Is it wrong to write from the perspective of a gender you don’t identify with? Meaning, if I identify as a woman, is it wrong to write a first-person narrative from the perspective of a man? Or a man to write from the perspective of a woman? Or a non-binary person from the perspective of a man or a woman? Here’s a quick note on gendered perspectives in writing.
In the wake of Pride Month celebrations, I think the topic of gender in writing is an important one to consider.
I’m also currently reading a book in which a straight male author is writing from the perspective of a straight female protagonist. And it’s irking me if I’m being honest. I’m finding it difficult to get behind the protagonist at all, and don’t find her believable. And I even find the way the character is written insulting at times. While the author isn’t blatantly misogynistic, and might even believe he’s portraying his female protagonist in a favorable light at times, I’m not buying it. And it’s just uncomfortable to read at times. I’m not going to lie. I have rolled my eyes a few times while reading this book. And I keep asking myself: why didn’t he just write from the perspective of a male character? Someone he can identify with? Why did he want to write from the perspective of a straight female police officer instead?
Then, I realized something.
First-person singular and gendered perspectives
If you are writing in the first-person singular point of view, it should be a point of view you can truly identify with. You will be using the words “I” and “me” when you write, after all. If you don’t identify with the “I” you’re using in your writing, then your writing will come across as inauthentic at best, and condescending or offensive at worst. You might even be perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes without realizing it.
Please note that I am currently only talking about gender right now. But this rule would likely also apply to race and ethnicity as well. In other words, it’s not a good idea to write from a point of view from which you can’t identify. The notable words here are “identity” and “identify.”
Notes on gendered perspectives in writing
I think the most important thing to note is the point of view from which you’re writing. If you want to include different genders and perspectives in your writing, perhaps write from the third-person point of view instead of from the first-person point of view. And refrain from writing a first-person narrative. And even if you do write from the third-person point of view, seriously consider asking yourself questions about your own biases. And look into unconscious or implicit biases you may have. Otherwise, you risk having characters that are inauthentic (which will be flat and boring), or who likely perpetuate harmful stereotypes about a group of people who identify with a certain gender.
At the very least, ask yourself why you’re writing from the point of view you’re writing from. For example, if you’re a woman writing from a man’s perspective, why?