Writing Like a Girl – one man’s aspiration

I’ve been told by more than one commenter over the years that I write like a girl – or words to that effect – and they’ve not intended it as a compliment. Too bad for them, because I took it as a compliment anyway.

It’s similar to the schoolyard taunt about throwing like a girl, which I never understood because one of the best athletes at my elementary school was a girl in my grade and she’d wipe up the court in basketball and dominate the infield in kickball.

I’ve played volleyball with women who competed at the national level. Do not tell me that spiking like one of them is anything other than impressive, let alone way beyond my athletic skills.

Why would someone leave a comment on my blog attempting to denigrate my writing by comparing it to a girl’s writing? I suspect it has to do more with the subject matter than writing style. I write often about things that some men might eschew: recognizing women working effectively in ministry, supporting women who are the subjects of cultural or church marginalization, endorsing treatment of girls that will help them grow up with the same opportunities boys have. And if I point out that men should not contribute to the oppression of women and girls, I get told I write like a girl, or a woman, or a sissy.

Being a Woman

Nancy Kwan sang about her enjoyment in being a girl.

Nancy Kwan, The Flower Drum Song (Source)

At the age of 22, I was offered the opportunity to find out what she was talking about.

We were Resident Assistants training at UC Santa Barbara for our duties in the dormitories. I was assigned one of the few co-ed floors on campus. The facilitator at one of our training sessions took us through a string of binary choices. If you chose one way you stood to the left side of the room and if you chose the other you stood to the right. It started off innocuously: pizza or taco; rock music or country/western; morning people and night people. Eventually it moved into more serious territory with questions such as: if you see conflict, are you likely to engage immediately or wait to see how it plays out? No matter what the choices, there were at least a few young women and men on one of the sides, while at other points the room was fairly evenly split.

Until the facilitator presented the last choice: “If you could change sex for six months and then return to your present sex, would you do it?”

There was some nervous laughter, a couple of loud voices saying “not a chance” and everyone moved to the no side of the room. Except one person. One person moved to the yes side.

Me.

A friend of mine called over to me, “Tim, are you serious?”

“Sure,” I said. People stared. “I’d get an understanding of women that I could never get any other way.”

“But becoming a woman?” His tone was somewhere between incredulity and disgust.

I confess that one reason I felt comfortable with my choice was because I’d never have to follow through on it. There was no magic elixir that would turn me into a 22 year old woman for a six month period. This was purely an academic exercise. But the other reason I was comfortable with my choice was I truly wanted to understand better. I got the impression a few of the other RAs did too, but none of them crossed the room to join me.

Aspiring to Girlhood

What’s so wrong with writing like a girl, anyway?

Anne Frank, 1940 (Wikipedia)

Anne Frank’s writing inspires people year after year – girls and boys, men and women – with timeless observations like these:

Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

Joan d’Arc, Albert Lynch 1903 (Wikipedia)

Joan d’Arc inspires as well:

I am not afraid … I was born to do this.

One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.

And then there’s the most famous teen in the Bible, Mary. Her words are timeless and inspiring gospel truth.

Mary and the Annunciation, Eustache Le Sueur ca. 1650 (Wikipedia)

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.

His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors. (Luke 1:46-55.)

The words of Anne, Joan and Mary are what it takes to write and think like a girl. I hope I could do as well, but I’m not there yet and may never be.

Still, I aspire to write like a girl.

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14 Responses to Writing Like a Girl – one man’s aspiration

  1. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    Love this post, Tim. All of your examples are great, but the training session example is particularly interesting because your reason was based on a desire for empathy. I really like that.

  2. I am at a loss to see how writing has an inherent gender-ness. Forgive me, but what a load of b*ll**ks. You write like you, and I for one very much appreciate a man speaking out against the discrimination towards women (among plenty of other things that you write about). What utter ar*e thinks that it’s an ok thing to say that you ‘write like a girl’? What a way to insult you and every single woman…

    • Tim says:

      That’s what I thought. And even if there were a “gender-ness”, since I’m a man doesn’t that mean my writing is inherently like a man? Sheesh.

  3. Ruth says:

    Great comments on that comment that troubles many of us.

  4. Ruth says:

    Off point, but my WordPress account likes me again! Writing like a person. 🙂

  5. Anu Riley says:

    What a wonderful post. I loved the quotations you put in there. It’s been so long since I read Anne Frank’s book. It was so good to hear her voice again. She is long gone, but she still lives in her writings.

    Because you too have written so much, they too will speak volumes long after you are gone (not anyone soon, I hope!) They will inspire generations to come.

    I have no idea why we have insults like “you throw like girl, you fight like a girl, you’re crying like a girl, you’re being too emotional (like a girl), or what are you, a girl?”

    I don’t think I’m used to hearing girls insulted by comparing them to the opposite gender! Women like Diane Keaton (when she played the role of Annie Hall) or Katherine Hepburn (who only owned two dresses)—-actually inspire women who don’t necessarily fit the typical feminine mold.

    I would love to know what it’s like to be a man. It would be amazing to see the world through those eyes. Being born a woman exposes us to certain vulnerabilities (targeted and preyed upon)—-but by no means does being born a man you are invincible. However, it would be interesting to see if I felt less afraid or unsure of myself as a man, versus a woman.

    It doesn’t have to be a gender thing, either. Remember the movie Shallow Hal? The actress in that movie, who used a fat suit to play her character—-observed that when she was treated quite differently by the public when people didn’t know it was a costume.

    By the way, sometimes the reverse doesn’t favor a man. Ever heard the phrase “just like a man?” And it’s NOT a compliment. It usually indicates that he is being indifferent, inattentive to her needs, arrogant or selfish. Refuses to show much emotion and acts more like her employer, not her partner. As if those are “manly” qualities?! If so, put me in the “man” category as well.

    Writing is one of those things that frees a person like nothing else. Your words and ideas are what really matter, not what you look like, how you dress, your age, etc. Your gender may play a part as to how seriously you are taken, but let’s assume no one knew that, either.

    However you choose to write, manly or womanly (what the heck is the difference, exactly?) please keep writing as long as the Lord opens the doors and keeps the ideas flowing in you. We all benefit and are blessed when you do.

    I would say you write Biblically, which is gender neutral and something we frankly could use WAY more of.

  6. Alison says:

    I read this post with interest. I remember a high school English assignment (a gazillion years ago) where I wrote about becoming a man for 24 hours. I got an A. My teacher commended me for my unconventional topic. I really did want to see the other side.
    I’m glad you write Tim, girl-style or guy-style, it’s all good.

  7. Another sister says:

    When I read this, I hear a man who actually respects women and seeks to understand what they have to offer. It’s telling that this is so denigrated and rare in certain quarters. Thanks for being supportive to your sisters.

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