Thursday, February 01, 2007

Women and Crime Fiction

by Joyce Tremel

On Sarah Weinman’s blog yesterday, there was a link to an intriguing article on women crime writers. The author of the article, Julie Bindel, interviewed several female British novelists about writing crime novels and what makes their books different than those written by men. The authors all stated mostly the same thing: That women humanize the victims better than men. They write crime novels as a way of “understanding the danger that lurks around us.”

The more I think about it, the more I think this is true. While both men and women are equal in the ability to write crime novels, each have different ways of presenting the story. One way is not better than the other. Just different.

Men like to deal with facts. Many times (not always), men lay out the story, investigate the crime and catch the killer. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am. There’s blood and guts and maybe a little bit of angst on the part of the protagonist—but not as much as a female writer would show.

Women, on the other hand, are more likely to explore the reasons for the crime. They want to know why the murder occurred—not just how. Female characters often go through quite a bit of anxiety and anguish in their quest. They want not only to find the killer, but bring some justice to the victim.

From what I’ve seen, this is true in real police work, too. Female officers are more likely to empathize with the victim. Male officers just want to solve the crime. “Just the facts, ma’am,” as Joe Friday used to say. That’s not to say they don’t feel sympathy for the victim—they do—but they don’t handle it the same way a female officer does.

Another thing I found interesting about Sarah’s post were the comments. There were several comments from men who, in my opinion, completely misunderstood what the article was about. For some reason, they seemed to take it more as personal criticism, than just a general study of how women and men can approach the same subject in different ways. They accused the interviewed authors of stereotyping. I didn’t see the article as stereotyping men at all. The women were giving their views on how women view violence and how they portray it in their own work. There was no male bashing of any kind. The differences between the male comments and female comments just proves the point that men and women are inherently different. We just don’t think the same. That should be a surprise to no one.

What do you think of the article? Do you agree that women and men write differently? When writing a character of the opposite sex, how do you approach these differences?

6 comments:

Kristine said...

Joyce,

I loved this article and actually printed it out. I think there is definitely a distinct difference between how men and women approach writing crime fiction. It's not about which one is better than the other one. It's about bringing a different experience to a reader.

pat said...

As a young feminist, I was constantly on the alert for statements that compared men to women and made claims of great differences. Remember the spectacle of Billie Jean King trouncing Bobby Riggs? That was supposed to prove...something. However, as an older and hopefully wiser person, I've realized that men and women are different and that the problem is that what men do, and what men excel at doing, is often much more highly valued by society. Really, what's more important: Being a good mother or a good quarterback? Being a good stripper or a good mother? Which pays better? It's a man's world and it is human nature to think your own talents and interest are the most worthwhile. I myself think the things I'm good at, like being a smart aleck, is way more valuable than some other people's qualities, like being neat or punctual.

Joyce said...

Kristine, it's not often that an article impresses me as much as this one.

What really floored me was the way male writers responded to it. Did anyone read their comments? I couldn't understand where they came up with some of the things they mentioned. Any guys out there reading this? I'd like to know your reaction.

Pat, I think it's pathetic that sports have taken on such great importance in this country. I heard on the radio the other day that men put so many more hours into planning their Superbowl viewing than what to get their sweethearts for Valentine's Day. If I was Queen of the Universe, I'd ban ALL sports!

Tory said...

I don't think recognizing men and women handle things differently is a way of putting them down. After reading, John Grey's Mars/Venus books I developed a great empathy for men.

Before, when I was on a date and the guy was talking too much I'd think, "This guy is full of himself, what a jerk!" After reading this book I think, "This guy is trying to impress me, which means he likes me a little. I need to give him a chance."

Kristine said...

I just read the comments about the article, Joyce. Yikes! I didn't see the article as male-bashing at all, IMO. Instead, I thought it was an insighful look into the contrast of how males and females view crime fiction and the writing process.

kathie said...

I think women write everything different...many female protags written by men feel very manish to me. Obviously there are many men who write women beautifully, but often I can feel the stretch.