Posted on Leave a comment

Wednesday Words: Gender and Fear

Are books written by female authors really that different from books written by male authors?

I recently read The Turn of The Key by Ruth Ware and The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell. I am typically not a big thriller reader but I enjoyed both immensely. I connected with the characters and could feel what they were feeling – the sign of any good book.

What is it like to experience fear as a female? As a male?

I am currently reading Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky and entering stage left – quite literally – is real life.

Hold that thought…

While I am still really enjoying Imaginary Friend, there is a stark contrast in how the female writers convey fear in their stories and how male writers convey fear in equally terrifying situations.

For me, the female authors nail it. The fear is palpable. My heart races. I have to put the book down.

The male writers, while the scenarios are terrifying, feel more procedural with pieces of emotion that never quite fit together. With Stephen King being the one exception, thrillers/horror written by men don’t get to me the same way as that same genre written by a female author.

But please hear me, I think there are great thriller writers of both genders – there’s just something different.

Back to real life, stage left…

There have been multiple incidents during my daughter’s currently running musical. These haven’t been small issues and everything came to a head Saturday night and the police were called.

Because we pressed charges I cannot get into specifics. The officers were professional and understanding and did everything possible to make sure we felt safe.

But on Monday, I found myself struggling to explain the fear in the situation to a male administrator. I knew I was using the right words, the correct terminology, the right description of emotions and it was still a struggle – bordering on unintentional blame shifting.

Later in the day, I spoke with a female and using the same verbiage and facts, she understood the situation without questions or issues. The male administrator did follow through on everything he promised he would and he was very professional – it was just different. And that difference even carried over into my feelings about the situation vs. my husband’s feelings – that’s just how this goes.

That evening my reading world and my real life collided. The differences between genders that day and the differences in the writing by the authors were the same and it was an eye-opener.

How, as a society, have we landed on two different languages for one of the most basic of human emotions?

Everyone gets scared. Everyone faces situations that can be frightening and threatening. But when it comes to the basic understanding, there is a huge gap.

I understand some of the factors going into the fear that men express but I’m not going to speak for them here. But what I will say is that beyond men not being free to express fear, there is a gap in experiences.

Like it or not, men are most likely larger, stronger, and quicker. There is still a gender pay gap leaving them with more resources… I could go on but I won’t. The fear that females experience, just from a physical perspective, is unique. From an emotional standpoint, the intimidation women feel is also different.

Having struggled so much in real life that day, it magnified the differences while reading. Oddly enough I never noticed, before this week, the stark contrast in writing.

Perhaps that is because I don’t read a lot of thrillers but I suspect it has more to do with the shift in lenses I view the world through because of the events of that day.

So in writing, is it possible to close that gap? And of course, closing it in real life would be even better.

Have you noticed these differences in your own reading?

And last but not least, I cannot imagine going through life not being well-read. This is only one of countless situations were works of fiction opened my eyes to human experiences in real life and caused me to think and question my own perspective.

 

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.