On Writing the Female Protagonist

In the course of my writing “career” (such as it is), I’ve run across quite a few male writers who’ve told me that they have a lot of trouble writing female protagonists, and it was something they had to actively work on. I always found this fascinating because though my short stories are often female POV (though not always), my novels always have mixed POVs, men and women, and I never gave it a second thought.

One of my most exciting character POVs in book 2 of the fantasy saga is the POV of a rational misogynist, a guy who really does believe women are infantile and inferior; and the trick has been to make him interesting if not sympathetic and have him carry a POV instead of just being a spear-carrier. I’m having lots of fun with it. And I don’t find it terribly tricky. I know really great guys who are closet misogynists and can rationalize those feelings from here until Sunday. So it’s not like I don’t have examples to draw from.

So what’s up with the male writer fear of writing up female protagonists? Or is it only strong female protagonists that are scary?

I dunno. I set down my free copy of Hickman’s “Mystic Warriors” when the protagonist’s wife “purred” at him on page four (this was the fourth time she’d done something stupid like that in as many pages). I don’t know how many male writers’ SO’s “purr” at them, but my guess is: not many. So I don’t know where this guy’s ideas about all that came from. Maybe he thought it made for a more exciting opening scene.

Maybe this has to do with the old, “We’re all used to reading books about men,” thing. You know, the old saying that boys and girls will read books about boys, but only girls will read books about girls, because reading books about girls is “Girly.” Being a woman, I have no trouble writing about women, and reading a lot of books with male protagonists, having male friends, and generally moving in male-dominated circles fills in the other half, so I have no trouble writing about men. I listen to and talk to men all the time.

But I just don’t buy that men don’t hang out with women. I mean, don’t men have female friends besides their SOs? Don’t they read books with female protagonists?

Then what’s so difficult about getting into the female POV without it all coming out like Heinlein’s robotic-sounding Friday or any of his other cardboard female characters? I mean, women are just people. What’s so tough about writing about people?

I don’t think you have to have an intimate knowledge of cramps, tampons, and hair products in order to write good female characters.

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