When asked if the criticism regarding the lack of substantial female roles in True Detective affected his conception of the second season, producer and creator Nick Pizzolatto said, “[It] affected me a little bit in my conception of season 2, but then not at all. I realized I was listening to things I didn’t agree with and taking cues from the wrong places. I just put it out of my mind.”
This doesn’t mean, necessarily, that there will be no prominent female characters in the second season of True Detective - it just means that another male creator of a television show didn’t think that the inclusion of female characters was important.
I could talk about why that attitude is problematic, but instead I’m going to explain why I write male characters.
I live in a world where men make up half of the population.
I have a father. I have two younger brothers. I have grandfathers and uncles and male cousins. I had male teachers and male classmates. I’ve had male bosses and coworkers. I’ve had male acquaintances and close male friends and boyfriends.
Men exist in my world, and I interact with men every single day of my life.
It would never occur to me to not write male characters in my fiction.
My first novel includes four main characters, two of whom are boys, and the narrator is male. The web series that I’m writing with two friends has a gender-balanced ensemble cast of six characters with a female protagonist. The play that I’m writing, a romantic comedy twist on an old formula, has a female protagonist and the story is told entirely from her point of view, but I can still tell you everything about the male lead: his motivations, his insecurities, his flaws, his goals, and the relationships he has with other people in his life.
The reason I’ve put so much thought into the male lead’s character, even though he’s not the point-of-view character for the narrative, is because I want to write a believable love story between two people, not one fully drawn human being and a hunky object of her desire.
I write male characters because I consider men to be people.
The other day, I had a conversation with one of the co-creators of the web series we’re developing. I told him how much I appreciated the fact that he and our friend were male writers who made a point of creating interesting female characters. (It was their idea, not mine, to make our protagonist a woman.) He said, “Of course. Women are messy and flawed people, just like men are.”
Women are messy and flawed people, just like men are.
I’m glad that my creative collaborators are men who who a) enjoy writing women and b) enjoy writing with women, but it’s pretty depressing that I found their attitude remarkable and worth commenting on at all.
And I’m not the only one. George R.R. Martin, Joss Whedon, and a few other prominent male writers known for writing interesting female characters were asked by interviewers why they write interesting female characters – not how, but why.
Asking a man “how” he writes interesting female characters is insulting enough, implying that women are some mystical “other” creature too difficult for men to possibly comprehending, but the “why” question is even worse. It expresses wonderment that a man would consider a woman’s story even worth telling.
When asked why he writes strong female characters, Joss Whedon responded, “Because you’re still asking me that question.”
Why am I telling you why I write male characters? Because no one ever asked me that question.
And I doubt that I would ever be asked that question, even if I someday have the reach, influence, and body of work as Joss Whedon.