Character development is one of the cornerstones of good fiction writing. It requires a keen talent for observation and a good amount of empathy, particularly when you're writing about a person who has a different perspective from your own. At the very least, you might want to do some research and talk to a few people from similar walks of life.
But as evidenced by my new favorite Twitter account, @men_write_women, many male writers are apparently clueless about women's bodies and experiences. And yet they churn out books filled with female characters that make readers ask, "has this writer ever met a woman before?" Here are 10 unintentionally hilarious pieces of published writing about women by men.
Stuart Woods is the author of a crime fiction series featuring detective-turned-lawyer Stone Barrington, a human male who thinks it's totally normal for a woman to have a small purse she stows inside her vagina. This excerpt involves a medical examiner — an official who by law in most cities must be a licensed doctor, by the way — describing the circumstances of a female victim to somebody who asks, "Where does she live?" rather than "Sorry, what did you say? A purse in her vagina? How?!"
In case you are reading this and confused as to why this is a baffling piece of writing, let's just say that no matter how elastic this part of the body is, there is probably not a single owner of a vagina who could comfortably walk with a debit card nestled within it, and the very thought makes me want to fold up into a little origami crane and fly away.
"Wait," may be saying to yourself, "isn't V.C. Andrews a woman?" She sure was, until she lost her battle with breast cancer in 1986. However, after her death, the inheritors of her estate seemed to find no moral quandary in hiring a ghostwriter to continue capitalizing on her name well into the 21st century.
That writer is Andrew Neiderman, who has written dozens upon dozens of books under Cleo Virginia Andrews' pen name. And he apparently thinks it's A-OK to write a woman observing her body the way an antebellum slave owner might. Yikestown is right.
Unfortunately, the name and title of this gem has been omitted to protect the guilty. In this instance, it appears to be a male character musing about a woman who, despite having large breasts and a soft, womanly body, managed to be capable of combat. Maybe the character is meant to seem as clueless about women's bodies as these authors appear to be? It's the only explanation for this excerpt that sits well with me.
The account has inspired others to share their own examples of bad writing about women.
I took the liberty of highlighting the passage that made me react much the way this reader of Charles Israel's Rizpah did. "A woman's strength is in her softness, her waitingness." Her waitingness? If we can just table the chauvinistic underpinnings of that sentence for a sec — we'll get back to it — what kind of word is "waitingness," and has there ever been a clunkier word ever? What an awkward way to describe women as passive and literally just sitting there, waiting for a dude to happen. And then that's followed by "the aura of the womb is upon her," along with the suggestion that the possession of a womb involves "no loss." My dude, step away from the keyboard.
This passage from Ned Vizzini's It's Kind of a Funny Story is written from the perspective of a 16-year-old boy, so I sort of get why he is absolutely fixated on breasts. Honestly, I'm mostly trying to figure out how he even knows her eyes rolled since he clearly wasn't looking at her face. And if he did clock the eye roll, how did he catch the boobs somehow moving in synch with them? And did I miss the day in anatomy class where they taught us that the optic nerve is connected to the pectorals?
This snipped it from Damned by Chuck Palahniuk. I feel like it's important to mention that Chuck is openly gay and that may explain why he clearly does not have a strong understanding of women's intimate parts. Otherwise, he probably wouldn't compare them to goosebumps? I would hope? What a weird and strange way to describe being cold.
Reddit has also been clocking bad writing about women by men...
This subreddit has collected a few gems like the one above from Once Gone by Blake Pierce, who should really do some research on women as well as sex trafficking. First off, one does not need to have borne a child to have stretch marks — or even be a woman. One merely needs to have gone through puberty, experienced weight gain or loss, or gone through a growth spurt. And apparently he thinks only childless women and girls under 30 are the victims of sex trafficking. I sure hope real detectives aren't this clueless!
Folks, this is a description of two women in a concentration camp, from Ken Follett's Winter of the World: Book Two of the Century Trilogy.
The doctor's wife is "hollow-cheeked and lined with strain" because she is in a concentration camp. It's really important that I hammer on this point for a bit, because it's essential that you realize this author is describing a woman speaking to a teen — whose adolescent body he describes as "too voluptuous for her years" — who is also in a concentration camp.
This is a passage from Supermarket, the bestselling novel by Bobby Hall, AKA rapper Logic. Apparently being rude and confrontational is a symptom of having been sexually abused as a teenager — or it's just a flimsy attempt to tear down a girl who has publicly rejected or humiliated a man in some way. He also describes two girls on this page by saying what celebrities they resemble.
John Updike may have been a celebrated man of letters, but he had a very poor understanding of the female bladder. From this passage out of The Witches of Eastwick, it would seem he thought it's connected to the urethra through a complex series of tubes, sort of like the board game Mouse Trap, which makes it so we have to sit on the toilet for minutes "waiting for the pee to come."
My theory is that the women in Updike's life would frequently take longer in the bathroom than they needed just to get a moment's rest from being explained to like they are children.
And, BTW, the female urethra is way shorter than the male version — like about five times shorter.