Female characters written by men - recent viral tweet sparks debate

A tweet that claimed male authors were only able to write about overly sexualised and idealised versions of women, faced a lot of online backlash. It is however important to compare the different ways in which females have been stereotypically depicted for many centuries.

In Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, for example, Katherine is shown to overtly worships her husband, Petruchio, which can suggest that there was an obvious dominant and submissive gender role play between them. She says: “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper...”

Even amongst more modern male writers, such as Swift, Archer, and Charles Bukowski, there is a tendency to portray their female characters as suppressed, sexualised bodies, that are stigmatised to the point where they do not seem to be beautiful—though still seemingly interest the male gaze: “To my right sat a rather dark blonde, gone a bit too fat, neck and cheeks now flabby, obviously drunk; but there was a certain lingering beauty to her features, and her body still looked firm and well-shaped. In fact, her legs were long and lovely.”

This representation creates a disproportionate view on feminine attributes in prose and poetry, and offers little to no imagination. It stereotypes women and diminishes their role in society. Patriarchy assigns men and women to superior and inferior roles, meaning that it can be challenged through creative forms of expression and should forward alternative arguments. It therefore suggests that many of these female characters reflect the ways in which male authors think about female experiences. They objectify women and do not wish to try and represent women in an informed way.

Great female writers, such as Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters, produced authentic male characters that generally provide justice to the many aspects of masculinity. Their characters are soulful, not necessarily good, but they did not belittle them in any way. Mr Darcy—loved and hated by all—was the epitome of a perfect gentleman. Edward Rochester—a brooding, stern man with a kind heart, so passionately written, despite the historical context and his many flaws. Gilbert Blythe provides another example of a well-depicted male character who is a charming chap with a heart on his sleeve: “He was a tall boy, with curly brown hair, roguish hazel eyes…”(Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Montgomery). The focus on their eyes, suggests that women are able to look past physical appearances and look straight into the ‘soul’ of their characters.

In terms of psychology, men think differently than women. Rational thoughts circulate their minds. Mushy feelings are not their cup of tea. We can only hope that maybe one day justice will be done to female characters as well.