As I’ve started circulating my novel to agents, I’ve received the question – always from women – “Why is your protagonist a man?”
I then say, “Why do you ask?”
They reply, “I just wondered.”
Obviously there’s a subtext to the question that they’re not sharing. I’ve wondered if they feel a woman can’t write from a man’s point of view, that she isn’t allowed to imagine any perspective not her own. Or if my writing from a man’s point of view is some betrayal of my sex – something like going to the other side. Maybe the women who ask just aren’t interested in reading stories about men. There are certainly plenty out there, written by men about men for men. You know, masculinity as the universal point of view. Feminism 101.
I’ve also wondered why my recent writing has focused on male characters. I admit that some of my writing is cathartic. I’ve reached an age at which I fully understand the strange repression that accompanies femininity. I now see the doors that were closed to me in my younger years, or opened to the wrong corridors for the wrong reasons. If I was invited to the table it wasn’t for my brains but my entertainment value. Youth and its beauty are entertaining. The clarity of this truth is jarring.
So now I explore the masculine side in my writing. I wonder what made those men tick: the employer who diminished me with the compliment, “I think smart women are sexy.” Or the mentor who was a fumbling mass of arms and lips as I sought advice. There was the college chemistry teacher who gave me a B when I deserved a C. I realized later that he hoped to date me. Then there was the Shakespeare professor who gave me a B when I deserved an A – this after I declined his offer for extra-curricular tutoring.
Later there were the colleagues who advised me that my scholarly work wasn’t ready for publication – this simultaneous with it being accepted by an academic press. And then there were all the blundering efforts at communication and the endless mansplaining. I thought if I listened long enough I’d have a chance to be heard. That never happened.
I mistook interest for respect. Then I aged and it were as if I gradually became invisible. From this ledge I have a better view. What I observe is unaware that I’m watching.
I know the woman’s point of view. I now want to make sense of a perspective that sometimes makes no sense to me at all. I want to distinguish what is simply human from that which is masculine. That’s why I write male characters.