What specifically do we need to do to write accurate female characters? Here are some suggestions.
Notice that I qualify most statements. And you must intuit the existence of qualifications if I don’t make them explicit. Generalities usually have lots of exceptions and variations.
Characterizations of anyone include the PEMS variables: physical, emotional, mental, and social. Each family of variables builds on the previous: P<E<M<S.
Women have unique plumbing and protrusions. We can’t ignore them completely, but only if the story requires it do we need to do more than mention them, as here.
“Joan donned sports bra, running shorts, and running shoes.”
The smaller size of women puts them at a disadvantage in a fight. To even up matters, they must use guile, skill, and distance weapons. In manual combat, they must use less of their arms and more of their legs, as women’s legs tend to approach parity with men’s legs.
Their average smaller size also gives them an advantage: the square-cube law. This physiological principle is why spindly-legged fleas can jump many times their height, and stocky elephants can’t jump at all. It also give the vascular systems of women an advantage over those of men. This is why women can endure higher G-forces in fighter jets than men, and why male fighter jocks tend to be short.
There are other physical considerations, such as those relating to reproduction. But this is enough to give a starting point on the physical variables we use in characterizing women.
“Modern” psychology hardly deserves its adjective. It has barely advanced beyond the alchemical stage of scientific development. And in some areas has not advanced out of this stage. It will be decades and perhaps centuries before we can disentangle genetic predispositions from learned responses. So I’ll not try.
Women give freer expression to their emotions. They tend more than men toward cooperation and compromise rather than competition and winning. In a romantic relationship they will focus more on love than lust, whereas it is the opposite for men.
Women may be emotionally hardier than men. Certainly they can possess at least as much courage. And courage comes in many areas, not just the physical arenas of pain and fear of death.
(These are TENDENCIES, remember. Individual characters may vary greatly from the norms.)
This is another area where scientific research in psychology has made little progress, partly because of the many and risky social pressures to assert specific conclusions.
Women tend to be more attentive to and able to handle sound stimuli, men to visual stimuli. In sexual situations “sweet nothings” whispered in a woman’s ear is more likely to win her to one’s bed. States of undress and sight of a potential lover’s body is more likely to seduce a man. Women are more likely to talk to themselves about a problem, men more likely to doodle on paper.
Women are more sensitive to olfactory stimuli than men. Both scent and sound are omnidirectional and short-range senses, women’s strengths. Sight is one-directional and long-range, a male strength. The reason is that women and children are historically kept to a small, easier protected area. Men scout around them and travel to great distances to find food and fight enemies.
Women are said to be more intuitive and creative than men, who are more logical and critical. This may even be true. But most problem-solving in every field from artistic to practical to scientific requires both the “left-brain” and “right-brain” and requires them to work together. Just as we are many times more effective if we use our left and right arms together, so too the truly smart person uses all of their mental abilities.
(To repeat, these are TENDENCIES. Individual characters may vary greatly from the norms.)
Women and men are both social creatures, but the organizations and interactions of the two tend to be different. This is the most complex of the four levels of variables, since it builds on the previous three. I’ll only scratch the surface in this post.
Women are bombarded from birth with messages that they must be attractive, or become attractive. Billions of dollars are spent each year on this message. Billions more are spent on products and services to carry out this imperative. However, the messages delivered by commercial channels such as magazines are only the tip of the iceberg. We receive these messages all the time. Sometimes the messages are very subtle; these are the hardest to fight because we may not even notice them.
I say “we” though I’m a man. Men are influenced by these messages almost as much as women.
This training is so effective that often even the most politically correct feminists and masculine Lesbians will feel uncomfortable going out in public without at least applying invisible lip gloss.
Women are taught to desire children and to raise them. And most of them do have this desire, at least abstractly. How much of this is biological and how much psychological conditioning we may know a century or two from now. We don’t know now. But the point is academic, at least for writers. We need only portray the facts.
Or if we write fantasy or SF which shows a different reality we must explain it somehow – at least to ourselves, even if we leave the explanation out of our stories.
Bullying has been much in the media recently. But irrational hatred and actions caused by it have been with us since humans came into existence. The extermination of Jews by the Nazis is an extreme example.
Bullying by women most often takes the form of verbal bullying: the stereotypical “mean girls” of teen fiction – who do exist outside of fiction. Or, as in several cases mentioned in the media recently, physical bullying is instigated by girls or women. Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth is fictional, but I can’t help wondering how many “great leaders” were really pushed into their folly by their women.