Women writing men

I can’t remember if I posted this before.  I know I meant to.  But look what I came across in a book of short essays by Dorothy L.Sayers, the author of the Lord Peter Wimsey books:

A man once asked me…how I managed in my books to write such natural conversation between men when they were by themselves.  Was I, by any chance, a member of a large, mixed family with a lot of male friends?  I replied that, on the contrary, I was an only child and had practically never seen or spoken to any men of my own age till I was about twenty five.  “Well,” said the man, “I shouldn’t have expected a woman [meaning me] to have been able to make it so convincing.”  I replied that I had coped with this difficult problem by making my men talk, as far as possible, like ordinary human beings.  This aspect of the matter seemed to surprise the other speaker; he said no more, but took it away to chew it over.  One of these days it may quite likely occur to him that women, as well as men, when left to themselves, talk very much like human beings also.

Indeed, it is my experience that both men and women are fundamentally human, and that there is very little mystery about either sex, except the exasperating mysteriousness of human beings in general.  And though for certain purposes it may still be necessary, as it undoubtedly was in the immediate past, for women to band themselves together, as women, to secure recognition of their requirements as a sex, I am sure that the time has now come to insist more strongly on each woman’s – and indeed each man’s – requirements as an individual person.

That was written in1938.  Over 70 years ago.  I can’t decide whether to laugh or smite something at the fact that we’re still having the very same conversation now.   I don’t study men from the outside like some sort of anthropologist documenting a strange species.  I ask myself “if I was him, with his upbringing and his beliefs and his personality (bearing in mind that society places different constraints on a man to the constraints it places on a woman) what would I do?”  And then I write that down.

Yes the ‘bearing in mind society’s constraints’ part of it means that my male characters, when hopeless and grieving and angry, are likely to drink a lot and then hit something, while my female characters are more likely to express the same emotion by crying.  But it’s still the same emotion being felt for the same reason – and that’s because both of my characters are human, which is a far far bigger similarity than any difference caused by sex.

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Jessica Freely
14 years ago

Rock on!

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