Characters: Writing The Opposite Gender

I was a psychology major in college and have always had an interest in the subject, so when I see friends post articles involving explanations of behavior (even though most of them are “pop” psychology rather than research based findings) I usually take the time to read them.

Anyway, I found an article this morning on Facebook called Five Ways Modern Men Are Trained To Hate Women. “Uhm, okay…” I thought as I clicked on the link. What I found was a reasoned, example filled article (written by a man). Seemingly sparked by the recent attack on Sandra Fluke who stood up and spoke out in favor of insurance-covered birth control, the article rationalizes, but doesn’t excuse, the online and media lashing Sandra has been subjected to ever since. David Wong, the author of the article, says,

This current of white-hot rage has to come as a surprise to some of you, because we tend to think “sexism” is being dismissive toward women, or paying them lower salaries — we don’t think of it as frenzied “burn the witch!” hatred. Yet occasionally something like this Limbaugh thing will come along to prick that balloon, and out it pours. Like it’s always waiting there, a millimeter below the surface.

The fact that men and women are different should come as no surprise to anyone. Even today boys and girls are raised under different sets of societal norms and expectations, subconscious though they may be. Nurture isn’t the only factor, though. Nature–namely biological urges and hormonal differences–impact behavior just as much as environmental influence. Later in the article David explains,

Science doesn’t seem to totally understand why the “base urges” part of the brain reacts differently in men. Maybe it’s just a matter of having 10 times as much testosterone in their system, or maybe society has trained us to be like this, or maybe we’re all spoiled children. My theory is that evolution needs males who will stay horny even in times of crisis or distress, and thus cuts off the brain’s ability to tamp down those urges. Whatever — nailing down the cause isn’t the point. The point is that a man can be giving the eulogy at his own grandmother’s funeral, and if there is a girl in the front row showing cleavage, he will be imagining himself pressing those boobs in his face, with his own dead grandmother not five feet away.

When that happens, when we get that boner at the funeral, we get mad at the girl showing the cleavage. Because we, ourselves, our own rational personality that knows right from wrong and appropriate from inappropriate, knows this is a bad place to get a boner. So it comes off like cleavage girl is conspiring with our penis to screw us over.

Is that a crazy thing to think? Yep! That’s why it’s so frustrating, especially if you don’t have a whole lot of emotional maturity, and grew up with male role models who had even less.

 And then, later,

Go look at a city skyline. All those skyscrapers? We built those to impress you, too. All those sports you see on TV? All of those guys learned to play purely because in school, playing sports gets you laid. All the music you hear on the radio? All of those guys learned to sing and play guitar because as a teenager, they figured out that absolutely nothing gets women out of their pants faster. It’s the same reason all of the actors got into acting.

All those wars we fight? Sure, at the upper levels, in the halls of political power, they have some complicated reasons for wanting some piece of land or access to some resource. But on the ground? Well, let me ask you this — historically, when an army takes over a city, what happens to the women there?

It’s all about you. All of it. All of civilization.

So where you see a world in which males dominate the boards of the Fortune 500, and own Congress, and sit at the head of all but a handful of the world’s nations, men see themselves as utterly helpless. Because all of those powerful people only became powerful because they heard that women like power.

This is really the heart of it, right here. This is why no amount of male domination will ever be enough, why no level of control or privilege or female submission will ever satisfy us. We can put you under a burqa, we can force you out of the workplace — it won’t matter. You’re still all we think about, and that gives you power over us. And we resent you for it.

Does the article reveal anything that hasn’t at least been hinted at numerous times? Not really. It is, however, well written, humorous, and surprisingly insightful. A guy’s look inside (most, not all, I hope) guy’s heads. 

So, why am I talking about this? Because, as writers, we have to carefully study the opposite gender and try very hard to get inside their heads. This can be difficult because, especially in the case of sex, the experiences are mutually exclusive. With the possible exception of transgender individuals, you will either experience life as a boy or a girl. Most books, however, involve both sexes. How, then, can you make sure you’re writing your opposite gender characters correctly?

Lots and lots of research, observation, and questioning. And even then, you probably won’t get it 100% right.

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