I'm interested in a nuts-and-bolts discussion of this issue. I'm a member of a writing group of five, 3 of which are women, so I'm getting pretty good feedback. Nevertheless, I've never felt as confident writing women characters as writing men.

I'm also aware than there is a tendency of writers to consciously telegraph feminist issues, particularly in film and television writing, where women must have certain attributes in order to be PC: e.g.; they work out, they know self defense, work as supervisors of men, work in professions that a few years ago would have been difficult for them enter -- but these things have become so obvious that it seems that male writers in particular have traded one set of cliches for another.

I have women characters in a novel in progress and I have already overdone it. I have an African-American nun who runs a shelter for trafficked women. She is also a PhD, MD and has a black belt in Krav Maga. I started laughing at myself, and immediately removed the black belt. It seems that I was redressing the balance, but going off the end.

What is most useful to me is the subtle, non PC things that men miss in writing women. I've already learned some of them from my group, but am open to a creative discussion of the issue.

I look forward to your posts.

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I am an unapologetic feminist (as in, I don't explain, after I state "I'm a feminist," that I'm not one of THOSE feminists -- I AM one of THOSE feminists), and here's what I think: write your women just like you write your men. There's really no difference. The things that women aspire to are the same, under the wrappings, as men's: self-reliance, getting on in the world, the triumph of our better selves over our shadow selves, etc.

Having said that, I now direct you to my instruction on how to write a non-sexist crime novel:

http://minervakoenig.com/2009/11/19/how-to-write-a-non-sexist-crime...
I'm pretty solid on the definition of feminism as "the belief that women are human beings." I'm thinking more of nuance. For example, my wife makes subtle observations about clothes that I don't. Women notice things about men that men don't know they're noticing. I'm sure that when you read men's fiction you make observations about what they're missing, or what they've got wrong.
The thing I notice most in female protags written by men is how hard they're trying to make the character 'female,' by investing her with stereotypical 'female' characteristics. As a female reader, I find this absolutely maddening. I do understand that men and women differ psychologically, but I don't think that those psychological differences are uniform. Individual women may very well notice things about clothes or other things that individual men don't, but this shouldn't be extrapolated to the entire gender. That's the trap that seems difficult for many writers to stay out of -- over-generalizing about what either gender is like.
Well, sure--but you can't write the entire gender into one book, so you have to make some choices. I agree with you, though, that a lot of male writers aren't particularly keen observers of women, and not particularly thoughtful in their representations of them. Lots of women crime writers fall into the same trap, with both male and female characters. It's one of the oddities of crime fiction writing: lots of writers feel that their first obligation is to satisfy the conventions of the genre; characterization, dialogue, mastery of p.o.v., etc., all come in a distant second.
I read The Hunt for Atlantis by Andy McDermott the other day - interesting premise, but I couldn't get into it because he didn't seem to have put any thought at all into his protagonist (a female academic). About half-way into the book, I just gave up. The protagonist ended up as a filler providing academic insight while the male SAS soldier took over the story. He got all the funny lines, all the action and all the character, leaving the protagonist as nothing more than a shapeless blob who spoke occasionally and ended up dating the SAS guy. Stupid, stupid book...
Addendum: and think the correct quote is: "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people."
That was a great blog entry, Minerva.
I do think, however, that men and women are psychologically different and that they frequently have different priorities. You can't just write men and women the same way. What we need is more honesty about our characters and less wishful thinking or vicarious wish fulfillment.
I should confess here that I get a great kick out of writing marital disagreements where both partners think they are right and the other is wrong.
Agreed, and some of this is conditioning. How we are "brought up" is no joke. Or, to be more specific, the source of much comedy. Ultimately, these differences will be moot, but they still exist.
Minerva,

I like the list in your blog, but it lends itself to one obvious question.

Just picking one example more ar less at random, if a book shows a woman who uses sex to get what she wants, are you saying it is, by definition, misogynistic? (Or if one is obsessed with having a baby, or is/was a sex worker, for example.)
I dunno, Dana -- I'm certainly not where the buck stops in evaluating what's misogyny and what's not. Also, I don't think it's fair to judge an entire book based on one character or theme. For me, it comes down to the author's attitude. If I sense that s/he is using the trope without much thought, or if it's plainly there for salacious purposes only (i.e., has no meaningful bearing on the story or character), I'll usually put the book down.* If, on the other hand, the author clearly knows what territory s/he's in, and is using a stereotype to explore something in the story or a character, that's another thing. I haven't read many book in which that happens, though -- Megan Abbot's work comes to mind, but not much else.

*just to clarify -- I don't do this consciously, as in 'humph! I refuse to read this book because it contains a Dress-Up Scene!' What happens is, I get this 'ew!' feeling in the pit of my stomach, and want no more of the story. An organic aversion, I guess.
Attitude is everything, isn't it? That's how we get tone. That's how we find out who we are.
Thanks, Minerva. I appreciate the response. I didn't think you were endorsing a knee-jerk response. I have a minor, but important, character in the WIP who's a stripper. That's just her job; she personally is more of an all-purpose lowlife, like male characters she's involved with in her part of the story. They're playing each other; this is how they make a buck.

The book also has a woman who may have hired a hit man, one who's a cop, a lesbian who is the main character's best friend, and his mother, who is, frankly, pretty much my mother.

I think you and I are pretty much on the same page (I hope, anyway) as I'm not writing the character of the stripper just to make her a stripper. She's basically a grifter, which can be of either gender. She chooses to work her games with her clothes off, on the premise that the men she's conning are paying more attention to her physically than they are to what she's actually doing.

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