Men and Women: In Your Eyes

My husband took this photo. What was he thinking when he took it? Why won’t he tell me?

Minutes I spent on a pedal boat this weekend: 30

Days afterward that I am still sore: 3

Words written on my novel over the holiday weekend: 0

From the time I was 12 until I was 18, I babysat a precious little boy who performed “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane” for me. I knew then that I needed to have a son when I grew up. Boys and men were an enigma; by having my very own, I would learn how they thought and understand the opposite sex in a more meaningful way.

Ha.

Last night, I went to book club to discuss Catcher in the Rye. Good news: I know what the title means.

After a great discussion, maybe one of our best, one of the women said, “Maybe we can’t relate to it very well because we’re women, and Holden is a teenage boy.”

Eureka. Although I did have a deeper appreciation for the writing at age almost-40, I was sad to report that my current reaction mirrored my 13-year-old reaction: Hmmmm.

Here are the things I can report from my individual life experience about men, boys and male fictional characters:

1. When the going gets tough, men get angry. It’s reported that depression often manifests itself as anger in men. Holden Caulfield is a perfect fictional representation. When you’re writing your stories or novel, keep this in mind.

“I’m afraid our ice cream flavor of the day is vanilla, not bacon.”

Female character response: “Oh, and here I was, thinking about bacon. Hmmm. Let me look at the calendar. Bacon is tomorrow? Great! I’ll get vanilla today and come back for bacon tomorrow!”

Male character response: “D*%& it all to h*&$. Let me talk to the manager. If I have to fry up the bacon myself, I’m getting bacon.”

2. Men notice details, just not the same ones women do.

I got dinged in writing group for describing a (granola, earth mother-type) character as wearing Naot sandals and shopping at Whole Foods. The man in our writing group said she came across as “materialistic.” The women disagreed, saying it spoke to her character; these weren’t social-climbing brand names, merely specifics that helped us see the character better. I would argue that women use brand names in clothing, shoes and accessories as a way to help other women visualize the items.

I wear $17 Target sunglasses because wearing Kate Spade or Coach ones would be throwing money into the swimming pool. I also tell my husband that this makes me low-maintenance, and he laughs. Copiously.

Contrast the clothing/accessory details with men and cars. Picture this scene: a car drives by and throws a large can of paint out of the window. The police officer responding to the call asks my husband and me, separately, to describe the car.

My husband: “It was a Subaru Impreza WRX 2012 in Blue Pearl with a custom body kit. It sounded like he may need more transmission fluid.”

Me: “It was really blue and new and had four teenage boys inside. The paint they threw out was Sherwin Williams Sahara Gold PX 450.”

3. Men don’t ask you about your feelings.

Men would rather die than say something like, “So how is your husband feeling about his mother’s death?” If there is food or alcohol being served after the funeral, men are all over it.

Women want all the details, including which medications are involved, which t-shirt is being worn 24-7 and whether he is seeing a therapist. If so, which one? How much does she charge? Is it helping?

4. Men don’t like to gossip. Except when they do.

I have been fortunate enough to have many male friends since becoming an adult. They are fun. We laugh.

But across the board, they will tell you that they do not like to gossip. Blatant lie. The men I have known have been the biggest gossips around. They’re just sneakier about it. And they don’t elaborate in the same way women do.

Man, talking about a coworker: “Did you see Delilah? I saw her go into Thompson’s office at 8 p.m. when I left work. And, well, you know…”

Woman, in a neighboring office, talking about the same coworker: “Did you see the champagne-colored dress she was wearing before she walked into his office? I would never wear anything that short! I loved her strappy heels, though. I was thinking of picking some up for that wedding I have to go to this weekend? I wonder where she got them. I’ll ask her tomorrow when I stop by her desk for the details. Anyway, I noticed her texting someone when I walked by her desk at 5:30, but then when I asked her if she was heading home, she said she was ‘working on that Barber account.’ You know we haven’t had the Barber account for six months…”

5. Men often say exactly what they’re thinking. Exactly.

When I was younger, I used to think that men had complicated webs of thought spiralling around, just waiting for me to uncover them. If only I caught one in an unguarded moment, they might reveal the nature of their true feelings to me.

Teenage/early 20s-era male I might have liked: Dude. This song is amazing.

Song lyrics:

In your eyes

I see the doorways

To a thousand churches

Me: It really is. We had such a great time tonight. Thinking: I wonder if he looks into my eyes and sees the doorways to a thousand churches? Is he hoping we’ll get more serious? Should I ask him if he wants some more beer? No. I better not move. I want to find out how he really feels. Sit still. Be in the moment. He has gorgeous eyes. What is he thinking? Why won’t he ever tell me?

Male: Thinking: Dude. This song is amazing. Awesome drums. Awesome drums.

How do you write differently about males and females, whether they are POV characters or not? How do you keep men and women from being stereotypical but at the same time, keep them true to life? What strikes you as unreal when you read something about a man or woman in fiction?

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24 thoughts on “Men and Women: In Your Eyes

  1. crubin says:

    Interesting topic, and as always, I loved your humorous take. 🙂

    Getting into the head of the opposite gender can be tricky. It’s even more mixed up for me, because my husband and I break all types of stereotypes (I’m the TV remote person, he’s not; I don’t enjoy idle talk, he does; I’m more quick to anger, he’s not). In my current WIP, my protagonist is a teenage male, so I plan to make use of my son a great deal. He’ll get sick of me asking, “Honey, would you say this?” over and over, but he’ll just have to deal. 🙂

  2. annewoodman says:

    I’m relating to that. I’m relating to that A LOT.

  3. robincoyle says:

    This was brilliant. I chuckled the whole way through. Oh, and, what the heck DOES the title Catcher in the Rye mean?

    • annewoodman says:

      I’m going to try to sound literary in answering this: it comes from a song/poem that Holden is singing in the book. He imagines himself as some sort of hero figure who can catch the children running through the rye before they plunge over a cliff to their deaths. He wants to save them from losing their innocence. Does that make you want to read Catcher in the Rye again??

  4. David Gentry says:

    Shoot! I’m having trouble understanding myself much less someone else and much less than that a woman. I think you are doing great.

    Love, Dad

  5. Thanks for the funny, great post! As the only girl with four older brothers and years of running a rock band that had three other guys, I totally agree that men love to gossip. But you’re right—in a clear, precise way 🙂 Something I’ve noticed is when they disagree with something another guy has said, they look down. Sometimes even kicking at the floor. I guess their version of “you’re on your own with that remark.” I know I try to convey in writing that men want to fix problems and women want to talk about them.

    • annewoodman says:

      Well said! I’ve noticed the looking down at the floor thing, too! So true. And I like what you said about men wanting to fix problems, women wanting to talk about them. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. David Gentry says:

    Ok, and if they can’t fix the problem in, oh, a minute, they want to move on.
    Mom
    And they ARE bigger gossips than women!

  7. jmmcdowell says:

    I suspect writers have struggled with portrayals of men and women since they first set quill to papyrus…. 🙂 It’s tough for me because I don’t think I fit the stereotype of “most” women. And sometimes I think my take on life is a bit out of step with most people. So how good a job am I doing of portraying men and women in my novels? Hopefully okay since my test readers haven’t made an comments about that!

    I’ve always worked with a lot of men and yes—they gossip just as much as any women I know! 🙂

  8. legionwriter says:

    Fun post. And you’re right; I’ve been known to gossip with the best of them.

  9. Holly says:

    Awesome post! I loved your take on the car/paint-throwing story. And “In Your Eyes.” Sooo true! I’m glad you had some insight into Catcher in the Rye–I had no idea what the title meant.

    As far as the lack of bacon-flavored ice cream goes, the female character might get so sad she cries in her car afterward because she’s having a bad day, and then tell her friends later how the ice cream was just one of the many things that went wrong. But yeah, she won’t get angry!

    • annewoodman says:

      Ha! But after eating vanilla ice cream, it’s tough to cry… sugar rush. ; )

      Yeah, sadly, I didn’t remember that Holden’s brother had died–he was grief-stricken. Did I catch that the first time around? I’m not sure.

  10. 4amWriter says:

    Very funny, very true. I grew up with four older brothers, so I’m pretty down with how they think and why. More because if I wanted them to pay attention to me, I had to pay attention to them first.

    Men are terrible gossips, and you’re right, they are much more sly in their approach. Like they’ll gossip during racquetball–it’s disguised.

    Men totally get angry fast, and they throw things. This isn’t to say that women don’t get angry nor throw things but we are much more sly about it 😉

    I think in writing we have to be really careful about those gender differences impeding originality. I personally like the characters that have an unexpected twist (the sensitive jock, the raging artist) so that they don’t become predictible.

    I’m not surprised that the men in your writer’s group would assume your female character is materialistic because of the brand-name situation. Most men have trouble looking beneath the surface for motivation, they tend to go with what’s put right in front of their faces and assume that’s all there is to the matter.

    Great post!

    • annewoodman says:

      Thanks, Kate. I agree that you have to be careful about stereotyping, and my observations are putting one gender into a neat box… obviously not always the case.

      Thanks for reading.

  11. Okay Anne, So what’s your point? I understood the male views perfectly. 🙂

    • annewoodman says:

      Not that we’re all stereotypes, but there are some startling similarities among us within our gender.

      • The only thing I know for sure is that I will never understand the fairer sex. We have a sign my wife put up in our family room. It says, “There are two theories to argueing with a woman…neither one works!” Nuff said.

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