Do men see women differently…

…and is that part of the problem when they write female characters badly?

I’m going to tell you at the start that my answer is “no”. But I think the question had to be asked, after I gave some more thought to the Are We Jeaolus? topic raised the other day.

I got to thinking about how we seem to understand our own gender’s motivations better than the opposite most of the time. It’s classic story: a brother warns his little sister that his friend is bad news, but she dates him anyway and ends up regretting it. A woman tells a male friend that some damsel in distress is really a vixen lying in wait, but he insists she’s just misunderstood. It is something I’ve seen in real life, more than once, so I couldn’t dismiss it.

As I thought this through, the question became: could the male writers who write women so badly just not see the characters as we do? Is it possible they see a tragic heroine where we females see a little girl manufacturing problems to get attention?

Maybe, but I don’t think that’s what’s causing the writing to lean in that direction. I’ve seen male characters presented as tragic heroes, and concluded that regardless of the writer’s intent, what I saw on my screen was a 12-year-old in a man’s body who needed to grow up and face reality. That’s the same response I have to a female character who can’t seem to handle adult living. Clearly, the culprit is bad writing, not a misunderstanding of character. They’re hoping that you’ll fail to notice their lack of writing skills if they give you enough standard cues that signal the character is supposed to be sympathetic.

It takes skill as a writer not to screw this up: I’ve seen action films where the heroic male lead did his best to save a bunch of people, but wasn’t able to. But thanks to the writers overlooking something simple he could have done to save everybody, what ends up on my screen is a guy who seriously missed the clue bus. Suddenly, we have to choose to see the character differently than the writer intended, which will probably ruin the movie, or we have to subjugate our perception to what the writer “meant”.

I think we are harder on writers when they screw up in this manner with female character than when they do it to guys. The reason is obvious: after decades of women’s roles being vixen, mommy, daughter, bimbo, or window dressing, we’re a little oversensitized.

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