by Nobilis Reed
It happens every so often. Some author somewhere will get called out for not including substantial female characters in their novels. It also happens with creators of comics, TV and movies. If there are women in the story, they fall into a few roles that generally don’t leave them much room for agency; the princess that needs to be rescued or the girlfriend who gets “fridged” in order to provide the hero with motivation. This sort of writing is the primary reason for the Bechdel Test. And too often, the author accused will respond with something like “Oh, I couldn’t presume to write deeply about female characters. I don’t understand them well enough.”
I have no doubt that this is utter bullshit.
I’ve been writing stories with well-developed female characters since the beginning. It never occurred to me that women might be mysterious creatures, beyond my capacity to understand or empathize with. They were always just people. People who may or may not have the same background, expectations, drives, desires, and ways of thinking as I do, but then most of my other characters don’t have the same thoughts and feelings either. I’ve never felt that my imagination and empathy were not up to the task.
Maybe I’m just a genius?
Maybe I’m this paragon of perspicacity, peering past the veils that obscure the feminine soul, teasing out Secrets Man Was Not Meant to Know. Maybe I’m a mutant, bitten by a radioactive woman, with amazing mental powers that I can call upon in times of crisis. Or maybe I’m actually trans, unbeknownst to my generally-male sense of identity up to this point, and my body is inhabited by a female mind.
Or maybe, just maybe, the whole idea that women, as a gender, are more complicated than any man can hope to understand is bullshit. Maybe it’s a pillar of sexism that gives men an easy out, an excuse for failing to empathize, for brushing off their failures to treat women like human beings. Maybe it’s a pass men give themselves to avoid having to examine their own thoughts and feelings about women deeply.
Because here’s the truth, which some may find disturbingly radical: Women are human beings. And as human beings, their thoughts, feelings, drives and ambitions are not that different from anyone else’s. An author with the capacity to write a character who isn’t one hundred percent identical to themselves must, therefore, have the capacity to write someone of a different gender. In fact, it’s easier to write deeply about someone of a different gender who shares the author’s basic cultural background than it is to write about someone from a radically different background. After all, dear male writers, women are all around you. All you have to do is watch, listen, pay attention. Just as you would with anyone else.
And here’s your story idea for the month, fresh from Poughkeepsie: A character arrives in your city from an alternate universe where there’s no sexism.