To writers who say, "But, I don’t know how to write male/female characters"

This post may seem to discuss gender as a binary. It is addressing specifically people who say, “I don’t know how to write male/female characters,” so it specifically addresses male and female traits. However, the overarching theme is that there is significant overlap.

In other words, gender is a social construct that exists on a spectrum and if you say you can’t write a specific gender, you need to learn more about people.

 By imagesbywestfall (imagesbywestfall) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By imagesbywestfall (imagesbywestfall) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As a group, men are different from women. As individuals, we’re all just people and should be written as people.

 Don’t write a male character or a female character. Write a character.

Thus, endeth the lesson, we can all go home now.


 What? That wasn’t enough? Fine.

 According to Wikipedia, typical female traits include gentleness, empathy, and sensitivity. Typical male traits include strength, courage, independence, violence, and assertiveness. However – and this is important – there is no male trait that only men display and no female trait that only females display. There are many men who are gentle and empathic, and many women who are brave and assertive.

 But those are subjective and difficult to measure. If you need something more objective than empathy and courage, here’s some measurable traits.

 According to the CDC, the average American man is about 5’9” tall. The average American woman is about 5’4” tall. Because of this, you can accurately say that men are taller than women.   However, we all know women who are 5’9” or taller and men who are 5’4” or shorter. If you look at the overlap between the two bell curves in the image, you can see that it’s not at all unusual for a woman to be taller than a man. Meaning, we all know women who are taller than most men and we all know men who are shorter than most women.

 Image borrowed from: https://sugarandslugs.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/sex-differences/

Image borrowed from: https://sugarandslugs.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/sex-differences/

 But strength, right? Upper body strength. That’s exclusively male territory, right? Well…

 According to Livestrong.com, an average untrained man can bench-press about 135 pounds (I’m very much simplifying the stats, this post is about gender traits, not weightlifting). An average untrained woman can bench about 80 pounds. However, the average woman who has trained can bench 145 pounds. More than the average man. (to be fair, the average trained man can bench double that). Point being – even in what seems like an exclusively male arena, there is overlap.

These results from the 2017 New York Marathon show that the first place woman finished ahead of the 20th man. Of the top 100 finishers for men and women, 18 women finished ahead of the 100th man. As a group, men finish marathons faster than women. As individuals, a woman beat the majority of the male runners in the 2017 NY Marathon.

 There are far far more things that are universal than there are things that are distinct. We all know what it feels like to be hungry. To be cold and tired. We all know what it feels like to be embarrassed, to be scared. We all know what if feels like to need to pee, to be sick. We’ve all experienced loving someone who doesn’t love us back. We know what it feels like to drink ice water when we’re parched or take that first bite of a delicious meal when we’re hungry. We’ve all woken up from a nightmare and been confused about where we are and what’s real. Most of us have broken a bone, fallen off a bike, or stepped on something sharp. Some of us are great in a crisis, some of us are not so great. We all have good traits and bad traits.

 Don’t write a male character or a female character. Write a character.

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Donna A. Leahey

As a child in school, Donna Leahey turned her vocabulary homework into short stories. Years later, she is still crafting stories. Geek, gamer, writer, mother, procrastinator, and pet lover, Donna is a practicing veterinarian and free-lance writer as well as an active creator of podcasts. You can hear her and her friends on Beyond the Cabin in the Woods: A Good Ghouls Guide to Horror, Collective Snark, and Once More With Feeling: A 20th Anniversary Buffy Fancast as well as her 4th podcast, The Family Business: A Supernatural Fancast. You can follow her on Twitter.