Dave's Corner of the Universe

Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide

Can a Man Write a Good Female Character?

can a man

 

Last week due to other people’s work schedules and illness, Uncle Dave was in charge of homing schooling my niece Mona. That meant Dr. Who episodes for science class ice cream with lunch and the writing assignment was a book report on the comic book Lumber Janes. Math was only a fifteen minute exercises on the computer but literature was an hour discussion on in media res, character, and setting.

 

We talked about whether or not gender was important in a story? I asked her if the Harry Potter stories would have been different if the main character was Herminie and not Harry? What if Star Wars had been Leia’s Story not Luke’s? Her answers where thoughtful and concise for a nine year old.

 

It also got me thinking about female characters. I do not consider myself a feminist, nor do I consider myself an anti-feminist. I consider myself a humanist. All humans should be judged on their own merits. The same way I consider myself a characterist, all characters should be judged on their own merits.

 

As a reader and watcher of visual media I really like female characters. This trend continues into my own writing. The nature of visual media (Movies, TV, and comics) means that many of the protagonist both male and female have to be good looking, I get that. But it has become that we define a female character mainly by her appearance.

 

Now Marvel announced a few days ago that they weren’t going to do a solo Black Widow movie and on the DC side a Wonder Woman movie is in development hell. (Personally I think a Wonder Woman movie is a good thing in theory, I would want to see the scrip first) David Hayter (Writer of the First two X-men movies, and the Metal Gear video games), even wrote a Black Widow script before Iron Man came out. The reason that Marvel is giving for us not seeing BW kicking but by herself is the failure of some big time female standalone movies which tanked at the box office.

Homecomming 3

Teh things they say about her.

 

The examples that are often thrown around of failed female action movies are Blood Rayne, Aeon Fluxx, and Ultra Violet I will even throw in the Hallie Berry Cat Woman movie into that mix. But let’s look at these movies. All of them had bigger problems than the fact they had female leads. Aeon Fluxx cartoon = brilliant, movie = poorly written and stupid. Ultra Violet, I loved that movie but the editing was so clunky that I have to buy the novelization to fill in some of the gaps. Blood Rayne, two words Uwe Boll. And Cat Woman. “Hey Hallie it’s the academy, after seeing the Cat Woman movie can uh…would you mind giving your award back?” These movies didn’t tank because the main characters were a female. They failed because they were bad movies.

 

I get that Hollywood is a business, and money is the bottom line. But let’s look at some action flicks with chicks in the lead that made money. Kill Bill 1 & 2, Aliens, the Tomb Raiders, Lucy, even Salt which really didn’t do as well as was expected but still made almost three hundred million in its worldwide theater run. There is defiantly a market for well written and acted action movies with a female lead.

 

So if you are supposed to write about what you know then the question arises. Can a man ever really write about the female experience? There is that scene As Good as it Gets. when someone asks Jack Nicholson’s character (admittedly a jerk) who he writes female characters so well and eh responds “I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability” Are men that so off the mark they can’t create good female characters?

 

The same question can be justly asked can a white man creative a well written representation of an African American? When are differences so deep we can no longer relate? Now I do agree that no one may completely appreciate what another gender or race truly goes through, it doesn’t mean that we cannot portray people different from us in a realistic and interesting manner. Writers do this anytime they write about people from a different historical period.

So let’s look at three well written female chachters made by men.

 

One of my favorite comic book characters ever is Marshall Carrie Stetko from Whiteout and Whiteout II: Melt. Author Greg Rucka is well known for his strong and multi-dimnsional characters such as the marshal, super spy Tara Chace, Portland detective Dex Parios, and Athena Bell, the main character’s deaf teenaged daughter in Alpha and Beta.

 

Tasked to solve the first murder on Antarctica, Stetko has to report to her boss an incompetent, living in Hawaii, who benefited from her tragedy. She has to prove that she belongs on the ice  just as much as a man. She develops a relationship with the frozen content much like she would with another human being. She isn’t crazy and begins personifying Antarctica, she realizes that a land can have traits of its own as deep as any human.

my name is carrie

The law says she can’t carry a gun, doesn’t on the ice mean she can’t take it away from the bad guy and use it on him.

 

In the 2009 movie Carrie got a Hollywood make over. It is easy to target the movie for taking a strong female character and sucking all the good things out of her. In the 2013 Rose City Comicon writer Greg Rucka said “The only thing the Whiteout CD is good for is using it as a coaster to set your drink on.” I saw the movie with my sister, after I had read the comic and I was telling her how downgraded the character was and she replied. “You know the movie isn’t that bad if you haven’t read the original.” And she was right.

white out

Trying to make your movie poster look like the comic book doesn’t count.

 

Freckled stocky Carrie gets played by super attractive Katie Beckinsale. OK it is a movie, so I get that. But in the comic book she loses index and pointer finger on her right hand, in the movie it is the pinky and ring finger of her left hand. That may not seem like much but it went form the two most used fingers to the least used one. A possible career ending injury is made a mere flesh wound. Yes she is still on the case without the fingers, but it is less an obsticle for her to over come.  Also in the book she is not allowed to carry a fire arm in Antarctica, by international treaty.  So there is a logical reason why she retreats from an attacker with an ice axe. In the movie she has a service weapon, so   the movie version she justs freaks out and runs away even though the scene before has made it clear she is armed with a gun. This is a classic example of Hollywood downgrading a female character.

 

You know writing that made me mad, maybe I am glad Hollywood hasn’t done a female superhero movie.

 

Ellen Ripley is a pioneering female science fiction action hero. The characters for Alien where written to be played by either sex. In fact Ripley was envisioned as a man right up till the finial script for shooting was selected. Tom Skeritt was originally hired as Ripley and when the character was re-envisioned as female, he was given the part of Captain Dallas. We really don’t see overtly feminine traits in her until the second movie and her maternal instincts over Newt kick in.

Ellen ripley

Ripley was written with no gender in mind.

 

Is that a bad thing? No. A character in a movie is a hybrid created between the writer and actor play him/her. Sigourney Weaver brings more than just her female anatomy to the part. She has a life time of experience as woman and Weaver subtly brings this to the screen. The fact that there is a degree of equality between the sexes, women are space ship officers and combat troops gives the actress more to work with than less.

Buffy

Buffy Summers opening doors for women since nineteen ninety something.

 

Joss Whedon says that Buffy Summers was an inversion of the cliched trope “the little blonde girl who goes into a dark alley and gets killed in every horror film.” The victim becomes the heroine. Buffy is distinct from Abraham Van Helsing because of her age and gender. She goes through all a normal girl does plus zombies, vampires and whatever the plural of Apocalypse are.

 

In her case the concept of I slept with my boyfriend and now he acts like he is a monster is a real thing. All the worse cases of school become real. Though written by a man, the character approaches things form a female perspective. Let’s face it Bobby the vampire slayer wouldn’t have last seven seasons.

 

The truth is most of what we watch and a lot of what we read is written by men. Less than a decade before, but still the majority is written with someone with a XY chromosome pattern. Women are spending more money on sci-fi and action based entertainment than they have in the past. So I think that will change someday. My hope from Hollywood is not only better female characters but better characters in general.

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44 comments on “Can a Man Write a Good Female Character?

  1. scody2012
    September 29, 2014

    Watch my favorite independent film, Dakota Skye (2008). Dakota (Eileen Boylan) is an amazing female character who was written by a guy (Chad J Schonk). The film is a fanboy’s idea of a romantic comedy. I find it very difficult to embrace movies or comics that do NOT have a strong female lead. http://myheartexplodes.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/truth-lies-whatever/

  2. John Callaghan
    September 29, 2014

    Starbuck from Battlestar Gallactica is probably my favourite female sci-fi character. But, in many ways she was a man in a woman’s body so if she was less masculine and more feminine would I have liked her as much? I’m not sure.

    • davekheath
      September 29, 2014

      Good point and in fact I was going to use her in my discussion since she wa written as a man first, but I didn’t think I knew the new BSG well enough to do her justice.

      • John Callaghan
        September 29, 2014

        I am old enough to have seen Starbuck as a man in the original series (now I’m depressed) and of course the new and improved Starbuck is almost unrecognizable she is so much better. The most recent BSG is by far my favourite sci-fi series. I’ll stop gushing and squeeking now.

  3. theopeningsentence
    September 29, 2014

    Hollywood uses bad films as an excuse to cover their own short sightedness when it comes to casting. It’s not just female leads it’s female characters in general; in any film women seem to be outnumbered by ten to one.

    Maybe they should look across the pond at Scandinavian television with its female leads, or even The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo to see what happens when script writing is done properly.

    Hollywood execs are just bone idle and unimaginative.

    Chris

    • davekheath
      September 29, 2014

      Sure their are some foreign duds, but more and more foreign movies I see the more I see movies done right.

  4. superduperawesomeguy
    September 29, 2014

    I’ve always thought of it as once they plan on having a female lead then it falls downhill as they then focus too much on the gender and not enough on the character. Does that make sense?

    • davekheath
      September 29, 2014

      It does they focus on stereotypes s to oppose what makes her human.

  5. Stuff Jeff Reads
    September 29, 2014

    Bummed about Black Widow. Guess Marvel is sinking their money into the next five Guardians film.

    • davekheath
      September 30, 2014

      Well since have written this apparently, Marvel has said, that the reason now is that they got to much on their slate now, but that it will be someday. Lets hope it is when Scarlett Johanson is young enough to play the part.

  6. mbracedefreak
    September 29, 2014

    If you take away the femininity, you are left with a guy. They could probably make a fake female hero with a scarred face but they would still need curves. She-Hulk has to have breasts to counter masculine musculature. “Murder She Wrote,” kasted many shears on TV. Skyfall, the last Bond film used an older lady through much of the film. Could they make an Agatha Harkness (Fantastic Four) movie? Sure.

    • davekheath
      September 30, 2014

      I never thought about that or maybe even Destiny. Or lets see a pre-52 Amanda Waller. like she was in Bat Man Beyond.. If someone could make a super hero movie about a black overweight, postmenopausal woman who was tough as nails and smarter than the Joker and could beat Lex Luthor in his own game I would watch it over and over.

  7. Loki
    September 30, 2014

    Of course more female writers can only be a good thing, but that said, I’m with the many people who’ve pointed out things along the lines of that surely, the differences between man and woman aren’t particularly bigger than the difference between a modern middle-aged writer and a twelve-year-old slave child warrior who escaped his masters and lives in the jungle, talking to a species of sentient trees. And nobody asks whether one can write that, which is far more fantastic and out there than simply having different genitalia. I mean, if you can’t imagine a character who fundamentally somehow has a different life experience from yourself, you can’t really write anything but an autobiography anyway.

    Also, your post reminded me of this: https://upworthy-production.s3.amazonaws.com/nugget/51e877384449a4e10400025d/attachments/George_RR.jpg

    • davekheath
      September 30, 2014

      Great link. You know when I wrote this I was thinking that the key to writing a good female character wold be sensitivity. And that is true, but they to making a great character of any gender is and always will be creativity.

      • Loki
        September 30, 2014

        I think sensitivity is important for any character, though, so don’t disregard that. If you can’t empathize with a character, it must be nearly impossible to write them convincingly, regardless of ethnicity, creed and gender.

      • davekheath
        September 30, 2014

        True to me it is very hard to write a truly unsympathetic charterer on purpose.

      • Loki
        September 30, 2014

        Then you are a better person than I! 😀

        😉

  8. Pingback: Can a Man Write a Good Female Character? |

  9. JImbo
    September 30, 2014

    I think we often focus too much on gender in characters. Yes we are different but we are much more the same. There is more difference in culture than there are in genders (often a strong shaper of gender identities.) There are even more commonalities in human kind. A good character is a good character (quality not morality.) I approach them not as “okay this is a female teen character so she should do this…” Instead it is more specific to the character individually. “Given what she has been through up to this point, what would Michelle do?”

    Great discussion topic 🙂

    • davekheath
      September 30, 2014

      Defiantly gender s just the to[ of the iceberg. It is what underneath that counts.

    • Loki
      September 30, 2014

      This is basically exactly what I think. Gender is only particularly important insofar it colours the “what she has through up to this point” bit. So in some contexts, very, in others, not at all.

  10. JImbo
    September 30, 2014

    Reblogged this on The Readneck Review Blog and commented:
    I know a lot of you are writers out there and all are readers (unless you just come for the pretty pictures.) Dave over at “Dave’s Corner of the Universe” asks if authors can write outside their experience. (Ex. Can a man write a good character?)
    I can see both sides of it.
    Yes you can tell when people get out of their depth and talk on things they have no clue about. Sometimes they shoe horn too much into a character. I still refuse to believe a goblin would have a huge English vocabulary living in a cave.

    Tgen again, no sci Fi author has been to space or time travelled that we know of. So, how can they write about that? Tom Clancy has no military background but he does excellent in depth background work before he writes his military techno thrillers.

    What do you think? Writers and readers.. Does it matter if the author is or isn’t the same race,sex,age,etc as the characters? Is it a big problem? Or more an issue of writer quality?

  11. aaforringer
    October 1, 2014

    No discussion on Sarah Conner from the Terminator series, she had a good character arc from someone who needs rescuing to a bad ass in her own right, also written by men.

    A good Black Widow movie would be Scarlett a little bit order and fighting a younger girl who wants to claim the title of Black Widow. I think that was even in the comics for a while.

    • davekheath
      October 1, 2014

      So many good female characters so little time.

      And I like Yelena as black Widow more than I Like Natasha.

  12. ~Felicia~
    October 1, 2014

    Yes…. He can.

  13. Khushii
    October 1, 2014

    I personally feel that men do write awesome female characters. I have always loved the protagonist of Sydney Sheldon.

    • davekheath
      October 1, 2014

      Thank you for commenting. I think we all have our favorites. Personally I like the strong yet sometimes flawed females of Greg Rucka. .

      • Khushii
        October 9, 2014

        Haven’t read Greg so can’t say. But thanks for introducing. I’ll definitely read him.

      • davekheath
        October 9, 2014

        He both very good novels and comic books.

  14. Patrick Jones
    October 7, 2014

    Great post! Sigourney Weaver is my favorite!

    • davekheath
      October 8, 2014

      Thank you the more I watch her performances the more a nd more I see how much she brings to the screen

  15. gipsiewonderer
    October 9, 2014

    does this work the other way around?

    • davekheath
      October 9, 2014

      Absolutely. Sometimes I am still shocked when woman chooses to make her protagonist male. Why because I am myopic like that. But if it is a well written chrchter then the surprise wears off in a few pages and I am caught up in the charterer and the story.

  16. Nicholas Rogers
    October 10, 2014

    You should read The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle. How he managed it I’ll never know. He gets in the mind of an violently abused wife. A brilliant read.

  17. Susan Canavarro
    October 22, 2014

    Read
    Gabriella and the Widow by Jack Remick.
    It is an intriguing story about two women.

    • davekheath
      October 22, 2014

      I will need to check them out.

      • Susan Canavarro
        October 22, 2014

        It’s the title of one book. Remick is good writer.

  18. Chelly Wood
    October 22, 2014

    You wrote: Are men that so off the mark they can’t create good female characters?

    Sometimes I wonder this too. Men really don’t understand how the female mind works. No wonder we have so many misunderstandings in our everyday lives. For example (and this really has little to do with writing or characterization), my teenage daughters asked me to explain what Freud’s “penis envy” was all about. They’d heard the term on a TV show or movie or something. When I explained it without offering any criticism or opinions, their natural reaction was to laugh hysterically.

    My oldest daughter said, “Why would a guy even think that? It’s so ridiculous!”

    I have a similar reaction to Jack Nicholson’s character’s response to writing about women. If women lack reason and accountability, then why do so many world leaders credit their wives for helping them rise to power? Hillary Clinton wasn’t sharing cigars with interns. She was the one trying to keep the boat afloat while Bill did his dirty deeds, Cuban style.

    • davekheath
      October 22, 2014

      Thanks for your comments. I do think there are some good female characters out there by men. But nothing turns me off s story there than a female character that it is obvious the writer gave no real thought about, and is only there for the male character to have sex with.

  19. Very Bangled
    January 23, 2015

    I love this post. I’m trying to decide if I should be the asshole who points out that yeah, you are a feminist 🙂 be proud of it! People sometimes misunderstand feminism and think it means women should be better than men but no, the definition is belief that men and women should be equal. It sounds like you are down with that.

    Also I love that you brought up this entire topic with your niece.

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