The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
A recent TikTok trend I came across highlighted guys that girls think would be “written by a woman” if they were in a story. The trend showcased those who weren’t afraid of embracing their more sensitive, feminine side and showed traits that most women find desirable, but not a lot of men may think of as appealing.
While most Tik Toks on the trend featured boyfriends and celebrities, the meaning behind “written by a woman” goes deeper than just the ideal man in the eyes of women. It is a reference to the different writing styles that female and male authors have used in writing characters, especially those of the opposite gender.
Male authors have long been infamous for how they incorporate female characters into their stories. Over-the-top descriptions of a woman’s appearance dilute the intensity of the character and cloud what should be a rich narrative. In many books, a woman’s personality is dependent on the men they are associated with, as if that is what makes up a woman’s entire persona. Moreover, the struggles of female characters are often romanticized and sexualized for the male gaze, trivializing what could have been a thoughtful look into human pain and struggle. This one-dimensional portrayal of women goes beyond just books. Many movies and TV shows also portray women in a shallow manner.
For example, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has garnered criticism in the past regarding its lack of female representation and its inclusion of sexist jokes. Until more recent movies, Black Widow did not have a single female writer, and the character was more a tool for male storylines rather than having her own character arc. Leaked emails even revealed Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter listing female superhero films that failed to be successful while failing to take into account all the male superhero films that have also failed over the past few decades.
This is in stark contrast to the portrayal of characters by female authors. In books, men and women alike are portrayed by women in ways that are multi-dimensional. Going beyond just looks, the characters openly express true emotion. Female characters are equipped with a sense of assertiveness and independence as opposed to solely being a means to pivot the arcs of male characters. The characters, when analyzed individually, are well-formed without having to be tied to another character’s development.
One way to assess these texts is through the Bechdel test. The test measures the amount of female representation in a piece of literature or film. If the piece has two or more women who have a conversation about a topic other than a man, then it passes the Bechdel test. If not, this piece would fail the Bechdel test and is one sign of limited representation of women in the work.
This test is by no means comprehensive and works with limited or low-quality female representation can pass the Bechdel test. But it is still a quick way to check if the piece you are reading or watching is in touch with the reality of female conversations and friendships. As female representation has grown in many industries over the last couple of decades, the literature and film industries need to do more to recognize the valuable depth that a well-written female character can offer to storylines.