Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Great Gender Divide



First let me confess I am a romantic at heart. Hence the reference to what I think of as Georgette Heyer's romances. (Yes, I know these were from Jane Austen movies. I prefer Heyer to Austen because of Heyer's sense of humour).

I'm not a feminist as such more a people-ist.

There is no denying, men and women are different. When my eldest daughter was born I dressed her in blue overalls and gave her cars and trucks to play with. When she turned two, she would wearing nothing but hot pink. Her brother was born with boy-behaviour firmly encoded in his brain. After that I gave up fighting gender preferences.

All this is leading up to how different male and female brains are and how we, as writers, dare to write from the Point of View of the other gender.

Louanne Brizdendine has done a post on Love, sex and the male brain over here. She talks about the male tendency to become territorial:-

'The "defend your turf" area -- dorsal premammillary nucleus -- is larger in the male brain and contains special circuits to detect territorial challenges by other males. And his amygdala, the alarm system for threats, fear and danger is also larger in men. These brain differences make men more alert than women to potential turf threats.'

That comes as no surprise. She also talks about testosterone and what it does to the male brain. She says:-

'if testosterone were beer, a 9-year-old boy would be getting the equivalent of a cup a day. But a 15-year-old would be getting the equivalent of nearly two gallons a day. This fuels their sexual engines and makes it impossible for them to stop thinking about female body parts and sex.'


And then there's this bit that made me smile.

'When his mate becomes pregnant, she'll emit pheromones that will waft into his nostrils, stimulating his brain to make more of a hormone called prolactin. Her pheromones will also cause his testosterone production to drop by 30 percent. These hormonal changes make him more likely to help with the baby. They also change his perceptual circuitry, increasing his ability to hear a baby cry, something many men can't do very well before their wives are pregnant.'

So, if men and women think so differently, how do we dare to write from the other gender's perspective? Well, if there was a Ven diagram men and women would overlap far more than they were diverge.

Can you think of male writers who write females really well and, conversely, can you think of female writers who do really good males?

21 comments:

Ellyll said...

Rob Thurman. I'm a woman, but I grew up with several brothers, and spent most of my adult life in male-dominated sports and profession. She's got it spot-on.

matapam said...

Lois Bujold. Miles Vorkosigan has many of the disadvantages of a woman - small fragile disrespected. But he has the total male attitude in dominance and aggression.

On the Flip side, David Weber wrote Honor Harrison as genetically and gravitationally enhanced, and able to kick male butt. But also over anxious about men and dating, reacting in a very female manner to a sexual assault.

warpcordova said...

I generally tend to stay away from male writers who try to write female leads because they, more often than not, tend to portray the woman in two distinctions: weak and helpless, or strong and butch. Not many male authors seem to be able to strike that balance of delicate yet tremendous inner strength that a lead woman needs to possess to make the story interesting.

C Kelsey said...

From a guys perspective, David Weber and Lois Bujold tend to do pretty well. Carrie Caughn also does reasonably well. LKH has books overflowing when males, but she's never written a man. They're all flat-chested women.

Testosterone is an interesting hormone. Yeah, it's a sex thing, but it also aids in concentration, memory, muscle development, eyesight... It's not just a sex hormone, it's a hunters hormone. That's where a lot of people get it wrong. I've lost count of the number of studies proclaiming that a rise on testosterone equals to an increase in aggression or something like that. In fact, the tasks often require memory or concentration, etc. These could easily account for the increase as well.

Okay, I'll stop talking now. :)

C Kelsey said...

Err, that was supposed to be "Carrie Vaughn". For some reason I can't spell her last name correctly to save my life. I blame werewolves for this injustice.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Ellyll,

In my house the men suffer from Domestic Blindness. They can't see mess. They can't see the shirt I ironed and hung up in their wardrobe.
They think steak and chips means I love them.

And when I make a joke, they pat me on the head and say, 'Clever little Mummy!'.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Matapam,

You are absolutely right. Mile Vorksigan does struggle against all the draw backs that women struggle against. I've always admired the way Lois McMaster Bujold writes.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Warpcordova,


There was a patch a while ago, where some writers were writing these kick-as women who weren't really women at all. Supposedly, it empowered women, but it did the opposite. The characters were just men with breasts.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Chris,

The testosterone thing was funnier in the original post. I should have quoted more.

Like I said, I'm a people-ist. I value everyone for their variety.

C Kelsey said...

Rowena,

Without variety we'd all be boring. That, or we'd be Agent Smith from The Matrix (which would still be boring).

Brendan said...

Rowena, I don't know if the clean room thing is genetic, I have seen a number of teenage girls bedrooms, but I do admit that in general men see different levels of clean to women. It may be part of the women's gathering role in primitive society. They learn early to spot small and unobtrusive indicators that food may be around. Mammoths are easy to spot.

On the Mum jokes, us four kids(two boys, two girls) know Mum is as bright if not brighter than we are, it is just we don't expect jokes from her. It doesn't fit with our perception of reality. Kids tell each other jokes, Dads tells lame jokes(we have the groan prepared before he is finished) but Mums doesn't tell jokes. So when it happens we need to shift gears mentally to appreciate her wit.

Chris McMahon said...

Here's where I have my whinge about Robin Hobb. Her books made sudden sense to me when I simply changed the male names to female.

I'm not all that sure about the gender divide. There is enough variation in personality type to blur the edges of the difference. Besides - are fiction characters all that typical?

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Chris said:

I'm not all that sure about the gender divide. There is enough variation in personality type to blur the edges of the difference. Besides - are fiction characters all that typical?

Good point. I see people, what ever their gender, sitting on a bell curve. You get some really sensitive, perceptive males and you get some females, who ride rough shod over other people's emotions.

With characters in book we have their Point of View so we know things about them, that we'd never know in real life.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Brendan,

I read something on psychology, which said that mothers fill the role of reliability in the family dynamic.

Fathers challenge and test their children. That's where the jokes come in.

Frankly, I think a statement like this reflects where the psychologist is coming from, more than the reality of family life. Which has to be too varied to be lumped into neat little slots of 'how mothers interact with their children' as opposed to 'how fathers interact with their children'.

Kate said...

There's actually two sides to this - and NOT male and female. There's innate gender traits, and cultural gender traits. Absent any cultural influence, there'll be a kind of overlapping bell curve of masculine and feminine traits, with a male set and a female set and a heck of a lot of overlap. Plus of course a lot of the co-related traits aren't necessarily proportional - human females are usually more verbally adept, less visual/spatially skilled, and more tuned to group interaction of the conformity enforcing flavor than human males - whose group interaction tends more towards diversity enhancement competitiveness ("Ugh no care how mammoth killed. Mammoth dead. Big feast.")

The skill groups don't necessarily correlate - that is, a very girly woman can still be very strongly visual/spatial, or a very masculine man can have extremely well developed verbal skills. They don't correlate to preference, either, much as some would like to think.

Cultural patterns overly that in the form of "girls don't" or "men don't" or "ladies don't" etc. In our culture there's a heck of a mixed message going out, which probably has a lot of kids tangled in knots over what's expected of them. Cultures where male and female have distinct and separate roles tend not to have much overlap in male and female traits.

As far as writing goes, the authors most likely to commit men with boobs or women with penises write mostly a particular 'type' - everyone is sensitive, or uber-kick-ass, or sexually insatiable, or made of cardboard.

The authors who write real people usually write real men, women, aliens, talking animals, dragons, and anything else that gets face time in the book.

Stephen Simmons said...

I'm hopelessly miswired to cope with this question, so I just wing it. I'm one of six kids, and had only one sister. She could kick the snot out of any one of us, including the body-building brother (#3) who benched 400+ pounds. The neatest person in the house was brother #4. Brother #2 made the suit he wore to his prom. Etc., etc. ...

I have served with women who could have served as the templates for some of Pournelle's female officers. And the major female characters in any collaboration including Steven Barnes generally come across very solidly, I think. Particularly "Dream Park" and "Legacy of Hierot". Donaldson's female characters also generally "feel" like actual women, too.

Anthony J Langford said...

I do a good female.. lol.. I think I read somewhere once, that a writer shouldnt write for either gender, but from a human perspective. Afterall, there is both in us all, some more than others. I think most good writers will be humanists and have a good understand of people. I think thats all it takes. If you have a strong, individual voice, then it will work. The novel I just finished was written in diary format from a 16yrold girl's point of view.. I think you have to reach inside and remeber what it is like - we've all been 16 and we all have similiar hopes and fears.. plus I have a 15 year old step daughter whose brain i picked to pieces...haha...

Kate said...

Apologies if this comes through twice - I thought I'd posted it, but it's not shown up.

There's actually two sides to this - and NOT male and female. There's innate gender traits, and cultural gender traits. Absent any cultural influence, there'll be a kind of overlapping bell curve of masculine and feminine traits, with a male set and a female set and a heck of a lot of overlap. Plus of course a lot of the co-related traits aren't necessarily proportional - human females are usually more verbally adept, less visual/spatially skilled, and more tuned to group interaction of the conformity enforcing flavor than human males - whose group interaction tends more towards diversity enhancement competitiveness ("Ugh no care how mammoth killed. Mammoth dead. Big feast.")

The skill groups don't necessarily correlate - that is, a very girly woman can still be very strongly visual/spatial, or a very masculine man can have extremely well developed verbal skills. They don't correlate to preference, either, much as some would like to think.

Cultural patterns overly that in the form of "girls don't" or "men don't" or "ladies don't" etc. In our culture there's a heck of a mixed message going out, which probably has a lot of kids tangled in knots over what's expected of them. Cultures where male and female have distinct and separate roles tend not to have much overlap in male and female traits.

As far as writing goes, the authors most likely to commit men with boobs or women with penises write mostly a particular 'type' - everyone is sensitive, or uber-kick-ass, or sexually insatiable, or made of cardboard.

The authors who write real people usually write real men, women, aliens, talking animals, dragons, and anything else that gets face time in the book.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Thanks Kate,

You just sorted everything out!

And i mean that in the nicest possible way.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Stephen,

I know what you mean. My second daughter lives in a room with knee high mess and one of my sons is incredibly tidy.

Dave Freer said...

We share almost the entire genome (OK so males have some bits females don't. We really don't mind sharing... Humanity, not just the bits. If anyone is territorial about writing fiction, I'd have said it was women (men are not welcome to write women's fiction any more than they are to do 'womyn's studies'. And women almost exclusively write and edit the largest genre. No men need apply, despite the fact that their own RWA research shows they have 20% male audience). (wry smile) I've always felt the effect of hormones was underappreciated by both sexes. Men should all get a dose of female hormones at normal cyclical peaks, just once, and they'd be nicer and more able to understand the effects of it. And women should all (once they were over 16) get a day's worth of male testosterone level. After the orgy and the killing were finished women would either beatify men (for at least excercising the rudiments of civilised behaviour through this) or insist on a mercy-killing because the effects were too horrible to live with. We're used to it, adapted to dealing with it, but it does effect our lives. The use of castrati males in the adminstration of Byzantium and the Levant was not entirely without logic.