Can a man write from a woman’s perspective?

man doing dishes

For some reason, women writers used to believe that they had to use a male pen name to make their books more saleable. George Eliot is a case in point, and only in my third year of varsity did I realise that Middlemarch was actually written by a woman.

But there is a new breed of man; the one who realises that women read woman’s fiction by the container load, and they would like to cash in on the insatiable thirst for bubbly pink romances and other types of women-only stories.

Amazon is just such a container, loaded so heavily with romances that it tips precariously to one side. And we’re not talking Fifty Shades kind of romance (that is another debate for someone else who has the stomach for it); we’re just talking about the boy-meets-girl type of happily ever novel that one downloads and reads over the weekend. And if it is any good, you feel good about life and you return to reality without any regrets — or even another thought of the book that just gobbled up a large portion of your weekend.

The question is: Can a man write from the perspective of a woman? This interesting question popped up over the weekend when a writer friend sent his opening pages and outline for a novel he had just begun. Needless to say, (or perhaps I should say it, just so you know, Mr S) the writing was superb, the dialogue real and the outline had everything my perfect life would consist of. If it were perfect.

He covered everything a good woman’s novel is built on: tragedy, art, business opportunities, beautiful setting, new love interest, etc. etc.

But (and this is such a big but I won’t even ask how big I look in it)…

He didn’t get it. By ‘it’ I mean what it means to be a woman. There are a few things that men have to understand about writing from a woman’s perspective.

First, you have to know that we are never just ‘clearing the dishes’. A woman is always mad, sad, frustrated, overjoyed, excited, bored, or happy. We do not hide in ‘nothing boxes’. If you write a passage about her clearing the dishes, be aware that she is not just clearing the dishes. It may look like it to a man, but there’s a lot of stuff going on in our pretty heads. ALL THE TIME. And women readers know this. So they will want to know what’s happening INSIDE while she clears the dishes.

Second, our lives are not perfect. Our kids don’t just sail through their teenage years and end up in a good college, take a gap year, and end up the way we planned. A lot of stuff happens, that men don’t usually know about, in our kids’ lives while we raise them. If you need an antagonist in your novel, think of the kids. They are perfect antagonist material.

Thirdly, unless you really love your character, you ain’t gonna know her. We only let men close to us when we know they love us. And the same goes for the relationship between the writer and his female character. While your character may not show you EVERYTHING about her, she will let you take a peek into what makes her tick. And if you can figure it all out, you have a winner.

I’m not sure if Mr S has already returned to his suspense/crime fiction writing. If you have, my friend, good for you. The learning curve needed for you to write from a woman’s perspective may require at least a century longer than you have left. 🙂

Now, it’s your turn! Have you ever written from the POV of the opposite sex? Did it work?


16 thoughts on “Can a man write from a woman’s perspective?

  1. This is a very interesting question that you raise. I have not written from the POV of a woman, but I do have a young woman as the main character in a novel I am currently writing. It is, however, in the third person, so I am not sure if it qualifies for your question or not. I have had several young women read this drafts with this issue in mind, and so far, they said they believed in her as a female character. Another example of someone who did this successfully is Roddy Doyle in his novel, The Woman Who Walks Into Doors, about an abused woman in Ireland. I remember reading a commentary that only a woman could have written this novel, and given that his name could be for either sex, that is understandable, but he did a fantastic job with it, and I recommend it highly. So, I hope this contributes to your question.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Actually, I never consider that in choosing a book. For example, when Anne Rice and Stephen King put out their next books, I want to read both. I am more concerned with the quality of the writing and the kind of writing than the gender of the author.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I wrote one from the POV of a 15 year old girl. I wrote it in first person too. The reviewers think I did well. I take the approach that women are people and I write people. I may blow it next time, but I’m pretty happy with this one.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I don’t think you can, really… Men and women just think sooo differently. And are so different in so many ways and at so many levels. The couple of points you’ve raised are just the tip of the iceberg in my opinion. Even George Eliot didn’t totally get it right, although she did very well…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Is it even necessary, though, to try and emulate a woman when writing for this market segment? Look at Zane Grey – he wrote some very successful Western romances which were hugely appealing to his young female audience, but you could never compare his writings to those of a woman. He simply understood what appealed to the young ladies of his day, and wrote accordingly. (Very definitely ‘óf his day’, I doubt they would appeal to many in this day and age.) 🙂


  6. I have not infrequently written theatre plays with a woman as the main character – and (usually) with success. Some women have asked me, how come a man could have written that? (which is a worrying question if one is male!) So successful was one play from a woman’s perspective that the Midwives Association (99.9% female) commissioned me to create the opening ceremony of their international conference! I’m currently reading a romance written by a woman who lives next door to me… the male character has an erection so many times on each page that I can only gawk in admiration at the creativity of the novelist.


  7. Wallace Stegner wrote women exceptionally well. I think men and women can write from the other perspective as long as they take the time to love the other and figure them out a little. I’ve seen males portrayed falsely by embittered women when most of the time they just don’t get the way a guy handles life.


  8. I wrote 2.5 of my 4 books from male points of view (5 different first-person narrators, 3 of whom are men). Did it work? I think so, but I don’t think these books would be called “guy books.” Strangely, I didn’t find it hard to do. I was so into the story it was as though I lived it, which made the writing seem natural and unforced. As a reader, I don’t care if a book is written by a man or a woman; if the story is interesting and the writing good, I’m happy.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Men Writing Women | Diane Tibert

  10. My favorite writer is Susan Sontag. She believed a writer’s primary role is to report honestly her or his close observations of humanity. Successful novels emotionally enlighten and intellectually stimulate readers, regardless supposed genres or audiences, and to do so their authors cannot portray only one gender or only one gender honestly. Asking if a man can portray realistic women (or a woman realistic men) reveals that you haven’t read such fiction, although such fiction is abundant. Not abundant enough, perhaps–one could make this argument, but then one should not be asking this question but, rather, supporting authors who successfully portray genders other than their own and calling out authors who fail in this regard.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well said. It is indeed abundant. And usually well executed. I suspect that we will know the full extent of this occurrence anyway, as the name on the cover is usually who we believe it to be. So if it says Jane Smith, we imagine a woman writing from her insight and experience. Even if it is a John instead. And if he doesn’t ‘get’ the gender perspective thing, s/he may even be lauded as being different, unique, and insightful.
      Ultimately, it’s the level of storytelling that counts.
      Thanks for your reasoned input.


  11. Great subject matter here. Men and women just don’t think the same. Like you said, our heads are usually in 10 different directions. Women have the fantastic ability to say a lot in silence that men have yet to explore.

    Liked by 1 person

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