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Her blog post throbbed with the disdain of a woman who’d never contemplated her own breasts

A dark-haired woman in a black dress looking at herself in a full-length mirror
“Boy, do I have some perky breasts that any man would love to motorboat.”

I walked into the room with a confidence that would have been alluring on a more attractive woman but, unrelentingly average as I am, could only be read as arrogance. My oversized tank top skimmed over breast-shaped breasts, hiding feminine curves that still have to be mentioned even though you couldn’t even see them. I wore tight pants that said “workout,” stretched over a generous ass that said “work me out,” and he might have been tempted to take me up on my unmistakable offer had I not been, tragically, in my late thirties. Above my neck, there were other body parts.

Young adult writer Gwen C. Katz has presented us with a tale that can be appreciated by readers of all ages: a male author claiming that men can write female protagonists just as well as any woman, meaning that diversity in publishing is hardly necessary. His evidence? His own writing, of course. Katz generously provides a sample of said prose, demonstrating his undeniable skill at writing from a woman’s perspective. Because women spend so much time walking around and waxing poetic about the shape of their own ass and the extreme tightness of their pants.

The actual copy from the book, for those who need it:

I sauntered over, certain he noticed me. I’m hard to miss, I’d like to think — a little tall (but not too tall), a nice set of curves if I do say so myself, pants so impossibly tight that if I had had a credit card in my back pocket you could read the expiration date. The rest of my outfit wasn’t that remarkable, just a few old things I had lying around. You know how it is.

Oh, I know how it is.

(Said protagonist later noted that she had “red lips like [she] had just devoured a cherry popsicle covered in gloss,” and seriously, who would do that? Why would someone cover a popsicle in gloss in the first place, and who would then look at it and want to eat it? Dude can’t even write human protagonists.)

While assuring us that men truly are capable of writing realistic female protagonists, Katz also provides a series of cringeworthy excerpts, courtesy of our self-proclaimed expert author, that are all from chapter one.

On Twitter, Whit Reynolds put out a challenge: Describe yourself like a male author would. And the responses were way better than the original author’s attempt.

And let’s not ignore the fact that even when the author is supposedly writing a female protagonist, he still centers the male gaze — all “I could imagine what he saw in me” and “I could only imagine the thoughts that were running through his head.” It doesn’t count if you just write down all the stuff gross men say when a woman walks into a bar and then add “I knew what he saw.” It would be like if I wrote, “I knew what she saw. Ripped biceps (but not too ripped). Junk cupped by my boxer briefs into an enticing bulge that would make any woman want to take a closer look.”

You know how it is.

[h/t Electric Literature]

10 thoughts on Her blog post throbbed with the disdain of a woman who’d never contemplated her own breasts

  1. The first qualification of a good writer is to have read others’ good writing. This guy obviously flunked that 101. This isn’t fanfic, it’s fap fiction.

    How many actual non-vinyl women has he even conversed with?

    1. And in that spirit, I offer the following passage free to whichever male author jumps on it first:

      I contemplated the lush curve of my breasts in the mirror. It’s impossible to find blouses that will button up over them, and I’m so sick of wearing camisoles. But it’s better than being sexually harassed. “Maybe today will be the day #MeToo reaches the service industry,” I told my reflection sardonically, and then left the room without waxing poetic about any other clothing items or body parts because people don’t do that.

      1. Well, I’m not cis female, but it all sounded pretty realistic, up to “and then left the room….” Because most people don’t think much about what they don’t think (or “wax poetic”) about.

      2. Because most people don’t think much about what they don’t think (or “wax poetic”) about.

        That’s a good point. I should have phrased that better.

  2. Isn’t this bad writing regardless? Like, making a character watch themself in front of a mirror is super lazy writing? Unless, maybe the character switched body in their sleep and is noticing by looking in a mirror(which is lazy for another reason, the fact that it could create more drama if other characters pointed it out to them)?

  3. I agree that this is an example of spectacularly bad writing. As such, it isn’t really evidence that diversity is necessary. I think most good male writers, if they take it seriously, could write women protagonists that are at least 90% true to life. It’s that 10% that makes the difference between a well-written trope and a character that makes women say to themselves, “yes, that’s how it would be.”

    I’m a trans woman, so I’ll speak from that perspective, but I think the principle is the same.

    Not too long ago, someone on a site I frequent spoke highly of a book by a cis male author, Wes Boyd. The book is The Girl in the Mirror, which is basically about the journey of a trans woman from a picked-on high school boy through transition and into middle age.

    I thought the book was well-written, and he got all the details right. Yet the story did not speak to me. The trans characters didn’t feel real. It came across as a cis person’s idea of what it’s like to be trans.

    By contrast, the short story “Monster Girls Don’t Cry,” in Uncanny magazine (I heard about it from an article on Jim Hines’s blog), felt very real to me, even though it was pure fantasy. It was about monsters living in a human world, and I felt like it got to the truth of what it feels like to be trans in a cisnormative world. (Or at least how it feels to me.) The author is enby, and I find it hard to believe that a cis author could have written something like that.

    Interestingly, one commenter on the blog article kept insisting that it was derivative and didn’t offer any perspective that hadn’t been done better elsewhere. She also acted insulted when I said it sounded like she was cis, because she insisted that “cis” was a slur; I leave it to my readers to draw the obvious conclusions.

    BTW, there’s an asymmetry between men writing about women vs. women writing about men. (H/T to Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl for this.) Men are actively discouraged (mainly by other men) from learning too much about women, whereas women have to understand men pretty well just to survive. This applies to most other oppressor/oppressee divides (white/black, hetero/queer, cis/trans, etc.) as well.

    1. Yeah, the only reason this particular episode really became a thing is that the guy presented his own work as an example not just of good writing, but specifically of a well-written female protagonist — and not just that, but a female protagonist so well-written that women aren’t even needed to tell our own stories. If he hadn’t made that bold claim, he’d be just another lukewarm writer among many specifying that his character had two violet eyes.

  4. I read a fair amount of erotica, and frankly I can’t even bring myself to read most physical descriptions of characters, and the descriptions of the female characters are far worse.

    The examples he gives is straight out of trashy erotic writing, particularly “tee hee here I am checking myself out in the mirror with my perky breasts and weirdly male gaze, and commenting on my ass even though I’ll pretty much never see it”.

    Did he mis-spell “waist” as “waste” as well? I’m almost surprised he didn’t give her cup size.

    Here’s the kind of thing I would think looking in the mirror:
    “Does this look okay? Does it hang okay? I like how my breasts look in this dress. Are my fat folds too obvious? Maybe I should change. How do I look from the side? Hmm, my butt looks good. ….What is the weather like, should I wear tights or not?” Plus or minus squeezing or jiggling my breasts for a couple seconds, because… well, they’re built in stress-relievers, no? When I’m on my own sometimes I squish one absent-mindedly. Like a lot of guys do with their crotch. It isn’t really sexual. It’s just Squishy.

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