Monday, March 14, 2011

Writing Males and Females

As someone who is very interested in cultural anthropology along the lines of gender, this is one question that has baffled me for a while. Why do writers constantly ask how to write X versus Y gender? Are we really so different? *Note: my entire argument comes from arguments in my anthropology class.

Cultural anthropology would say, no, we are not that different because our perceptions of gender are entirely culturally conditioned. Think boys aren't as introspective as girls? Think again. Boys aren't culturally encouraged to be introspective, whereas girls are culturally encouraged to be introspective. Sure, there are differences between boys and girls at a young age, but the mental differences are small and eventually close entirely after a few years. Since I write primarily YA, I will talk about boys and girls of the YA genre.

Looking back upon my high school and middle school years, I realize a lot of the differences between boys and girls are cultural and not biological. Boys in middle school and high school aren't any more sexual than girls (and the alarming teen pregnancy rate is proving this). Boys, however, are encouraged to be more openly sexual than girls, which is where the confusion lies. But if you remove the social stigma, girls can be just as "perverted" as boys. Back in middle school (same with high school), I was the girl who absolutely abhorred boys for thinking and talking the way they did about other girls. But what I realize now is I was repressing feelings boys were openly allowed to show. If I hadn't repressed those feelings, I would have been just as bad as the boys. Girls are taught to repress their sexual urges, while boys are practically encouraged to do so. Culturally, I believe this is somewhat changing, but I still see this in YA books. Why?

I tend to relate to male characters in YA books more because they are more realistically human than the girls are (there are a few YA books with real human girls, like Gemma Doyle and the like, but they are the exceptions to what I'm describing). Girls have sexual urges just as much as boys. Girls in real life also give vulgar descriptions of boy parts just as much as boys in YA books give vulgar descriptions of girl parts (see Eric Devine's Rooted in Lies in The Corner Club Press issue 1 coming out March 15th for some proof), yet this is not being reflected in YA, and it greatly upsets me. Sure, I'm writing a book with a female character, but she's also a 19th century girl and does not use contemporary slang to describe male parts, just as 19th century males did not use contemporary slang to describe female parts. In many YA books I've read with females, the girls describe hot guys in very romantic notions, the authors completely forgetting that real-life girls do use vulgar descriptions to describe pecs, butts, and, um, shall we say, packages? And maybe this is why I prefer books with males going after females instead of females going after males, because the latter is too romantic and not human enough. I could argue on and on and on about culture conditioning, but that would completely skirt the main argument I'm trying to make.

People, these differences between genders are culturally conditioned. I get upset every time a writer asks how to write a particular gender, because males and females do not psychologically think that different from each other. Any differences between us our by-products of culture, and I think we as writers should really start breaking that. There are many males with stereotypical female traits, just as there are females with stereotypical male traits--and they're not necessarily homosexuals. If you want to write a female character with an abrasive manner, go ahead. Masculine and feminine traits (excluding biological differences, which don't encourage how males and females think) are purely cultural and not at all biological.

So now this goes into the next question? Why worry about gender at all? Well, you can't deny that males and females experience different things, but we experience different things because of culture. Culture says males are this and females are that, and so of course things are going to be different. So our thoughts might be a little different as well, but not due to anything biological. If we really want to close the gender gap, I think we should start with YA books and show that males and females don't really think that differently. We should also show that, yes, these characters think the same things, but culture either encourages or represses these thoughts. Take Gemma, for example. She is every bit as human as me. She's strong, she's naughty, she's unrestrained. She also has a steamy sexual encounter in a dream akin to how boys view females on a daily basis. The difference between how a boy would handle it? That boy wouldn't be ashamed, but because Gemma is female, she is ashamed, but something tells her she shouldn't be.

So don't concentrate on writing a male or a female character. Concentrate on writing a human being who just so happens to be X or Y gender. In fact, I would argue if someone were to write me as a character, many people would mistake me as a guy (if my character weren't physically described) because, while I do enjoy stereotypically female things, my manner is very abrasive and unapologetic (manners I see typically associated with male characters in YA more than female characters).

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