those people who connect better to the male point of view.

What’s wrong with female characters?  Nothing.  I don’t dislike them, I just can’t relate, in most cases.  I know, I know, I’m a girl; I ought to think like one.  But funny fact of our world: gender’s a pretty variable thing.

I’m proud of the strong female characters in The Company of Souls, but when you get it in your hands (or on your screen) you’ll be led through my world primarily by men.  Dead men, to be exact, but that’s beside the point.  I’ve tried to write from a female point of view.  Really, I have.  But I’ve never been able to keep it up for an entire novel.  I just can’t get in their heads as well as I can with the guys.  And you know what?  I’d rather give you a well-written book than one that agrees with my physical sex.

That evening, my professor covered my failure to adequately explain why my writing comes out male and my reading appetite balks at females by saying: “No, you’re just broken.”  She was teasing, of course, and we all made jokes, but the entire conversation stood out to me as being a little contradictory.  If we’re all about gender equality, how come women are required to like stories led by women?  You mean we’re not allowed to prefer male stories?  Those are just for the guys?  A good story will connect with both genders, no matter what sex your protagonist is.  Likewise, a good cake is a good cake, but while some people like vanilla, others would rather have chocolate.

Part of gender equality is this: men are able to write women, and women are able to write men.  Having woman-thoughts does not equal an inability to create believable male characters, and vice versa.  Read what you want, write however feels best…whether or not the main character can grow a moustache.

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2 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Voice and Gender

  1. I definitely think you should be allowed to write from whatever perspective feels best to you and see absolutely no fault or problem with you writing primarily male perspectives. I personally write mostly female, but from time to time a man’s voice just wants to tell a story and that’s just fine by me! 🙂

    I have a lot of problems with extremism on any front and even people who claim to be looking for ‘equality’ can slip into the extreme side of things which can be disheartening.

    I don’t think you’re broken or have any sort of fault, you simply have a preference and anyone who’s not alright with that is is the one with the issues.

    You’re right. Gender equality is about everyone being able to be themselves and not have to worry about others putting them in boxes for it. Keep on writing and enjoy! 🙂

  2. After reading this post, I immediately looked at my bookshelf to compare the male to female ratio of characters and authors alike. They are mostly male. I agree with you, I prefer male protagonists, but can truly appreciate a female voice. Currently, I am reading Phillip Pullman’s “The Subtle Knife” and am enjoying the amalgam of male and female characters. Interesting stuff.

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