Friday, February 02, 2007

Women and Crime Fiction

Yesterday, I posted this on a group blog (Working Stiffs) that I belong to. I think it's an important topic, so I'm repeating it here.

On Sarah Weinman’s blog yesterday, there was a link to an intriguing article on women crime writers. The author of the article, Julie Bindel, interviewed several female British novelists about writing crime novels and what makes their books different than those written by men. The authors all stated mostly the same thing: That women humanize the victims better than men. They write crime novels as a way of “understanding the danger that lurks around us.”

The more I think about it, the more I think this is true. While both men and women are equal in the ability to write crime novels, each have different ways of presenting the story. One way is not better than the other. Just different.

Men like to deal with facts. Many times (not always), men lay out the story, investigate the crime and catch the killer. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am. There’s blood and guts and maybe a little bit of angst on the part of the protagonist—but not as much as a female writer would show.

Women, on the other hand, are more likely to explore the reasons for the crime. They want to know why the murder occurred—not just how. Female characters often go through quite a bit of anxiety and anguish in their quest. They want not only to find the killer, but bring some justice to the victim.

From what I’ve seen, this is true in real police work, too. Female officers are more likely to empathize with the victim. Male officers just want to solve the crime. “Just the facts, ma’am,” as Joe Friday used to say. That’s not to say they don’t feel sympathy for the victim—they do—but they don’t handle it the same way a female officer does.

Another thing I found interesting about Sarah’s post were the comments. There were several comments from men who, in my opinion, completely misunderstood what the article was about. For some reason, they seemed to take it more as personal criticism, than just a general study of how women and men can approach the same subject in different ways. They accused the interviewed authors of stereotyping. I didn’t see the article as stereotyping men at all. The women were giving their views on how women view violence and how they portray it in their own work. There was no male bashing of any kind. The differences between the male comments and female comments proves the point that men and women are inherently different. We just don’t think the same. That should be a surprise to no one.

What do you think of the article? Do you agree that women and men write differently? When writing a character of the opposite sex, how do you approach these differences?

3 comments:

badteeth said...

The article was extremely "Men Bad, Women Good." Or more accurately "Male=violence, Female=nurturing".

While its certainly true that in general men do commit much more violent crime than women, one need only look at child abuse or child murder statistics to realize that violent, non-nurturing women exist and their not rarer than unicorns either.

I found it disturbing that the author stated that as a feminist she fought against "male violence." Did she make this distinction because she believed that female violence did not exist? Or did she believe that if it existed it was always justified? Why is she not against all violence, just male violence?

I also wonder how you perceived the closing story in the article about the woman who was caring for her sick husband who died and it seemed that she was hinting that she wanted him to die. It seemed like the author was presenting this as a cute, heart-warming, "you go girl" story, while to me the facts of the case seemed much more sinister. To the author it seemed to suggest that the woman had passive-aggresively read her husband to death.

However, just on the facts presented in the article, absent the "male=violent, female=nurturing" filter that the story is presented in, perhaps the woman was a bit more aggressive than passive in her husband's death.

We also don't know why the woman wanted her husband dead. Based on the male violence mantra, I believe we're supposed to guess that he either abused her or was molesting neighborhood kids, but absent more facts it could very well be she wanted him dead because he snored, or like man united while she liked man city, or because he had a big life insurance policy.

If I was the police, I'd certainly call up the author and look a little more deeply into the circumstances of the man's death.

If your still not convinced that the piece was very anti-male, try reading through the story again and wherever it says male, replace it with black and replace female with white. See how it comes across then.

Joyce said...

Badteeth (interesting name!), I did go back and read the article again and I still don't see what you're seeing in it.

I work in law enforcement and everyday I see the effects of violence on society. Without a doubt, at least 99% of this violence is committed by men, and usually toward women.

But this was not the point of the article. The point was HOW WRITERS DEAL WITH VIOLENCE IN THEIR BOOKS. Men and women most definitely react differently to things. One is NOT better than the other. Just different.

As for the elderly woman whose husband had died--I don't see anything sinister in that at all. Women, especially of that generation, usually choose to stay with their spouses even if they are abusive. (That's one thing I struggle to understand, but I see it every day.) Many of them stay because they have nowhere else to go. Most stay out of fear. So I can see where that woman would just be waiting for her husband to die.

Anyway, thanks for presenting your views. This is exactly the kind of discussion I was hoping for!

badteeth said...

---Badteeth (interesting name!)

I'll give you the just the facts male writer version. Several years ago, ice on the sidewalk, 4 or 5 beers (okay maybe 8 or 9) grad school, no dental insurance and not much money. I've gotten caps since then, but why bother coming up with a new screen name.

-- Women, especially of that generation, usually choose to stay with their spouses even if they are abusive. (That's one thing I struggle to understand, but I see it every day.) Many of them stay because they have nowhere else to go. Most stay out of fear. So I can see where that woman would just be waiting for her husband to die.

What makes you think that he was an abusive husband? Nothing in the article states that he was.

Like I said, maybe she wanted him dead because he chewed with his mouth open or didn't use a coaster when he put a drink on the coffee table. Why do you automatically assume husband=bad guy, wife=justifiably angry victim? She might have wanted him to die for much less "noble innocent victim" reasons.

---I work in law enforcement and everyday I see the effects of violence on society. Without a doubt, at least 99% of this violence is committed by men, and usually toward women.

Are you talking just about serial killers or sex offenders? Or violent crime in general? That might be right about serial killers and sex offenders, but as for violent crime in general, men are more likely to be the victims of violent crime than women. I don't know if its still the case but I do remember at one point the leading cause of death of young African-American men in America was violent crime. I think alot of women just remember the female victims of violent crime more and just kind of tune out when the men are shooting each other yet again.

If I find the statistics can I post a link? Or do you have a no link policy here?

And for child abuse stats it's more like 60% male perpetrator and 40% female perpetrator. I think I remember reading that when it came to family child abuse mothers were more likely to abuse than fathers. (But stepfathers or mom's boyfriends were more likely than either to be the abuser, so yes I concede that it is still more likely to be a male than a female offender.) But even so female child abusers while less frequent than men, are not that much less frequent.


---But this was not the point of the article. The point was HOW WRITERS DEAL WITH VIOLENCE IN THEIR BOOKS. Men and women most definitely react differently to things. One is NOT better than the other. Just different.

Well if the author had written that without drumming the phrase "male violence" repeatedly I probably wouldn't have bothered replying to your post at all, because I wouldn't have cared. Women writers can pat themselves on the back all they want for all I care. They can even take swipes at male writers and not bother me a bit.

Its when she paints this black and white portrait of a world of saintly caring, giving female victims and evil male villains and nary the twain shall meet that I think, - "doesn't she read these mom drowns children in bathtub, or junkie mom puts crying baby in microwave or woman runs over ex-husband in SUV" stories?"

If the author had just said men commit more violent crime than women I wouldn't have argued, because I can't, the stats agree.
Its the male=violence, female=nurturing thing that's all over the article. There are no gray areas or instances of the opposite. There are no caring nurturing non-violent men and there are no violent non-nurturing women and to that I contention I object.

I don't care about the main point of the article enough to agree or disagree, (I'll still go on reading Michale Connelly, Scott Wolven and Dennis Lehane) its the slant or subtext to it that I object to. The worldview. The tricks---Do a text search. Hit control and f on the keyboard simultaneously put in "male violence" and hit find, repeatedly and see how many times she drums that note.

The author might say that's what the main point of the article is, but she definitely has other axes to grind.