Recently, I was reminded of the scene from the film As Good As It Gets where the novelist Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson’s character) is talking to a receptionist. She asks Udall, “How do you write women so well?” and he replies, “I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.”
Is there a distinctly masculine or feminine voice in writing? Is it possible for a man to write a convincing first person narrative from a woman’s point of view—or vice versa? Or will an author’s gender bleed into a story no matter how hard he or she tries?
Let me explain what prompted these questions. I entered a writing contest last spring, and when the winners were posted, I noticed something: There were no male names on the list of finalists—none, zero, zip. I thought this was rather interesting, considering that the lone judge of the writing contest was male.
First of all, it’s important to understand that I’m a rather sore loser. Nevertheless, I also like to give credit where it is due, and if someone outdoes me in something, I believe I have enough good sense and character to acknowledge a job well done. Maybe these women outdid all the males who submitted material to the contest. If so, bravo! Yet I have to wonder what it was about these ladies’ writings that this particular judge found so appealing? Doe he simply have a penchant for feminine voices? Were there gender differences in the writings themselves—either in terms of subject matter or style—to which he unconsciously gravitated?
What about me? Does an author’s gender matter? Both male and female writers are certainly represented on my bookshelves at home, and I like to believe that I judge an author’s writing based on its own merits and not its creator’s sex. However, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that the male writers do outnumber the females in my library nearly three to one. Am I biased? Because I read Edward Abbey and not Danielle Steel, does this make me an insensitive, misogynistic brute? I’m not sure. You’d probably have to ask my ex-wife.