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H. Scott Butler – Writing from the Other Side – May 13, 2018

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Scott Butler

Some folks who’ve read my mystery/thrillers (Night Journey, Voice from the Shadows, and Falcon) have asked why I chose to make the detective protagonist a woman.  The question seems to imply that to a male, women are terra incognito. This may be true.  I’m sure it is, to a certain extent.  And it’s an attitude amplified by the present emphasis on “identity politics”–the formation of political groups on the exclusive and excluding basis of race, ethnicity, or gender. On the other hand, men and women are members of the same species and therefore share the same basic needs and emotions.  So in that somewhat limited sense, my writing about a woman isn’t a stretch.  Also, whoever one’s protagonist is, men can’t write only about men, or women about women.  If they did, their fiction would be seriously unrepresentative of actual life, not to say under-populated.  Writers must write about the other sex, and I would submit that creating a plausible secondary character of the opposite gender is no less a task than creating a plausible protagonist of the opposite gender.  Which isn’t to say, of course, that male writers don’t have a lot to learn about women.  The various waves of the feminist movement and now #MeToo have made men’s ignorance of women’s issues abundantly clear.  Given this deficiency, it’s useful to know a woman who’s willing to answer your questions and react to what you’ve written.  My wife Susan does that for me.  One of the most eye-opening things she’s ever said to me was that when she gets out of her car at a public place like a mall, she always looks around for safety’s sake.  This is a burden men don’t share and generally aren’t even aware of.   It has also been helpful that Susan and I both taught at the same community college for many years.  Because we did, I became a little more sensitive than I would have been otherwise to the effect of gender on a woman teacher’s treatment by peers and students.  Two stories of the many:  When at a meeting Susan and some other female teachers calmly criticized a departmental proposal, they were accused by the men who supported it of being “hysterical.”   And when Susan, who graduated summa cum laude from her college, gave a student a well-deserved low grade, he protested that she’d acted spitefully out of jealousy of his superior intelligence.   Such incidents impressed upon me that women have a harder time than men, and this too added to my interest in writing from a female perspective:  injustice and the resistance to it are always compelling story elements.

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