I had a woman writing prof in college who claimed women couldn’t write convincingly about male characters, but men could create female characters quite well. (Think Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina.) Since that time I’ve searched book after book with memorable characters to see if that holds true.
I’ve some resentment toward men who presume to write strong, full, sensitive ladies. Shouldn’t women be writing about women? Opportunities for women writers are limited enough as is. We’ve a harder time getting published, our incomes are less, we receive less critical acclaim. Men make up only about 35 percent of fiction readership. Despite 80 percent of sales being romances, primarily written by and about women, and most readers being female, our interests are relegated to lower importance than men’s.
So why on earth should women read a male author pretending to be a woman?
Because he’s good, damn good. I recently finish Nick Hornby’s Funny Girl. Marvelous. Perhaps best known for About a Boy, successfully translated into film, Hornby often gets mislabeled as “lad lit” or facile. These denigrations ignore his skills. His style flows with nary a hitch, allowing him to convey complex themes and concepts as tastefully as swallowing a spoonful of honey.
Then, of course, there are his female characters. In his newest book, the personas are predominantly men. But you can’t get a more appealing, thoughtful, humorous heroine than Sophie, who shows Hornby’s remarkably close attention to the traits and perspective of women. Meaning she seems to think my thoughts.
So I guess it’s time for me to get over my bias against male authors writing about females. Like any type of discrimination, to prejudge a group limits our own knowledge and enjoyment.
“When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.” British author Ian McEwan