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Bending Gender

Updated: Feb 16, 2021

During my decision making and planning in my two short stories for this term, one thing that has been particularly playing on my mind is how we write gender.

As a straight 25 year old female, I feel that I am quite solidified in my identity. I know what I like, I know what I dislike. I know my body, my mind and what I want out of life. However, when experimenting with a first person narrative, I find I want to use the voice of a male. Now, I'm completely unbiased as to what I gender I WANT to write in, but previously, I have been told by readers that if I'm going to write from a male perspective, then I HAVE to change up my writing style.

This idea stemmed from the fact that I was in fact, a female writer, who had attempted to write a story based on an ex-institutionalised man in his early twenties. One reader pointed out that there was absolutely no sexual interest or 'male attributes' in my protagonist and that this was problematic and unrealistic.

Now, as much as I appreciate criticism, I found this comment a bit bizarre. I was not writing a romance, neither was I intending to include a sex scene in my story. What I wanted was to highlight the injustice and difficulties someone faces once they leave an institution. If I had written it from a woman's perspective, it would have, essentially, been the same.

So now I find myself in this predicament where I feel that I should bend and reshape my characters personalities so they can fit a certain stereotype. Understandably, this may help my reader with identifying with the protagonist/s but I really don't feel it is necessary. Gender, to me, is completely fluid. You are born a blank slate and paint your canvas. The idea that what genitalia we are born with should determine our personalities, interests, how we should dress, think and feel is mind-blowing. What matters is making ourselves happy and how we interact with other people.

If I had written the story in a 'male' voice, what would I have changed? Would I have had the protagonist talk about his appearance? His feelings towards other men? Towards women? Towards life in general? I could have swapped his name, his pronouns, and whatever else and the protagonist would still have embodied the same personality and followed the same story with very few minor changes.

So, when should a specific voice be exaggerated?

Back when I wrote that first book, I was very new to writing. I felt that any criticism meant that my writing was unworthy. Fortunately, I have developed as both a writer and reader and understand that the needs of a reader depends on a lot of different aspects. It can depend on their political stand, their background, family circumstances, religious beliefs, culture, education, age, hobbies or personal interests. However, not all feedback is about the matter of liking something or not. It can also be constructive for the writer to learn why somebody felt a certain way about the way you wrote something or why you wrote it that way. It also makes you question yourself. Why did I choose to write from a man's POV? If I really believe gender shouldn't matter, then why did I not just write a female's POV? Why did I choose to break a social boundary and expect no retaliation?

Once I had thought about it, I realised that perhaps this is what I wanted to call attention to. That men and women are essentially the same. The fact that I felt so defensive over what gender I'd narrated my story in made me realise that there is still a lot of injustice out there. I had unconsciously tried to rebel against traditional standards and had defended my decision - In the twenty-first century, where equality is still being fought for, where gender-stereotyping is still circulated as a normal feature of life.

So, to really rock the boat, my current novella focuses on men's mental health. I made this decision to not only raise awareness for the cause, but to also point out that as a race of human beings, we are able to understand one another. We don't need division. It is unnecessary. Neither sex nor gender needs to fit a certain stereotype. However, while there are still cases of suicides and abuse caused by societal pressure, it is important that we understand how difficult it is to break free of this dangerous and manipulative conformity.

Can you think of any successful stories where the writer has used the voice of the opposite sex? Let me know in the comments!

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