In a comment to my 2016 Writing Goals, Faye Roots observed that I had a “more masculine approach to writing” than she. That statement has inspired me to re-visit the notion of gender identity in writing, a topic I read but never wrote about in my graduate studies. This will be a departure from the fiction and horrid poetry I typically post on this blog — let’s see if this experiment will work.
Let’s get one idea out of the way at the start — I do not believe (and don’t believe Faye was suggesting) that masculine and feminine writing styles are intrinsically different, that men and women use two different languages, each gender understood by the other only through an act of translation. This theory, unintentionally and hilariously satirized in a college writing assignment that’s become an Internet legend with some apparent basis in reality, seems like an exaggeration that doesn’t engage or continue a conversation, but rather ends its abruptly — men speak Martian and women speak Venusian, any attempt at coed communication here on Earth is ultimately futile, and who knows what the hell those damn people on Jupiter are talking about.
But that’s not to say that men and women use language in exactly the same way. Through some combination of biological and cultural imperatives, men and women not only have some experiences distinct to their gender, but respond to some shared experiences in different ways. These experiential differences lead to different perspectives, interpretations of the same events. I believe Faye’s comment is an observation that my writing conveys a distinctly masculine perspective.
Which is not entirely surprising, considering not only that I’m a dude, but also my belief that one should begin writing from one’s own experience (it’s one of the great maxims of our profession, along with “be honest,” “show don’t tell,” and “don’t quit your day job”). Yet I also believe writing is a process of discovery, that a writer who isn’t exploring is not going to engage the reader, so as I’ve been drafting my novel on this blog, I’ve worked hard to find unique voices for my two principal female characters, Annie and The Bird. It hasn’t always been easy; at times I feel I’ve done little more than create two more teenage boys with girls’ names. Recognizing this difficulty, I look for inspiration in the blogsphere, especially from poets — Maggie Mae, Unbolt, and Malicia Frost are particularly inspiring. And as always, I keep experimenting, until I finally begin to hear my female characters’ voices.
So to answer my own question: writing isn’t gender-determined, but gender can strongly influence a writer’s voice (as can other factors such as sexuality, race, class, nationality, shoe size — sorry, just seeing if you were paying attention). And by recognizing this influence, seeing it as a fact rather than either an advantage or detriment, writers can begin to explore new territories in their craft.