The Feminine Mind (Suburban Jungle and My K-On! Obsession, Part Four)
Source: K-On! Wiki
It was The Secret of NIMH that made me realize men were boring.
I mean, men can have their uses, and a few of us are marginally clever, but it wasn’t until The Secret of NIMH that I began to feebly catch a glimmer of the quantum differences between life as a man and life as a woman, even when dealing with the same things.  And from that point, women began to dominate my writing, and my reading too, when I have the option.
There are exceptions; NeverNever was theoretically about Arthur and Col. Beowulf (although the strip didn’t really come to life until Mopsy showed up, and I don’t think that’s an accident). Greg has sliiiiightly more focus in the Brigid and Greg fictionlets. Michael Macbeth had a long run as a character I kept trying to write about. But compare them to, say, Tiffany Tiger or Verity Anjo, and it’s probably easy to see where my creative interests lie. And as a general rule, in any given group, I gravitate towards and generally feel more kinship with the women.
I have been told that I write women characters well, for which I’m grateful. As much as this is true, beyond the obvious “write about human beings, regardless of their gender,” I suspect comes mostly from simply shutting up and listening to what women say, not just in public discourse, but also (and more importantly) to each other. This latter can be hard to pull off in daily life– women’s behavior changes when there’s a man around just as much as men’s behavior changes when a woman is– so I do it mostly by reading things written by women for a female audience. Doing this took me a long time to get used to, as I had to overcome a lot of social programming designed specifically to prevent it. But it has also taught me many, many things.
At a certain point, however, there are barriers I simply can’t cross. I know what muscle cramps feel like, and I know how changing brain chemistry can send my moods all over the map but I’ll never have a period or PMS. I can use my imagination to picture being shorter, lighter, and more flexible, but at the end of the day I will always be 6’2″ and one of the largest people I know. I know what it’s like to have people randomly dislike you or discount your opinion for no good reason, but I don’t get told I’m “dominating” a conversation when I’ve said one thing for every four things said by someone else.
I think about this sometimes when I’m working on Suburban Jungle. I know I have women readers, but if I had to guess I would assume that my readership skews mostly male. Certainly, there is a tendency among some of my readers to want me to, as the saying goes, “cater to the male gaze.” This isn’t just things like wanting pinup poses or playing up the sexualization of any given situation (although there is certainly that), it’s also pressure to reinforce stereotypical gender roles such as wanting the men come to Charity’s rescue or attacking Langley for being “too bitchy.” It might not be male gaze so much as “want everything to fit into comfortable traditional pigeonholes” gaze, I suppose… but whatever it is, I can tell it’s out there.
I also think about a comment I read online somewhere about K-On! which strikes me as relevant. The comment, left on a review somewhere I have long since lost the link to, was that it was nice to have a show about girls that actually felt like it was about girls, and not just some guy writing his vague idea of the sort of things girls do and repeating all the usual things that sort of scenario usually leads to.
There’s a reason for that, of course. Despite being a show about high school girls, K-On! was originally created by a man for a primarily male audience. What made the K-On! anime a commercial success in Japan, and arguably one of the reasons why it is so much better than most of the other shows of its type, was that it was made by Kyoto Animation, a studio comprised largely of women, who added all that other stuff and gave the show tremendous crossover appeal. In short, K-On! was popular with women too, not just with the stereotypical moe-fan otaku. And when women get behind a thing, they go big. 😉
And really, if I could arrange it, that’s the kind of reaction I’d want people to have to Suburban Jungle. Someone once told me that despite the obvious fantasy elements “When Wally Met Mikey” from the original SJ was the most realistic depiction of a fledgeling gay relationship he’d seen in a comic– which made me very proud. I don’t know if I can hit that level again with Charity and her friends, but it is the target I’m shooting for. And among other things, that means pushing past comfortable traditional pigeonholes, and being as true to the “reality” of the characters as I can.
 See also Scalzi’s discussions of “straight, white male is EZ mode.” Not that it’s all sunshine and roses– being male in our society is a lonesome and painful business, as Norah Vincent so powerfully demonstrated. But on the grand scale of life, not being able to talk about your feelings or wear attractive clothes and constantly having to fight the effects of testosterone poisoning, don’t quite stack up to being in constant (if usually low-level) fear for your life and having to work twice as hard for 2/3 the pay and recognition. And also, any woman over the age of 12 is more badass than most men ever have to be. Ask anyone who draws blood for a living. They’ll tell you.