I'm not a man, and I don't have
mind-reading powers (yet!), but I do have the next-best thing to
telepathy: books. I read a lot of books. Having gone to a schmancy
college with a fairly old-fashioned English department, I've read a
mountain of books by men, primarily and unfortunately white Western
men. I also watch a lot of movies and television, most of which are
made by men. This unhealthy amount of media consumption has given me
the confidence to say that I have a good handle on what (primarily
white, Western, able-bodied, heterosexual, cisgendered) men are
like—and I bet you do, too! They are, after all, the dominant
Based on this lifetime of research, we
can come to the following, not-so-shocking conclusion: Men are
different. I don't mean from women.
I mean from each other.
There was even a scientific study
proving that this is so. Researchers found that, for the most part,
men and women aren't all that dissimilar, personality-wise, but
individual men can vary substantially from other men. But I don't
need science to tell me this, because I know men, and also I read
books, and books tell me men are varied creatures.
Let's do a little experiment. When you
hear or read the term “male voice,” what do you think of? Punchy,
“muscular” sentences and little description? All male gaze all
the time? Little affection or romance and little philosophy? A lot of
machismo and little to no complaining?
Whatever your idea of the typical male
voice is, keep it in your head for a second.
Now consider this list of characters:
You get where I'm going with this. All
of these characters? Male, written by men, all extremely different
from one another. I know they're all different because I've been in
their heads. I know how they think. So do you, probably. You know
some men are macho and some are neurotic. You know some men are
taciturn and some are florid. You know some are cold and others
some are all about the body and some are all about the mind, and some
are loners while some would do anything for their friends and family.
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
Just look at poetry written by men!
Compare Basho to Wordsworth to Rumi to Eliot to Juvenal to Donne to
Larkin to Auden to Hughes to Pope to Yeats to Whitman to Homer to
Hughes to Ginsburg to Carroll to Neruda.
You cannot look at that list and tell me there is such a thing as a
male voice. And if there's no such thing as a male voice, trust me,
you can write a male character.
Just write a human. Perhaps that human acts a little differently from
a woman, because he has privileges she does not, and perhaps he's
been socialized to act a certain way by his elders. Then again, maybe
he hasn't. It depends on the character.
Long story short, to write all male
characters as if they're all the Marlboro Man or Seth MacFarlane is
doing men a disservice, and it's doing boy readers a disservice. Why
not show them there are many different ways to be a man? It's not
about being politically-correct.
It's about being accurate.