On Writing “On Writing Women”

I see a lot of advice about writing women. Some of it is out-and-out sexist, basically saying women are solely comprised of tears and feelings which you have to slough through in order to get to the bit you want to fuck (usually written by men). Some of it is right on the money, or damn near it (usually written by women). But the bulk of what I see lands in some in-between area, where it’s clear the author means well, on some level, but is simply clueless (usually written by men). I’m going to talk about that third category.

The anatomy of these posts tends to be quite similar. They expound upon how women are under-represented in fiction. They might do things like quote the Smurfette principle, or the Madonna/whore complex, or something else they saw on TVTropes. They will state that women are people too, because we need reminding. Often there will be a list of statements which are “true” about female characters. “This is how you write REAL women” they tell you, nodding sagely.

And all the while, they speak of women as one monolithic group, with which they have had naught but fleeting contact.

Here’s the thing: If you have to break from your typical mold for creating characters to create a character who is also a woman, you’re probably not off to the greatest of starts. If you need advice about writing women, and you’re reading posts about how dudes write women, you’re not helping the situation.

I wish that every time one of these people is tempted to write about how they write a certain demographic to which they do not belong, they instead refer to the work of people who are in that demographic. I would never write an essay on how to write persons of color, or disabled people, gay people, or trans people, because I am not of those demographics, and I would rather hear their better-educated opinions on the matter.

But as a woman, I might have something worthwhile to say on the matter of writing women. So here goes. You want to know how you learn to write women? How to learn about writing female characters, and have women in your stories, both as secondary and as primary characters? To write authentically, to capture a real, honest experience of a woman’s life in your fiction? All it takes is two simple things:

One: Read stories about women, by women; both fiction and non-fiction.

Two: When women say something, listen to them.

And while I’m not about to go off about how to write other demographics of which I am not a member, I suspect you can replace “women” with any other group of people you do not identify as, and these two steps should carry you pretty far.

And in the process, you can elevate the people whose work you are reading, by sharing their writings, and encouraging others to buy their work. Because just as we need more diversity in the stories we are reading, we need more in the writers we are reading.

Basically, I’m tired of “How to Write Women” posts written by dudes who are looking for their feminist cookie. No. You don’t get a fucking cookie. You’re not helping. In fact, you’re making it worse. So knock it off.

One thought on “On Writing “On Writing Women”

  1. Ace says:

    Good post. Thanks for the advice. I may need to revisit my writing…

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