The Difference Between Guys and Gals

I sometimes worry, when writing from male points of view, that I’m getting it all wrong.  Okay, so, granted, I took some BBC quiz thing once that was supposed to measure the relative gender of your brain and came out strongly on the male side.  Spent most of my childhood running wild through the neighborhood with the boys and seemed to hold me own.  But still.  I’m a girl.  Got the parts to prove it.  Got the damned monthly agony to prove it, too, though I wish I didn’t.  And I sometimes wonder if my boys are turning out too much like girls.

Livia Blackburne’s post On Writing Realistic Male Characters is a bit of a help there.  So is seeing stark yet subtle examples of the differences in the way men and women view the world.

For instance, I’ve just finished Doctor Who Series Four (for the second time), and something about the end of it was bugging me.  What I’m about to discuss has spoilers, so for those of you who haven’t yet seen the show, but plan to, and want their viewing experience to be spoiler-free, I’m putting the rest below the fold.

Right.  All present and accounted for, aside from the non-spoiler sorts?  Good.  Great.  Let me set the scene: in Series Two, The Doctor’s companion, Rose Tyler, ended up trapped in a parallel universe.  Considering how close the two of them were, it was terrible for both.  She loved him, he loved her, and twas sad stuff all round.

I mean, just look at the two of them and tell me they weren’t something special:


At the end of Series 4, Rose finds her way back.  And it’s one of those hugely touching moments where they see each other, and break into this flat-out run, and just as The Doctor’s about to reach her BAM! Dalek shoots him.  Which isn’t much of a problem, really, what with the whole regeneration thing.  But Russell T. Davies had her wanking about how he can’t change, not after all she’s gone through to find him, as he lays there unconscious and dying on the Tardis floor.

Drove.  Me.  Nuts.

One, she’s already been through one of The Doctor’s regenerations, and that had turned out great, so why would she worry about it?  Two, he was dying, she loves him, and she should’ve really been screaming at him to get on with the whole regeneration thing before it’s too late, not sitting there wanking about him changing.  Three – oh, fuck it, I’m tired of pummeling Russell T. Davies.

So that weighed on me.  Worried at my mind for a few days.  It was like having a tiny little rock in my sock, driving me absolutely mad.  And then I had it, the reason he hadn’t got it: he’s being a stereotypical boy.  Physical appearance means a lot to a guy.  Whereas a woman, meh.  Yeah, ladies like the good looks.  But we aren’t quite as fixated on them.  If the person we’ve fallen for is still going to be pretty much the same in mind and emotion, we can get over the physical package.  But apparently, that never occurred to Russell T. Davies.  So he had Rose being a wanker.  Argh.

Contrast that with a story arc from Series 3, “Daleks in Manhattan” and “Evolution of the Daleks.”  These were written by Helen Raynor.  And they didn’t lack for kick-arse action – the lady, ladies and gentlemen, is fucking brutal.  But she’s also a she.  And so we have a bit of a mirror element in here, with two of the supporting characters, Laszlo and Tallulah.  In the beginning, we see that they’re sweethearts.  Then the Daleks snatch him away and turn him into a pig-slave (long story).  His mind remained intact, but he wouldn’t win any beauty contests now.  He hid himself away from Tallulah, convinced she could never love a monster.  But when she found out, though she was a bit squigged at his appearance, she loved him still, and they go on to what we can expect was a long and happy life together.

That, my darlings, is the essential difference between these two episodes.  Helen Raynor got both the guy and gal right – the guy afraid that physical deformity would ruin the relationship, the gal too much in love to care.  Russell T. Davies, on the other hand, got the gal absolutely wrong.  And he made Rose Tyler a little bit less of a character because of it.

The moral: men and women are similar, but not the same, and a writer would do well to always remember that.  Make sure that when you’re running your work by your Wise Readers, you’re asking them to point up the bits where you got the other gender willing-suspension-of-disbelief shatteringly wrong.  But also keep in mind that generalizations about gender differences are just that – generalizations.  You can have shallow women and deep men when it comes to the whole body vs. mind thing.  Real people aren’t 100% stereotypical, and neither should your characters be.  The most important thing is to stay true to the character you’ve built.

All that said, I’ll forgive Russell T. Davies anything after what he did with “Midnight.”

The Difference Between Guys and Gals
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2 thoughts on “The Difference Between Guys and Gals

  1. 1

    OK I got to defend my boy the Doctor here, I've been watching since Jon Pertwee, (#3) and caught up as much as possible with the first 2 (being as around 1/2 of those episodes are lost and/or destroyed), I've even managed to choke down that Americanized abomination they called a "feature" film. However, the point that you seem to be missing is, the Doctor's regenerations are a "death" of that incarnation. He literally loses the personality traits and quirks that made that persona tick and starts from scratch with memories intact but no emotional connection to glue them together (may I remind you of River Song's disappointment in the Library of the Damned, insofar as that was not "her" Doctor)And that by dying he would lose his love for Rose forever (and that was a greater loss then her being trapped in a alternate reality), there would always be a deep affection, but he would lose that love, case in point he has an affection for the re-encountered Sarah Jane Smith, but his affection was no where near as strong as when he was the Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker incarnations. I might also point out his obvious distress when he finally did regenerate into the current Matt Smith Doctor when he agonized over doing so with the line ,"I'm not ready to die!"

  2. 2

    Speaking as someone whose gender-wiring is possibly more scrambled than yours (even), I thoroughly support characters who aren't strongly-gendered, or who act outside of the "normal" gender box.In other words: don't fret it. If it seems right for the character, then it's right.If you're concerned about realism, I'm thinking possibly the place to focus is on areas where your character interacts with other people who don't know them: does the character's behavior stand out as clearly not fitting inside normal standards? If so, it's probably enough to acknowledge this somehow (e.g. have the other character notice it somehow — the way you'd handle any outstanding visual trait) — and then not worry about it.Hmm, but I guess you also need to take into account how the character would respond to social pressure to conform to gender norms. Much of their behavior, then, may depend a great deal on what kind of society you've put them in. (Livia Blackburne's story is an example of this. Yes, most boys are inconsiderate jerks — and if you're not, you'll get called names by the ones who are… in modern Western culture. In other cultures, the rules are not always the same.)And then of course there's writing those pesky "normal" characters who are expected to stay inside the gender box. I've never known how to deal with them, as a reader or a writer.Most male writers seem to kind of ignore what I think of as "character"; the interactions between people are much more surface-level — more calculating, less empathetic — and the characters are generally less introspective. I prefer the introspection, but then I'm an introvert, so what do I know… *promises to go back into the corner and be quiet once finished commenting*As far as I can tell, Lois McMaster Bujold gets male characters "right" — or at least writes male characters that I can stand to read, even when they're really stupid (which only a few of them are).Brief comment on Rose: she does tend to be a bit of a whiner — and I have to wonder how much of that comes from being written by men. If I had time, I would immediately (in the name of SCIENCE!, of course) sit down and watch every Rose episode and make notes on wankerish behavior, then correlate to the gender of the author.Oh, and a bit of Gender 101: physical attributes are part of gender, but do not define it.

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