Can Writing Have A Gender?

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.

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One thought on “Can Writing Have A Gender?

  1. Oh how pleased I am to have met you re blogging. What you are saying is what I was intending to say. It was not meant in any way a sexist or an indication that men and women write differently but as you said we are always told to show not tell, to write in the places we actually know etc. That brings me to me to my novel Beyond the Ashes. I would love you to check it out if you ever were able. I would be happy to send you a copy. You can get it e-book (Amazon) if you don’t mind that format.I had the BIGGEST problem getting inside the head of my key male person the FATHER. I actually hated him for his insensitivity yet (I made him that way in the story). When he had a breakdown then I felt I could tell it from his perspective yet I don’t know if I fully succeeded. My husband loves the story yet he still believes it is a general story with a Christian heartbeat a love story yes both men and women enjoy…yes BUT the males to him are -from a woman’s perspective. -. I enjoyed what I read on your site. I felt the action smelt the perspiration and heard the crowds in my mind at the game. There was a masculine ‘feeling’ about the story and to me it was not a bad thing but a decidedly positive attitude. It was Like the great story tellers ie Somerset Maughan I could never for example imagine Jane Austin penning his prose.
    This is an interesting topic for a writers discussion. I would love to be on a forum or something. I don’t have the answers. Thanks for your blog.

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