Writing the Opposite Gender

Gender! The great divide of humanity, or something like that.

Writing for the opposite gender has long been an issue for many writers. The Atlantic posted a story a while back exploring male authors and how they sometimes successfully write women, but not always, nor often if we’re talking about pre-modern literature.

So what makes it so difficult?

In this writer’s humble opinion, the reason so many find it so difficult to write for the opposite gender is because they’re forgetting one very basic thing: gender is a social construct. Our sex, or the genitals we are born with, have absolutely no baring on what gender we associate with (beyond social expectations that we will associate with a gender due to our genitals) nor on many of our social preferences.

I took this lovely Playbuzz quiz on what gender your brain is, and this was my result:

Well, shoot.
Well, shoot.

So despite being born with my boobs and female genitalia, as well as my preference for men, according to the socially constructed theory of gender and a scientifical quiz-writer at Playbuzz, I’m more dude-like than woman-like. And what questions did Playbuzz ask to come up with this division?

Oh, right. My desire to lead, not have kids, ability to do math and want of a career make me a totally terrible woman.
Oh, right. My desire to lead, not have kids, ability to do math and independent nature make me a totally terrible woman.

While this quiz is obviously biased and trenched in social stigmas that are long outdated when it comes to how we classify gender and gender roles, The Atlantic article seems to have similar social biases when it comes to talking about how writers sometimes successfully write for the opposite gender:

“By default, women have it easier than men when they attempt to craft characters of the opposite sex,” says novelist Sally Koslow (The Late Lamented Molly Marx), “because our whole lives we’ve been reading vast amounts of literature written by men.”

While this is a fair point that highlights the male-dominated world of literature, it makes an unfair assumption that women are better at writing for gender than men are. The article does point out Anna Karenina by Tolstoy is a phenomenally written female character by a male author, but notes that “Tolstoy’s classic was written a long time ago,” as if modern men have more of an issue when it comes to creating female characters.

This misunderstanding of gender in writing isn’t limited to the world of books. Movies and television often fall victim to the same assumptions – that there’s something mystical and different about the other gender that has to be captured to get their essence right on the page.

Kaitlin Olsen, also known as Dee on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, one of the longest running comedy shows on television, has had issues with the way her character was written for in the past:

Olson only took the role after many conversations with McElhenney about how the character of Dee would be shaped. “He was like, ‘Look, we just don’t know how to write for a woman, but we’ll figure it out,’” Olson says. “And I was like, ‘Well then, don’t write for a woman. Just write — look at all these great funny characters you wrote. Just write one of those” (Buzzfeed).

It’s true that there are some human experiences we all share, and some sex-specific experiences we may never get to experience first hand – like a physical male giving birth, or a physical female getting kicked in the testicles, but all genders and sexes understand base human experiences – like joy, happiness, pain, love, lust, anger, jealousy, and so much more. Instead of trying to find that certain mannerism men have when they stand up to piss, maybe we, as writers, should focus on our shared human experiences to create characters rather than trying to find out what makes us all different, especially when those differences are based on socially constructed theories that many don’t ascribe to anymore.

Foremost, remember, we’re all human. Gender is a social construct and gender roles, or playing into them when it comes to your writing, can lead to flat, 2D characters that aren’t entertaining to read or get to know. So if you’re a guy writing a girl remember: girls want the same things as you. And if you’re a girl writing a guy: same damn thing.

My advise to you is to create a person that’s interested to read and fits with your story and not to let socially constructed theories like gender muddle up the mix.



    “While this is a fair point that highlights the male-dominated world of literature, it makes an unfair assumption that women are better at writing for gender than men are. ”

    I don’t know if I necessarily agree with this point. I think it would make sense that women would have an easier time reading a book and relating to a male character because women on average spend more time reading books and watching shows/movies about men by men. They have experience with well-rounded male characters , in other words. Whereas, with men, there’s this stigma that books written by women are for women and books with a female lead are also only for women. That’s why J.K. Rowling published under the name “J. K” instead of her birth name. Her publishers realized she’d sell more books if male readers thought that she was a man.

    Overall, I agree with you though, and I thought this was a really good and thought-provoking blog post.

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    Thank you! And I do agree with you – women do have more exposure to male points of views, but I don’t think that makes it harder for men to write from a female perspective. It was slightly implied by the other article and I don’t think that’s true.


      I agree. I don’t think they naturally just can’t write female characters. I just think it’s an environmental thing. They could totally write female characters. It really starts by reading books with female characters.

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