The character of a woman

March is Women’s History Month. It’s a time when we look at the accomplishment of women throughout history. As a writer, I create women characters, so today I’m reflecting on the difference between men and women.

Many years ago, when I was an undergraduate, I had a close friend who devastated me with one comment. She told me, “You’re like a man. Feminine women aren’t so outspoken.” This was in the early 1990s, so Women’s Liberation had already occurred. I replayed her words in my head for weeks and doubted my own self worth. Perhaps it was too much navel-gazing, but it really rocked my view of what society viewed as feminine.

I recently had the chance to attend an hour-long webinar on women in the workplace. The statistic was that men interrupted women 33% more often than they interrupted their male colleagues. You can read more about the study in this article published in Forbes on January 3, 2017. How many great ideas never make it to the table because they do not afford a brilliant young (or old) woman the opportunity to speak at the meeting?

Now, lest you think I’m male bashing, I don’t place the blame solely on men. As women, we criticize loud or accomplished women. We peck away at their faults lest we allow them to rise too far above us. We teach our daughters to be soft-spoken and reticent in conversation, while encouraging our sons to be bold and tough. Why can’t we insist that our daughters be bold and tough when the situation demands it, and encourage our sons to incorporate a balance of soft-spoken, considerate speech?

As I create more fictional worlds, I am stepping back and evaluating my characters. Have I assigned them a stereotypical gender role? Have I made my female protagonist a shrinking violet who waits for the powerful man to save the day? I know I probably have in the past, but I hope to create more balanced characters who will reflect the world as it could be.

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