Women Protagonists and the Men Who Don’t Want to Read about Them


I realize that I am walking a thin line between understanding the male mind, when it comes to reading preferences, and stereotyping.

Some, of course, think I am stereotyping simply by referring to “the male mind” as if all humans have the same basic structure, with only individual distinctions. Well … no … besides being human we are male and female, as God created us. And then we are individuals.

Consequently I have no problem discussing “the male mind,” with the understanding that individual men will vary on either side of a continuum identified with “maleness.” But keep in mind, what I am saying on this subject is my opinion, based on my observation, not on a scientific study or even a poll eliciting corroborating (or conflicting) views.

Recently a visitor here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction asked some questions after one of my posts on women protagonists, “Women in Fiction, Part 3”:

As a female who reads a great deal, I would agree with that statement [that women can identify with female characters and better understand men by understanding the male character]. I am curious, though. Why wouldn’t the reverse also be true? Why do you think that men can’t learn about us through reading books with female main characters?

I think there are several reasons for the difference I see (and remember, I’m not saying every man will fit in every one of my points—some may not fit in any).

First, contemporary American society has created an atmosphere that can easily cause a man (and especially a boy) to be insecure in his identity as a male.

What is a man? Not so long ago answers to that question might have included “bread winner” or “leader” or “head of the household.” These things are no longer a given, and a man who wishes to claim those roles may be disparaged by society.

Being a man, then, has been reduced to a list of actions, often unattractive (scratching, spitting, ogling, and the like), but sometimes macho (assertion of power and prowess).

What man, searching for his identity in this climate, would then rush out to buy and read books starring women?

My contention is that men who have no problem reading books with female characters are probably quite comfortable with their identity as men.

I believe a second reason fewer men read books with women protagonists than do women with male protagonists, has to do with the differences in our gender make-up.

Women are emotional. Well, men are too, so let me back up. Women are more comfortable expressing our emotions than men are. In fact, I’d say women don’t feel we know people well unless we know the emotional side of them. We explore emotions because we want to connect with emotions. I suspect some men reading this paragraph are just about ready to gag. 😀

Typically men are less likely to show emotion and may even be uncomfortable around others who readily express feelings. I’ve seen boys mock boys for no other reason than for caring deeply.

And in books with women protagonists? I’d bet they all cry at least once. 😉 In fact, many of us as writers hope to induce our readers to cry (and laugh and feel some fear or worry or … emotion). Do guys pick up a book hoping they’ll cry? I doubt it! (Do male authors even wish to generate emotion the same way women writers do? Now that’s a question I haven’t thought of before).

There may be a host of other peripheral reasons why men and boys, in general, prefer to read books about guys not girls, men not women. I thought I could explore some of those as well, but I forgot how I tend to go on and on. (Perhaps a trait endemic to my role as a woman. 😉 ) Anyway, I think these two may be at the heart of the matter. Let me know what you think.

Published in: on April 30, 2010 at 9:28 am  Comments (5)  
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