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Writer’s Craft # 98 Murderous Men with Vaginas

November 12, 2012

Kristene Perron
Kristene Perron is a former professional stunt performer for film and television, (as Kristene Kenward). Pathologically nomadic, she has lived in Japan, Costa Rica, the Cook Islands and a very tiny key in the Bahamas. Her stories have appeared in Canadian Storyteller Magazine, The Barbaric Yawp and Denizens of Darkness. Her recently published novel, Warpworld, is the first in a five book adventure science fiction series, co-penned with her Texan writing partner, Joshua Simpson. www.warpworld.ca.  Gumballs roll from her cranium at www.the-coconut-chronicles.com


The first time I was punched in the face, really hard, I thought I was going to cry. The feeling passed in about the time it took for me to throw a punch back at my sparring partner, but when I write strong female characters I keep that memory close.
Women and men are equal, but different. Without some acknowledgment of this difference, fictional female assassins, soldiers, pirates, martial arts masters, and so on, are merely, (in the colourful words of my writing partner, Josh Simpson), murderous men with vaginas. As a woman who spent years living dangerously, this is both a literary pet peeve and an insult.
Unless a writer deliberately creates a culture or species with inverted or vastly different gender roles and/or biology than humans, even the gutsiest warrior woman will experience the world differently than her male counterparts. She doesn’t have to wear a dress or bake cookies; it only takes a small detail to make her feel authentic without reverting to stereotypes. As you write strong female characters, consider that gender affects size, strength, speed, power, vision, hearing, memory, language, and reactions to fear, pain and aggression, among others.
No matter how much butt your female character may kick, take a long look at what makes her different from the men around her. Does she have a knack for languages? Is she more empathetic? Does she need a special weapon because of her size or strength? Does she want to cry the first time she’s punched in the face but then fights back anyway?
Yes, to quote the t-shirt, girls kick ass. We just do it our way.
Who are some of your gutsy female characters and what makes them different from the men in your story? What about some of your favourite kick-ass fictional females – what makes them memorable?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 12, 2012 6:20 am

    Good to keep in mind. In my book Quantum Cannibals, my main character is female. I am not, have never been, and never will be female. It took a lot of work to make sure I didn’t write her as a male personality. Fortunately she isn’t a physical ass-kicker (though she emasculates a rapist). Mostly she works through her tough personality and smarts. Another character is a kick-ass fighter, but I never get into the details of her fights with men. I lead up to the fight, and then depict her defeated opponent.

  2. November 12, 2012 6:46 am

    Well said, Lynda! Pretending gender differences don’t exist has done nothing over the last 50 years to help the feminist cause. Yup, we kick ass in our own way!

    My fave kick-ass girl is Marianne de Pierres’s Parrish Plessis. (Nylon Angel, Code Noir and Crash Deluxe are the books.) She’s big, tough, strong woman, but she’s definitely female and proud of it!

  3. DDavis permalink
    November 12, 2012 7:45 am

    Well, the title definitely hooked me…
    Seriously–excellent, succinct advice that is now flagged for me to re-read every time I sit down to create a new character. Thank you!

  4. November 12, 2012 3:52 pm

    Answering Your question about woman-warrior character: Casca from Berserk manga. But as a man who barely tried a martial art, I’m not able to decide how true and feminine this character is.

    • November 12, 2012 10:05 pm

      I’m not familiar with the character but I did a quick Google search and read a bit about her back story. It sounds as if Casca has a reason for becoming a warrior that would resonate with many women. Thanks for the comment Nikolay!

  5. William permalink
    March 6, 2013 3:44 am

    I have a serious question, but it will not make sense without some background.

    Before I became interested in fiction writing, I spent years as a professor and researcher in the field of gender until my retirement. Every piece of reliable research I have read or conducted myself over the past two decades has proven to me that, biologically, male and female human beings are identical in almost every aspect. Compared to other mammals, male and female humans are fully identical except minor differences in appearance, and compared to invertebrates, male and female human beings are virtually indistinguishable. That is the result of hard science in biology intersecting with decades of research in the social sciences.

    On the other hand, U.S. society focuses on the socially constructed differences between men and women so intensely that they seem to be paramount. The legacy of severe legal discriminations between men and women have only begun to subside, leaving their mark in different cultural expectations and different psychological training — and, for that matter, different physiological training. There is no biological reason for men to be any stronger than women, but differences in upbringing begin to have their effect long before the infant is old enough to learn to speak. Yes, gender imprinting pre-dates the acquistion of speech according to almost all reliable, trustworthy studies!

    Now, here is my question:
    when writing a novel that takes place in a fantasy world or an SF world, is it better for me to be honest from a scientific perspective and treat men and women as virtually indistinguishable if they have grown up in a non-gendered world, even though almost every non-scientist reader probably believes the popular assumptions about gender differences as vastly important, built-in, inevitable, and crucial even to the point of controlling what words a person will use or how a person will respond to certain colors,
    or
    is it better for me to kowtow to the common assumptions about gender essentialism, knowing almost all my readers will hold those assumptions and perhaps even vilify me for any female character who operates outside the narrow stereotypes they genuinely believe to be natural inevitabilities, even though it is scientifically dishonest for me to accede to these popular assumptions?

    Or is there a wonderful third way where I can maintain my scientific honesty while still remaining accessible to the non-scientific majority of readers?

    I hope I will receive some honest answers in this blog, and not merely vilification by people who are so in love with the gender stereotypes that they will lash out at me as a heretic or blasphemer to their cherished gender assumptions. The honest answers free of gender essentialist zealotry would be a new online experience for me, if nothing else.

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