The British author Sebastian Faulks has said he will no longer write women. This comes after pressure from ‘fans’ and ‘book readers’ as well as criticism regarding Faulks depiction of women. Also adding to Faulks decision is the fear of ‘offending’ readers.
Yet this is not new. For a while now, male writers have been mocked for how they write women. Well known examples in genre fiction include George R. R Martin and Stephen King. When these two authors address any notion of sexuality in a woman, readers are quick to assume the worst. Male writers are called sexist, gross and creepy for daring to use their imagination.
Honestly, I’m sick of this. Writing, particularly creative writing, is about exploring humanity. To write fiction well is to use your imagination, to speculate, to empathise. Despite the hatred GRRM has received, there is no point denying the awesome power of Cersei, Daenerys, Sansa, Melisandre, Arya, Catelyn, Brienne, etc. Sure – GRRM is not perfect. Neither is King, and although I’ve never read any of his books, I’m certain Sebastian Faulks has his flaws like a regular human being. That’s not a crime. We must stop this impulse to judge male writers for writing women.
Literary fiction is not immune to this, either. One of my favourite writers, Salman Rushdie, wrote an incredible novel a decade ago called The Enchantress of Florence. It’s a fantastic book, bursting with colour and a kinetic energy. A quick look at the Goodreads reviews show a snide, dismissive attitude towards Rushdie and male writers in general. I’ve also noticed a condescending attitude towards men in creative writing programs. Hashtags about male writers in MFA programs stink of immaturity. We treat male writers as if they deserve scorn. They don’t.
One of my favourite literary stories comes from Leo Tolstoy writing Anna Karenina. On the first few drafts of his masterpiece, the titular character is one dimensional and dull. It’s only through revisions and careful thinking does Anna become the classic character we know her as. We need to let male writers develop their own voices, without judgement or a condescending attitude.
We should also encourage curiousity, imagination, discovery and empathy. But we should also have the wisdom to know that it will manifest sometimes in odd and conflicting ways. Who reads literature demanding perfect people in perfect situations? Honestly, that sounds rather boring. So does lecturing male writers on how to write.
If you are a man who is into writing, keep going. Don’t be afraid to describe or depict women. It’s okay to write women who suffer, who are mean, who are silly, who are romantic, who are tragic. Women are not a monolith, and I’m excited to read from a variety of perspectives and philosophies about what makes humans tick. Even if a writer creates a cliched female character, so what? No one is going to drop dead because of it. I can’t believe how melodramatic the tyrannical censors have become.
As a female writer myself, you have my permission to be as offensive as you please. (Which is something writers should never ask for, btw). Considering most publishing staff and debut authors are female, I highly doubt women are little victims in this situation.
What are your thoughts? Comment below! (Also, I suggest watching the clip featuring Emma Webb. She’s terrific!)