Writing from Different Perspectives

A personal pet peeve of mine is when someone critiques a book by saying the author had no right to write from a certain point of view. Specifically, it’s the “men shouldn’t write about women” mantra that rubs me the wrong way, though I also feel the same way about other perspectives in general. There have been times when I have specifically ended up avoiding talking about something in a book simply because there are too many pitfalls for me to stumble into. When it gets to the point that people would rather not even address an issue or point of view than actively engage with it, I think something’s gone wrong. (Yes, you can criticize me for not being brave enough, I suppose, but I’d also point out the fact that I’ve been ready and willing to write about just about anything on my blog. I’m not generally the type to shy away from something, so the fact that I have should be indicative of just how skittish it’s made me. Authors have been torn apart online for inadvertently saying something wrong.)

Of my 6 published books so far (including the one coming in August), three are from a boy’s point of view, two are from a girl’s, and one is from an alpaca’s. (A female alpaca, I suppose I should mention, though no one’s really lambasted me on that point yet.) I don’t mind people saying that I wrote a point of view poorly. I don’t think I’m perfect. But I really dislike when they say I did it because I don’t understand women and can’t see things from their perspective. Don’t get me wrong: I realize I’m not a woman, and that my lived experiences will never be identical to a woman’s. What gets me is this idea that there’s a “woman point of view” or a “man point of view,” as if all people fall in the either/or category.

Yes, I’m a guy. It’s not really something I’ve ever thought about that much, in part because it’s a position of privilege, but also in part because when I start thinking too much about it, my head starts to spin. What does it mean to be a girl? What does it mean to be a boy? My entire life, I have generally related more to women than men. I am far from the stereotypical macho man, and many of the things I like to do are more typical for women than men. Whether it’s the profession I work in (definitely dominated by women), the activities I enjoy (baking, crafting, the arts), or just how I generally purport myself, if you were going to mark me down on a spectrum from male to female (in terms of stereotypes), most of those would fall on the feminine side of things.

So what? I get the argument that gender is a construct, and that our society tries to shove everyone into certain categories that may or may not fit all that well. But I personally believe we’re all unique, and I don’t get that hung up on what I’m “supposed” to do or think or say. Because I feel greater kinship to more feminine things than masculine things, does that make me a woman? I think these are questions most people never thought to ask twenty or thirty years ago (or at least, I never thought to ask them). It’s a different ball game now, as for some reason picking a side has become more and more important to some.

I am me. I like the things Bryces like, and I dislike the things Bryces dislike. I realize and sometimes feel the pressure from society to be something Bryces aren’t generally inclined to be, and I typically just ignore it. (Again, I also realize that as a straight cis male, this is much easier for me than it would be if I were in a different situation.)

When I write about a character, I try my best to see life through that character’s perspective. I really try to put myself aside and think how they would think, instead. I think that sort of exercise is a healthy one, and if more people were to do it, it would foster greater compassion for each other. (Ideally.) I suppose what people mean when they say men shouldn’t write from a woman’s perspective is that men don’t seem to capture what it’s like to be a woman for that specific individual. The idea that all women see things the same way is just as preposterous as claiming all men see things the same way.

I don’t know. I’m spinning in circles here, and I’m just trying to get to some sort of a conclusion that makes sense to me. I see it this way: I could just as easily write from a boy’s perspective and be critiqued that I screwed it up. That the boy didn’t feel genuine. But if I did that, it’s not because of my gender. It’s because of my skill as a writer, or lack thereof. So when people paint it all with a broad brush and say men shouldn’t write from a female perspective, I immediately bristle. That could also be because of my background in science fiction and fantasy. Authors regularly write about aliens or talking lions or people in imaginary kingdoms. They succeed or fail not because of their gender or race or sexual orientation, but because of their writing chops.

Maybe that’s what people are trying to say when they say that of my writing. If so, I can’t really argue the point, but I do wish they’d phrase it differently. We need more people seeing things from other perspectives, not fewer. True, you can say the world needs more actual women writing, more actual people of color, more actual diversity. I don’t debate that. But I also don’t think the only people who are allowed to write about white, straight, Latter-day Saint, male librarians who live in Maine are . . . people who are exactly that. And if someone did write about a person like that, and I read it and didn’t feel like it captured who I was, I still wouldn’t really care that much.

Because they wouldn’t be writing about me. They’d be writing about someone else who happens to share many of my same characteristics. And that someone else could be (and likely is) completely different than me.

And I guess that’s all I have to say about that for now.

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