Of Angles and Whores

The notion that many men classify women as either angels or whores is nothing new. Any moderately aware adult in our society has experienced this classification in some way, whether or not that moderately aware adult approves of the binary taxonomy existing in the first place. Blogging about the damage done by the angel-whore dichotomy isn't something I'm up for today, and probably isn't something I'm qualified for on any day, so I'll leave that one alone. Instead, I've been thinking about the angle approach to writing female characters.

"How do I write female characters?" is a question oft-asked by men beginning to try to write fiction. "Write female characters as people, just the same as male characters," comes the correct but not always helpful response.

Having engaged in these conversations more than once, I am pretty sure that these men attempting to write female characters are looking for a Grand Unified Theory of Femaleness, a set of rules that, if applied properly, will spit out believable female characters as surely as you can create as many congruent angles as you like with basic principles of geometry. The suggestion to dispense with the search for the Grand Unified Theory of Femaleness and just write a character that is female has the redeeming quality of being true, but it skips the important steps of realizing that actual flesh and blood women are not simply ratios of female stereotypes. The first step for a male writer wanting learn how to write believable female characters is to start relating to the women and girls in his life.

To be fair to the men who ask the question, though, at least they are asking it; there are plenty of men without even that level of reflection and concern on topics of gender. Often these (almost always young) men begin their search for a Grand Unified Theory of Femaleness from a highly gendered background. If a young man has always been around men and boys who view women as either inscrutable creatures or problems to be solved, it's not surprising when the young man sets off on an ill-fated quest for the Grand Unified Theory of Femaleness. There may even be hope for him if he thinks such a quest is worthwhile-- so long as he doesn't pursue it for too long.