This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our readers:
I am male who wants to write a novel about a female superhero. Since this is a superhero novel there will be violence and at some point my hero will have to lose a fight (though of course she wins in the end).
I am wondering how I should write the scene where the supervillain beats the crap out out of my female hero. Should I just write as if she were a male? Or do I need to take precautions so I don’t end up glorifying violence against women?
A quick thought on this one: there’s no “just” in “write as if she were a male”. A big part of the problem is that this is pretty rare, hence the Women in Refrigerators trope and similar critiques. Your own knowledge that she’s a woman will influence you to write violence specific to her gender and to cultural tropes about male-on-female violence.
So, I think you’ve set up a bit of a false dilemma between “write what comes naturally and it will be just like as if she was a man getting beat up” or “go out of my way to de-glorify the violence against her”. Another thing you need to be careful of is “write what comes naturally and spew your cultural uglies about women and their bodies and violence against them all over the page completely unawares.”
Second thought: you don’t want to “write as if she were a male”, in any case, because she isn’t. You want to write as if she was a person. Your current thinking on this seems to be edging towards “men are the pattern for people, women are special unique cases of people” which is a little concerning for your characterisation of a woman!
Do you have a writing group who review each other’s drafts? Does this group contain women? Obviously the women in your writing group should be reviewing all the work that your male peers do, not just “hey, I have a woman-centric bit here, so now you’re the expert, but I’ll ask John about the rest of my writing.” But you could ask the group in general for feedback on this and since you can show them the actual draft, they may have more specific thoughts.
You could perhaps get some of the way with playing around with reading and writing drafts of your violence scenes gender-switched and with more ambiguous pronouns in order to try and keep the uglies out of it, but I think this is where we need some fiction writers to step in. What think you?