Male writers sometimes portray women as unstable, crazy calculating women with either little internal conflict or too much. That’s the best they can do to understand how the female psyche works.
Didn’t Jack Nicholson (As Good As It Gets) once said after someone asked him, “'How do you write women so well?' and he said, 'I think of a man and I take away the reason and the accountability.'"” 1.
Women are a whirlpool of emotions and feelings. They make everything complicated and they think they can read into people. And their imagination gets them into trouble. That’s what the regular female looks like in traditional literature. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert is a good example of this woman type successfully written by a man.
Even though you are female and do not recognize yourself in this description, well, there is scientific evidence that men and women do not think the same way.
“In 2001, researchers from Harvard found that certain parts of the brain were differently sized in males and females, which may help balance out the overall size difference. The study found that parts of the frontal lobe, responsible for problem-solving and decision-making, and the limbic cortex, responsible for regulating emotions, were larger in women. In men, the parietal cortex, which is involved in space perception, and the amygdala, which regulates sexual and social behavior, were larger.
Men also have approximately 6.5 times more gray matter in the brain than women, but before the heads of all the men out there start to swell, listen to this: Women have about 10 times more white matter than men do. This difference may account for differences in how men and women think. Men seem to think with their gray matter, which is full of active neurons. Women think with the white matter, which consists more of connections between the neurons. In this way, a woman's brain is a bit more complicated in setup, but those connections may allow a woman's brain to work faster than a man's.”
“In one study, men and women were asked to sound out different words. Men relied on just one small area on the left side of the brain to complete the task, while the majority of women used areas in both sides of the brain.”
“Depression and chronic anxiety are diagnosed far more often in women; this may have to do with differences in the chemical composition of the brain, as one study has shown that women produce only about half as much serotonin (a neurotransmitter linked to depression) as men and have fewer transporters to recycle it.” 2
Two things are certain: women, whoever they are, are more emotional than men and they work different parts of their brains while thinking (contrary to men).
I think the comment below sums it all:
“In my experience, men are linear thinkers – one thing at a time and in straight lines of logic and angles. Most want to deal with HOW.
Women think in circles and all the circles are connected and contain relationships and emotions. Most want to deal with WHY.” 3
- Women get emotional about things they care about. At a match, she won’t say “This player has a good technique” or “X scored 2 to 1, we win!” but she will say “I love his T-shirt” or “He’s very cute. Who is he married to?”
A woman asks WHY rather than HOW as in “Why did you get into this problem in the first place?” instead of “How are you going to get out of this problem?” She needs to figure out what happened before she can think of a solution. That’s why a woman is usually more understanding than a man. A man needs to get out of the situation first, then may think about it afterward.
- Women vent instead of fixing, at least at first. If a woman talks about a problem with another woman, she expects compassion or just a lending ear and then she will work out the problem on her own. When she speaks to a male, he tends to give her fixes and gets into his problem-solving mode, which exasperates a woman.
- Women think in terms of socialization, of a group. A woman would rather say “us” or “we” instead of “I” and “my.” A man will reluctantly ask for directions while a woman does not hesitate. A man sees himself alone facing all the problems while a woman includes others as part of her problem. She needs encouragement, someone to tell her she is on the right path, but she is not looking for someone to fix the problem for her. That’s why presenting a strong female protagonist who is finally saved by a man is just wrong.
- Women have powerful reasons to do what they do. Many male writers would depict a female protagonist doing crazy things just for the feel of it. No way! Women are not illogical, but their reasons may have to be hacked from deep inside. There are always layers underneath women’s motives. Most reasons are emotional. A woman will choose a car for its safety and comfort while a man will choose a car because of its horsepower and gas consumption. A man will choose a girlfriend because she is amazing, but a woman will choose a man because he makes her feel good about herself.
- Women do not see violence as violence or something that hurts and goes away; they see violence as something that stirs painful emotions and has repercussions on these emotions. A woman will not punch someone to get even; she will get back at a person when this person expects it the least. That’s why many women are known to gossip and backbite. Think Pride and Prejudice. A woman will call security instead of facing this person directly. A man would prefer a woman to state her views openly and honestly in a constructive manner without being hostile, but a woman is usually so emotional, she cannot control the flow of her emotions when she speaks directly and openly. That’s why many females have gained the reputation of being crazy or unreasonable. Straight forward means neutrally stating facts (that’s what men want), but being confrontational involves emotion and accusation (that’s what women often do).
- A woman does not confuse sex and romance. A woman’s love is linked to the way a man makes her feel, how he appreciates her, how much he cares. If a woman opens her door to a man, he will walk through it and get to work. If a man opens his door to a woman, she will first visit the garden. That’s also why a woman needs foreplay. She will try to manipulate a man to give her what she needs. That’s why females have gained the reputation of messing around with men’s heads.
- Women get closer to their friends by talking and exchanging information about everything. They need a confidant. Women cannot operate on their own because they relax by talking and socializing, as opposed to men who relax by having sex or punching something. That’s why many women think men are jerks and many men think women are a bore and block them out.
- Women are very sensitive. They are feeling insecure about their looks and always need the reassurance that they look young or look great. They are worried about their appearance and how people perceive them. They can’t brush off a comment or a negative look the way men do. And they spend hours taking care of themselves.
I think I gave enough clues to write a decent woman’s character. You can pick and chose a few of these characteristics and write a believable female protagonist.
Of course, it is wrong to put all females in the same bag and all males in the same bag. Some people have their male sides stronger. For others, their female side is dominant. I imagine a female cop or a female in the army would feel uncomfortable talking about her emotions or wearing dresses because she is surrounded by men and other rules apply. I am reading Vampire Academy, and I can say I would never confuse Rose Hathaway for a man. She is a bad ass female who is never shown taking care of herself of doubting her powers of seduction. She is not whiny and can take it, a lot of it. Even though she acts like other male guardians (her world is mostly surrounded by males), she still refuses to let reason being the stronger and she has powerful internal conflicts. These internal conflicts shows her weak inside and prone to strong emotions. She is often overwhelmed by the power of her emotions and would rather fight back and yell accusations than take it and think before she acts. That is what convinces me she is a female character even if she has a strong male side.
How did I write my main female character?
Thalia does not like backbiting or gossiping, but she definitely wants to take her revenge on the writer who discarded her. She dreams of kicking her foot up his nose. Her emotional conflict is turned into an internal rage and a desire for revenge. But she keeps her anger on the back burner. She exposes herself and her feelings openly, even when these feelings can be turned against her. She doubts herself too. She makes the fairy Zeda her buddy because she needs the presence of another female around her. When she meets the fairy for the first time, and Zeda singes her, all she can think about is how pretty the little fairy is. She takes everything personally. Her imagination either plays tricks on her or saves her. But she is very well aware of the community around her and cares for every one.
1. “The Mixed Results of Male Authors Writing Female Characters” by Michele Willens. March, 2013.
2. Do men and women have different brains? By Molly Edmonds.
3.“Writing from a woman’s point of view” by David Farland. http://www.thepassivevoice.com/06/2011/writing-from-a-womans-point-of-view/