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When the heart is young, by John William Godward

For a male writer, it’s perhaps safer to write only as a man, and about men, that all the characters in our stories should be men, and the women no more than cardboard cutouts in the background labelled loosely: mother, sister, wife, love/sexual interest. Except that by doing so we eliminate half the population from our stories, and that would be silly because – you know – women can be interesting too!

But when we include women, and particularly when we try to write women characters, and especially in the first person, we risk making ourselves look ridiculous – especially to women – and that’s half our potential readership right there, laughing at us. It’s a terrifying prospect for any male writer who wants to be taken seriously! But knowing how women think is something men have been debating for millennia without coming to any satisfactory conclusions, so it would seem even the most diligent research on the subject is pointless. As for actually passing ourselves off as a female writer, with a female pseudonym, it would be a very brave man indeed who hoped to get away with that!

Apart from the monks among us, most men have at least some experience of women, so if we’re writing from experience, how come we’re prone to making such a hash of it? Don’t we take any notice of women at all – even the one’s we’re with? Could it be there’s something simplistic about the way we relate to women? For example how about this:

“She breasted boobily to the stairs and titted downwards.”

This little gem went viral on social media a while back and, yes, it’s a fair description of how a man might describe a woman in his story – what she looks like, what she did and how she did it. It’s exaggerated of course, but it drives the point home nicely. We do tend to relate on a physical level, eyes glued to bosoms and bums. All right, maybe as a man, what makes us notice a woman is what we find sexually attractive about her, or not, but if we’re introducing her as a character there must be something else about her that others – i.e. women – can relate to.

A woman might notice what the character is wearing and what that says about the person’s social, income and even moral standing – is she casually dressed, smart, frumpy, tarty? Does she look happy, sad, pensive? How does her appearance, her demeanour make you feel?

The fact she has bosoms probably wouldn’t be mentioned by a woman writer, any more than a man would write about another man having elbows – it’s simply a given that all human beings come equipped that way – unless the lady’s bosoms are the reason a guy got distracted, tripped over his feet and crashed into the water-cooler. Then it would be reasonable to mention them.

Altogether it would appear a lighter brush is needed when us chaps are writing women into our stories. We mustn’t get hung up doodling extra goggle-eyed detail into those erogenous zones – it’s all a bit adolescent. Yes, we’re programmed to respond that way, but we have to somehow transcend that level of thinking as writers of stories, realise there’s more to women than whatever it is that gets us going in the trouser department, unless of course, it’s a woman our male protagonist is interested in sexually. But even then, is it purely her physical appearance that attracts him? If it is, then say so, but accept that also says something about your guy, and is that really what you’re trying to flag to others?

What else is there? There must be something? The way she looks at him? The fact she bites her nails, taps her toe, fiddles with her hair. Why does she do that? The fact she likes re-runs of Mork and Mindy – what does that say about her? And why does he like that about her?

Now for the hard part: try imagining you’re a woman, writing as a woman, and what it is that attracts you to a man. Do you imagine it’s simply the bulge in the trouser department, or  the enormous, rippling gym-honed torso? If that’s all there is to it then fine, we can assume women are wired the same way as men – only the other way around. Except, that can’t be the case can it? Because why do you see so many good looking women hanging out with such defiantly unhealthy looking guys? Is there, after all, something fundamentally different about the way women relate to men? I mean why would they waste a body like that on such an unreformed slob? Could it be women see bodies differently – both men’s and their own?

You could have a stab along those lines: that it’s more something in his smile perhaps, or his eyes, or maybe it’s that a woman can tell a lot about a guy simply by the way he smells, and not so much by the things he says, as the things he doesn’t say. And if you’re really, really struggling, then try reading some books written by women. And if you want to know how they relate to others in an erotic way, then read some female erotica, but make sure it’s erotica written for women by women, not by men pretending to be women for men.

I’ve written ten novels now, so I’m sure I’ve come a cropper several times, had the girls breasting boobily all over the damned place. I suppose in one sense it doesn’t really matter if you get it wrong, because we’re all just amateurs writing online, aren’t we? But if you’re a big shot writer making millions, priding yourself on your authenticity, and you have your girls breasting boobily,… well, shame on you!

Of course the other argument is you’re wasting your time writing if you’re a man anyway, or at least flagging yourself as male with a male pseudonym, because an oft quoted and very discouraging statistic tells us 80% of readers these days are women and most of them prefer books by women, at least when it comes to genre stuff. About the only place left for men to write as men is  literature, but since no one’s reading much of that anyway these days no one’s going to notice, or care, if we’re breasting boobily or not.

How to write a woman into your story? There are no rules. Just do it,… but think about it, and in the process you might learn something.

 

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boxingThe life of every man is an heroic quest. Not all take up the challenge, not consciously anyway and those who do can still go badly astray. But the challenge is there, and how a man deals with it will determine the extent of his happiness and success in life.

By success, I’m not speaking in material terms of course, such as how much money in the bank he has, how big a house, how expensive his car, nor how beautiful the women he attracts. One’s success in the acquisition of such things is determined by external factors, and personal characteristics that are not always helpful, nor indeed constructive towards the greater good. And whilst compelling at first sight, even a cursory analysis will reveal the way of the material world naturally results in the nefarious duality of “me” and “everyone else” and a widening gap that separates human society into those who have and those who have not.

The lure of the material path is the first test faced by all alchemists: whether it be the glitter of a literal gold, or the promise of the purer gold of the soul, and life’s meaning, that drives one’s ambition. And in life, we are all alchemists, transforming the base substance of the conscious selves we are born with into something that can help us stay the course, while hopefully making sense of things and doing as little harm as possible along the way.

In the philosophical sense then, success in life is measured by the degree of a man’s emotional and spiritual maturity, which in turn yields such treasures as contentment, compassion for others and a lack of fear at the approach of old age and death. Such things are not acquired through competition with other males; they are more elusive; they require a man to back up a little and take stock.

Competitive masculinity is driven by egoic thinking. Ego is the layer of the psyche that measures and compares our status to that of others. Ego is that which attaches itself to the material stuff of the world, and the myriad machinations by which that stuff can be acquired. It attaches itself also to the mask of who we think we are and is the source of our fear, that we might at any point in our life lose our imagined status.

Some men are more driven than others in these respects, and such jostling and jousting with others does appear at first sight to have its rewards; their Mars-like attributes, their sporting prowess, and the sheer smell of their testosterone (a mix of stale cigarettes and beer, apparently) makes them naturally more attractive to the opposite sex. Flaxen haired girls with gym honed bodies, beach tans and perfect teeth find them irresistible. They swoon at their feet, and queue up to have their babies – or so I’m told.

As a materially successful man ages though, he faces a number of challenges, any one of which might defeat him, for it is his own mortality in every case that will let him down. Fear is foremost – fear of the loss those material things he has already acquired, so instead of slowing down as he matures, he is driven to acquire yet more self enhancing stuff – be it material wealth, goods, or power over others. Old age is another fear, with its loss of hair, teeth, and physical prowess. A man in the middle of his life might even look at his mate, who’s no longer looking so good, and decide to trade her in for a newer model, after patching up his own appearance as best he can. To a strictly material kind of man, women have no attributes greater or deeper than their material forms. Equally a material kind of woman has no interest in material men who can no longer deliver the goods. The poles become mutually repulsive. You can see where this is going.

In short then, a life such as this might leave a man feeing empty, because the man is so enamoured of his material things he has neglected his soul.

There is of course another way.

But is that any easier?

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