So You Write Like A Girl…

The funny thing about being an author in the M/M romance arena you read the oddest things in the genre’s reviews. One of them is: I can tell this was written by a woman…

woolfNow I’ll have to admit, I’ve always found this offensive and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. Mostly because I didn’t toss a lot of brain at it but upon reflection and a bit of discussion with other people, I think I’ve narrowed down why it’s offensive.

It’s kind of like the schoolyard taunt of “You throw like a girl.”

See, it’s a double edged sword. One, that being female means you have less ability and two, that you should thus be ashamed of being female because you are so much less.

Now, I’ve never considered myself an activist but apparently there’s a piece of me that is rather offended by the whole “I should be ashamed I have a vagina” thing. Well, that and apparently it does my writing. I’m not even sure how that works and to be honest, if it’s doing the writing, perhaps it can continue to do so in the middle of the night without my help because really, does it need to sleep?

Rather absurd image, isn’t it?

I’m not sure why this phrase is supposed to be offensive and more importantly, what defines “writing like a woman”?

WildeI could spend time condemning people who say this. I could but honestly, I’m not sure I care that much. Do I write like a woman? I write as a woman but I write as a writer. Not with my gender but with my experiences and my brain. I am not less because of my gender. I am not less of a writer because I write in a style someone might or might not care for. I will not be made to feel ashamed because I don’t have exterior genitalia any more than I would ask someone to be ashamed because he doesn’t have interior bits.

Connecting my writing ability to a dick or vagina won’t change how I write or what I write because the person I am is who does the writing.

So yeah, I write like a girl.

And I’m going to own that shit because that single fact doesn’t define me—any more than my sexual orientation, cultural identity or my love of coffee.

Okay, the coffee probably defines me but hey, I’ll own that shit too.

49 thoughts on “So You Write Like A Girl…

  1. Devony

    I understand that offense…I have read reviews on the books I have been reading which has mainly been mm. Those folk who preface the story as obviously written by a woman has bugged…like that’s bad? My guess is they feel the story is too emotional maybe?…or that the subtext is how dare a woman write a mm because woman writing about men is just silly? obviously. I mean how can a story written by a woman about men & love be genuine? Heh…going back to which bits matter.
    *sighs* yes I am babbling again.
    Short version is I sympathize with what you said & damn you for the mental image of vaginas writing! *cringes*… I really hate my vivid imagination at times like this 😛 lol…and coffee drinking TOTALLY defines us! *nods* just ask the tea drinkers 😉

    …so much for short!

    1. I’ve run across that statement in so many reviews and I’ve often wondered.. what exactly does that mean? Heh. It’s crazy 😀

      1. Devony

        Crazy indeed…How who wrote the story has anything to do with whether the story was good or not*shakes head* … Maybe it’s not fair, but I tend to disregard reviews that say that. I would rather hear about what people think about the actual story if it moved them or why they think it’s crap…& anyone who thinks it’s about the gender of the author maybe needs a step back to think before inserting foot ;P
        *clears throat* but that’s just me.

  2. Glenda

    I completely get it. My daughter is a backstage technician. She is an electrician doing sound and lights. She has had to fight for every gig she gets. She has to work harder than any of her male counterparts. Her version of “you throw like a girl” is “are you a lesbian? Normal women don’t do this kind of work. It’s a mans job. She just laughs it off but it bugs the living crap out of her.

    I don’t think it matters what your profession is if you are good at what you do there will always be idiots who make assumptions.

    glenda

    Sent from my iPad

  3. Phyllis

    yeah, I’ve gotten a variation of that which I find incredibly offensive.
    Reasoning went like this: u have never been married, have no kids and taught school for many years. Ergo you must hate men, are a lesbian and/or are *frigid*(I still have no f clue what that is). to this crap i say:U do not live with or even next to me. i reject every single damn label you put on me, you only show your stupidity not to mention your ignorance. by the way i had this this *interesting* conversation with a female colleague on the way to a prof. conference.
    what *labels* i choose to accept are none of ur business…
    I still get steamed thinking of this.
    are men also pigeon holed like this?
    there are no p holes, there are only people with many many many infinite facets that shine differently at an infinite number periods in their lives.
    I think i may not be expressing myself clearly; sorry going to bed. had a long day of hating men, and being frigid. No seriously you wouldn’t believe how much wind blew and how frigid that made the day. *shrugs goes to bed*

    1. Some days beat us up. *hugs* No need to worry. Be who you want to be. *nods* heh. I figure, people I like know me. *HUGS*

  4. B. Snow

    FWIW: there was a webpage years ago, you could enter a sample of writing and a program would analyze it and tell you the probability of it being written by a man or woman. Last I saw, they had taken it down for revamping and I’m not sure it ever went back up. The only thing I really remember is that “female” writing used more “and”s. But that’s how it analyzed — by word use, length of sentences, etc.

    My writing always came up female. Another (female) friend’s writing always came up male. I suppose it might also vary based on the genre.

    Not really anything to do with this post, but wth. 🙂

      1. Devony

        Hmmm…well that is accurate eh?*waggles brows*
        Ok mine makes even less sense…I am apparently girly in informal writing yet male in formal *blinks*
        I feel an identity crisis approaching!*snorks*

  5. Donna Stroud

    I am very eased to have discovered your books. I am sorry that there are so many bigoted and small minded people who think they have to give their opinion.If it matters I am a 62 year old woman who just started reading m/m stories this year and I totally enjoy them. So thank you for being you.

    1. Smooches and hugs!

      I’m rather okay with who I am. I could be taller. That would have been nice but you know.. that’s doable *grins*

      So long as you are having fun and enjoying them, that’s all I want. *HUGS* smooches.

  6. Jay

    Let me preface this by saying I am a big fan. However, as a lesbian within the gay community I must be honest when I say I understand the comment that a m/m romance book reads as if it was written by a woman. This is not a reflection of the obvious quality of writing, but rather on the social differences between not only the straight and queer (I can use this word because I am one 😉 communities, but also between how lesbians and gay men experience these facets. When discussing books with my best friend (a gay man) we often come back to this topic of writing from the female perspective. This does not mean that it is weaker, or less emotional or action packed. Simply that the subtleties of a culture is lost on those who are not actively part of it and he does experience a loss of authenticity due to this divide. It is in the same manner that American authors simply do not authentically capture British characters due the fine subtleties and subtext that exists within a community that other people simply are not privy to. What he is in fact saying when he says this is that it is for him clearly not written by a gay man. The intricacies of their interactions, the authenticity of their relationship ideals or partner ideals are just off center, even the dialogue does not always hit home for him. Let us not stereotype what it means to be homosexual, there are as many ways to be gay as there are to be artistic, but there is also a unifying thread that is often missed by those outside of this culture. I know many might say this is nonsense, I have gay friends! Gay best friends! We talk, we communicate, we understand each other perfectly! And that is so true. But it is like having a Japanese best friend. You might have a wonderful understanding of each other, but authentically you do not appreciate or grasp to full comprehension the intricacies of a tea ceremony. That being said, I am a true fan of your work, waiting eagerly for each new book. The exposure and normalisation of homosexuality that popular m/m books bring to our communities is worth its weight in gold! But sometimes, just sometimes we are outside of a loop even though we think we have a foot inside it and while we might have a hang of the intricacies of interaction, just sometimes we might slip up. And then a gay man somewhere sighs and says “I think this was written by a woman…”

    1. I will be honest and say thank you for your thoughts. *grins* It really doesn’t offend me personally if someone says I write like a woman or a straight woman. I’ve had the “This is a woman writing this” and then have it followed by an insult. I’ve seen this applied to a man’s writing… I don’t think the reviewer knew it was a gay man writing the piece. They meant it as a demeaning slam and I kind of felt sorry for them because I thought; wow, aren’t we all equals in this? Regardless of gender and/or orientation?

      I definitely think we all bring something–if not everything–of ourselves to our writing so I fully agree with you. *grins* I am mostly hoping people don’t use that phrase as a means to shame someone’s writing. *nods* That there are better ways of saying whatever it is they mean. Just not to use that as an insult. *grins*

      Heh, I’ll totally own up to writing as a woman. It’s all I know. I mean sure I can ask gay men about things I’m curious about but yes the experience is wholly personally and I can only try to capture that essence.

      So yes, agree with your points. I actually sat on this and thought about writing this post for such a long time and I just kept seeing that phrase pop up over and over again over the last month, mostly to demean the author. I read a lot and yeah, skim reviews to see what opinions are then read the sample. It was more of a call to express an opinion about writing in a better way.

      Heh. And I am that Japanese friend. 😀 Well, from Hawai’i. I am constantly having to explain my love of Spam.

      1. Jay

        Omg, as a South African, married to a Portuguese, living in London I can sympathise! Except it’s not Spam. It’s dried meat (biltong), banana salad (banana, mayonnaise and condensed milk) and putting sugar in my mince. 🙂 And trying to explain to the British why they are mispronouncing names of things we grow in Africa *grins*

      2. Oh my mom is Portuguese! Well, my grandmother was northern Portuguese and my grandfather Moroccan Portuguese. 😀 Mmmmm banana salad. heh 😀

  7. DebraG

    Loved this. Very well said. And if I throw like a girl it is because I am.

  8. helenajust

    I think Jay has said what I would have said but better. I also think that was what was meant by the comment “I can tell this was written by a woman”. However, I would take issue with the implication that an author should not write about things of which she has no direct personal experience. If one considers the most celebrated authors, the sheer variety of their plots and characters precludes their having written only about what they knew and experienced.

    I agree with you that “I can tell this was written by a woman” should not actually be a negative comment, but that was almost certainly how it was meant and how it would be interpreted.

    1. Jay

      Oh, I absolutely agree that the lack of immersion in a particular culture or experience does not preclude an author from using it. And does not necessarily detract from the power or authenticity of the story being told. I just think that when we are honest with ourselves as to the practical limitations of the learned presentation of something as opposed to the experienced presentation of something, some criticism might be a tad justified. Especially when the presentation is not just a small aspect of the plot, but the overarching motivation of the main characters.

      However additionally the audience makes a big impact as well. M/m fiction has garnered a wide ranged audience. Most comments read as straight female, I myself am a lesbian and I know many gay men who enjoy the novels, so something is being done right. All fiction is idealised in some facet or manner. Every day life is rarely that interesting. 🙂 But I think while an insult might be heard (and maybe justifiably so) it is a kindness to consider that sometimes to a community within which some might consider themselves disenfranchised (possibly justifiably so as well) even these small mistakes are offensive, because what is to them real life has become popularised third party interpretation. Comments like these might be said a little more sharply than is deserved by the author and does not detract from the value of the writing, but might not be a sexist insult as much as a bemoaning of a larger social issue.

      But to me (and you) the female voice in these stories strengthen it, gives it a deeper emotional chain (with regards to the old men watch porn, women read romance argument). The author can say yes, it was written by a woman. Yes, it is not as authentically gay male as if it was written by one. And yes, this is what this genre is. It is not a biography. But I think the weight of the insult experienced from the criticism might be a little bit misplaced.

      1. Criticism of the plot being plausible… totally get. *nods*And agree. Hell, I write implausible. But I do it on purpose. And I really am discussing the phrase being used as an insult to slam an author’s writing. I’ve just seen it too often lately and it’s taken me aback a bit…because it implies that author has no business writing XYZ because they’re female (although in one case, it was actually a gay guy doing the writing). It angered me because of the gender shame. Which normally doesn’t bug me.

        Weird but for some reason, this time it did. Maybe because I was all… can’t you come up with something more exact to say?

        I’ve had people write me to ask me my gender because they don’t read male authors. Flat out told me they’ll never read me because I’m female. I was all… okay. Sure. That’s on them. Not me. Kinda weird but okay, sure.

        It’s a weird world we live in. Sometimes. Mostly. *laughs*

    2. Oftentimes I’ve found “I can tell a woman wrote this…” is followed by a demeaning comment. I don’t think I’ve seen that phrase pop up in the genre without it as a preface for something insulting about the author’s writing but to be fair, I’ve not made a huge study. I’m only kind of surprised to see it being used in that context. Okay, not surprised. Saddened.

      Hell, I know I write a certain way. Totally own up to that. Is it a “woman’s” writing. Well yeah, I’m female. 😀

      God, I so do not want to have any of Cole’s experiences. He’s insane 😀

  9. Devony

    Okay I can see Jays point.
    If I am not clear here forgive me as I just woke up & still have to get to the blessed coffee.
    I totally get the cultural point but I think my main issue is that it kinda bums me out that it keeps dropping to a persons gender. I don’t think any author in the romance mm genre (or any fiction genre)are coming from any point of view other then wanting to share a good story with characters that live in their head. As you have said Rhys..it’s fiction. Every authors point of view has value no matter the gender. I enjoy reading both as authors… I love the differences & common places both go.
    Not to beat a point into the ground, but if I am reading a review I wanna hear what you think about the story…good bad whatever. I am all about constructive criticism & since an author has no control over being male/female gay or straight how is it constructive to preface a review on an authors gender?
    Anywho coffee is calling my name!

    1. I’m good with the content being subjective because really it is. It’s the whole gender shaming. I’d say the same thing if someone wrote about a het romance and said “I can tell this was written by a guy” and then followed it up with a major insult. *grins*

      God I need more coffee.

      1. Jay

        But is it gender shaming? How many heterosexual men are part of the m/m genre of authors? It is an exclusionary comment, definitely, I agree with that. But I do not know if I agree that it is misogynistic (ok, that’s too harsh a phrase, let’s call it sexist or chauvinistic to be more fair). What that insult (as it is perceived) is saying is “you are not one of us”.

        I might agree that it is a communal snobbery or (and even worse for the gay community) an isolatory exercise. But gender shaming? I’m not so sure.

        I wonder if possibly the reaction the phrasing of it elicits is because of the historical abuse of gender slurs we as women have had to deal with. Could this be causing us to miss the actual heart of the statement? What is sad is that it is from a minority group to another (and I know that it is no longer the era of suffragettes, but until that glass ceiling is cracked it is not yet equal) disrespected group. The phrasing hurts and offends us, even if it might not be intended as a sexist put down. The insult stands, they are saying that they will start out the criticism by telling you why you were not ever entitled to write this type of story, and I wholeheartedly agree with Rhys, this is wrong.

        But maybe the topic to address would rather be why we are not a united society, why are we splitting our human-ness into smaller and smaller avenues and locking each other out? This is not men putting down women. These are a few critics on a queer high horse wagging an index finger at authors they are looking down on. Does ‘authenticity snobbery’ not exist for critics in most genres? This book is not cerebral enough, the author is too middle class. This book does not tick the regal boxes of highbrow fantasy, the author is too pulp fictiony.

        Rhys is absolutely right: criticism always has value, insults do not. But I always fear that as women when we give an insult more validity than it actually has we allow the stereotype of offended females righteousness to prosper.

        I would like to add that I have thoroughly enjoyed this blog post! How refreshing to have so many intelligent and valid viewpoints in a discussion :-). It says something not only for the objective reasoning of women, but also for the type of fans in this genre.

      2. I would only call it gender shaming if it’s used in the context where an author is supposed to be ashamed of her or even his gender because somehow it invalidates their writing… or anything really…if that makes sense. I’d have the same response if someone wrote “I can tell a guy wrote this because it sucks so hard…” for a het or femme romance.

        I only called out the “I know this author is a woman” because that seems to be what’s in the genre as the beginning of a reason why someone feels a book isn’t up to some standard they had. It’s only gender shaming to me because I’m all.. dudes, really? What does that have to do with anything? If you don’t like the writing, that’s one thing but don’t bring bits into it.

        For the most part, I’m pretty obtuse about the whole gender this or that thing so it surprised me to find I was bugged by those statements popping up in reviews… like the author should be ashamed their writing is female? Major confusion on that part.

        Aren’t people odd?

  10. Devony

    *raises coffee cup to Rhys & all who posted* indeed this discussion has been fun! 😉

  11. Renee

    I really enjoyed this post – great discussion. I only have one comment. Though I could be wrong, it seems to me like the vast majority of the writers in the m/m romance genre are women – there wouldn’t be a m/m romance genre if it wasn’t for the women writers. I do know there are men that write, and I enjoy their books just as well, but really, the selection would be so limited that I wonder what the genre would look like without the women writers. That’s my two cents.

      1. Renee

        I didn’t really make my point, but I believe it’s a pretty ignorant person who would preface a criticism of a book by saying it must have been written by a woman – what difference does that make. The genre is mostly women and they must be doing something right because the books are being written and read. The only person who is going to write an “authentic” m/m story is a gay man but that’s sorta the point too, the books are stories – they’re made up, fiction. That’s what the criticism should be about – not who wrote it.

        PS – I throw like a girl, even after years of living on a farm – that could be because I am!

      2. Heh you probably made your point perfectly well and my brain’s just shot. It really is. I could wash lettuce in it. *grins*

        I can’t toss a football to save my life!

  12. Cathy R

    Well, I am not to try to be all cerebral about it–but it me off. Like my brothers calling each other sissy–as if it is something less. I will say that I read that in a review of a male writer! So I just don’t buy that most people can tell the difference.

  13. This has been going around in the m/m genre especially for some time. I seems every year there is someone who goes off about “woman writers” in this genre – whether it’s a male author who feels the need to unload (possibly because his books aren’t selling), a website or review site, etc. In my experience there are only good writers and not so good writers. I’ve read over 1600 books/stories in this genre so I think I can say I’ve done a fair sampling. Now overwhelmingly the authors are women, so that means some of the best writers and some of the not so good writers are women as well. The really interesting part of this discussion, and Rhys, forgive me if I missed this, is that fact that much of the time when this little nugget is thrown out, it’s NOT a man who is writing that criticism. It’s another woman. What does this mean? I’m not sure but I don’t think it’s anything good. It smacks of this divisiveness that seems to be part of an overarching agenda about all sorts of things – whether it’s people with kids/without kids, political parties, religious organizations, or whatever. I have to respectfully disagree with Jay that we should not interpret this as a misogynistic insult because there are legitimate criticism (poor plot, characterization, editing, etc.) that would be valid and completely gender neutral – and that is not the case here and has not been the case historically. I rarely see any discussion/mention of the gender of the author – almost uniformly that author is female – followed by a compliment. I would love to read those reviews 😉

    BTW, in all of the reviews I’ve read, I’ve never ONCE seen – “well this is obviously written by a man” and if it exists, my guess is it’s not followed by some sort of veiled or even an overt insult. What I do see a lot of – and again I find this disgusting – is the QUESTIONING of authors gender – as if it’s anybody’s business or informs their writing or should ever be a topic for speculation and general rumor mongering. But that’s a topic for another day 🙂

    Just my two cents 😀

    1. I would whole-heartedly agree with you. My main Huh moment in this came as … why would you preface an insult with this comment? Is it like an excuse for why the dislike is valid? So yeah, I make a line on that one. And I’m not a huge OMG GENDER SHIT! person!

      Crazy 😀

      1. Sadonna

        Well, here’s the thing. If it’s not an insult or some sort of criticism, then what is the point of even mentioning it? That is just fucking stupid to even bring gender of the author into any “review” of a book. Either you liked it or you didn’t. End of story. To Jay’s point, it’s not like books that I’ve read where it’s blatantly obvious that the author is British but the characters are supposed to be Californians or New Yorkers. Why? Because they say things like Car Park for the parking lot of a California theme park. That’s poor editing and selection of beta readers who didn’t catch it. I’ve commented about stuff like that – on two particular series in fact. The first series, I think the author got an American beta reader after the first two installments because those “Britishisms” stopped appearing. The other one, I just reviewed recently. I really really like the series and have read a bunch of this author’s work because I enjoy her style. I’m a geek (read Anglophile and Noel Fielding obsessed) and I watch a lot of British shows and know a lot of British slang, so I just happen to know what these things mean, but maybe everyone wouldn’t. Honestly I would think the characters were British expats if I hadn’t read the first book. And again, I really really liked these books and I didn’t “take off any stars” of my rating. But that’s different than a criticism I once read where the reviewer said “Gay men in relationships don’t call each other baby! This book is crap and certainly doesn’t reflect gay culture and relationships.” Really? I have a few gay couple friends who apparently didn’t get that memo. They call each other babe and baby all the time. In emails, in person, on the phone, etc.

        Now just for context, I’m a pretty old gal and I started working in the pre-Anita Hill days – and yes it pains me to say that because many people will have NO idea who she is or what she did for all of us. We had three female department heads at the engineering company I worked at back in the late 80s. You wanna know what they were called? “The Madames” – and to their faces – not just behind their backs. That’s how ingrained it was in the culture – it was supposed to be an honorific. Oh yeah – and those department heads? They were the heads of the secretarial pools for the three engineering departments. No other females in any management capacity. This company had a golf outing that only men were allowed to attend (except for ladies who wanted to ride around in short shorts on the golf carts and deliver drinks). The women – including the women engineers – got a real nice consolation prize of “the women’s dinner” at the Palmer House hotel which was right across the street from our offices. Wasn’t that nice? I went to one the first year I was there (cause I was a dumb 23 year old and didn’t know any better) and never again.

        I’ve worked in HR my whole career so I know that yes, things are grudgingly better than they were back then. But let’s not forget that like Glenda’s daughter (and most of the rest of us) disappointingly discovered at some point along the way what Bob Thaves said so eloquently about Ginger Rogers – that we have to be able to do everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels – in too many arenas still 😉

      2. Heh. I know men call one another babe all the time… even their girlfriends too 😀 *hugs*

        We definitely have come a long way. *nods* And we’ll continue going forward 😀

  14. voyagerrenee8

    Well, I think the comment was simply rude and not helpful for potential readers. What are we 12 and picking dodge ball teams? I do admit to preferring m/m characters to act more realistically like men, and I do tend to stay away from squeely TSTL m/m characters. But I have read m/m by male authors who write cheesy/shallow. IMO your characters are achingly real. So, WTH, you write like a girl? Then here’s to more authors writing like a girl. Bah! Lazy reviewer.

    1. It’s an interesting “sling” of how to start critiquing. *nods* I like guys to act very realistic but ah, I can be cheesy too 😀

  15. Funny… I’ve done that gender text test thingy a couple of times, and I keep coming out with informal: female (or weak female), and formal: weak male.
    I guess my writing more or less reflects how I identify 🙂 (somewhere in the middle)

    I write as a woman but I write as a writer. Not with my gender but with my experiences and my brain. I am not less because of my gender. I am not less of a writer because I write in a style someone might or might not care for. I will not be made to feel ashamed because I don’t have exterior genitalia any more than I would ask someone to be ashamed because he doesn’t have interior bits.

    AMEN!!!

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