on writing women, and why I do it

I recognise that I’ve been somewhat lax in actually utilising this blog for…well, for blogging, and that’s due in part to me daring to go on holiday, but also because I forgot I had a blog.

So I wanted to talk a little bit about writing female characters. It was pointed out to me that all three of my published short stories feature female main characters. The truth is, this wasn’t a conscious decision. I think it’s in part down to a sense of ‘write what you know’ – what I know is being a woman, and all the things this entails – this doesn’t mean I’ve experienced the things my character has – I’ve never been in an abusive relationship like Hanna, or been at the mercy of a delusional, dangerous man like Rina was. Nor have I ever been pregnant and alone like Marta.

The thing is, there are certain experiences that many women have which are, in of themselves, horrific. And when I write horror, I’m invested in the intermingling of ‘real’ horror and ‘fantastic’ horror – the interplay between the things which frighten us, both elaborate and mundane. And, being female myself, my ‘everyday’ fears are often inextricably linked to my gender – fear of pregnancy and childbirth, fear of rape and sexual assault. In my novella, I’m playing with the idea of ‘gaslighting’, which has its origins in gendered emotional abuse. But there are other fears to explore which are more ‘general’ – ‘unisex’, if you like. Hanna’s fear of facing her mother after this fresh failure, or Rina’s fear of Sam’s unpredictability. Mixing these real-world fears with the strange and bizarre – monsters in bathtubs and visions of red rabbits – is my idea of good, horrible fun.

Like I said above, I’m not consciously choosing female protagonists, although there’s a historic precedent for horror as something which happens to women, rather than being viewed through the lens of a female character. This is something which, in recent years, has improved greatly, and there are some truly stand-out works of horror literature with female main characters (although please, Stephen King, can we forget Lisey’s Story ever happened?) I still feel like there’s work to be done: sexual assault and rape are so often used as go-tos to evoke fear and terror where women are concerned (this isn’t exclusive to the horror genre) and although I can see the reasoning, it’s becoming something of a lazy trope. Even if we’re talking “gendered” fears, there are other things women are afraid of – our own bodies, to name one example.

I may not always write female characters. In its infant stages, my novella already has a female protagonist – again, not a conscious choice, but the most appropriate agent for the story being told. But neither will I make myself avoid writing about women for fear of oversaturation. I think women have a lot of horror stories to tell, and it may well be that the stories in my head are better seen through a woman’s eyes.

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