There's no way around it. Unless a screenwriter is writing about one-minute section of life where other sexes do not enter, or a world filled with one sex that practices asexual reproduction, men are going to write about women, and women are going to write about men. But can they do so successfully?
This question has been argued for years, flowing through discussions about literature and female-centric moving media. Regardless of theme, men rule the typewriter, and I would venture to say that it's most pronounced in Hollywood. It is palpable every time the screenwriter credit pops on the screen, when Oscar nominees are announced, and even on the picket line, as USA Today pointed out back in 2008. (A post which also notes that women make up less than a quarter of the screenwriters in Hollywood.)
That doesn't mean there aren't female leads hitting the big screen. From Sex and the City to A Mighty Heart to The Proposal, there are women at the forefront -- some of whom are hated, and some who are adored -- all written by men. So the questions become: What makes some men good writers of women? Must they have a "feminine side"? Is there really all that much of a difference? Or is it impossible to truly capture the female experience unless you're living it?
I first began to wonder about this when reading Blake Nelson's Girl in the '90s. (Forget the film, which took every irresistible and relatable element and massacred it into a ditzy stalker love fest.) Here's a man who wrote the only girl I ever related to in my teens -- not an untouchable heroine one could never emulate, but one I could sympathize with -- warts and all. Is it possible Nelson just understood the world of girls, or was there something else to it?
Jumping to cinema, there's Daniel Waters' Veronica Sawyer -- not exactly a role model with all of her murder-to-look-like-suicide shenanigans, but a female lead who showed depth even while she was steeped in high school politics -- a character to appreciate rather than emulate.
Even Kevin Smith, a writer and director known for his testosterone-led moviemaking, penned Chasing Amy, whose female protagonist -- it can be argued -- is the easiest to understand and empathize with in the film. Yes, she might strangely give up lesbianism for the likes of Holden, but she's a character whose actions don't stray into the land of ridiculousness with porn magazine obsessions and threesomes as therapy.
But one of the most notable female-centric films written by a man is John Sayles' 1983 film Lianna -- the story of a woman who falls in love with her female professor. This discovery not only reveals her attraction to women, but examines the many flaws of her troubled marriage, how much of her self is steeped in the societal roles she follows, who she actually is, and what she wants out of life. Romance is used as a tool for self-discovery, and even more importantly, a way to discuss reactions to same-sex love. Furthermore, when Sayles' Jerry accepts Lianna's newfound lesbianism without surprise, disgust, or unease, Sayles opened a whole new world for relating to unfamiliar concepts. And from beginning to end it all seemed natural.
Was Maggie Renzie sitting there, carefully editing the words until they were relatable? I think not.
The best rationale I can offer is that men who can successfully write women are those who don't try to write as women. What I mean is -- they write naturally and rationally rather than with specific and often stereotypical tropes in mind. There might be classically "feminine" elements to the story, but the path and thought behind them is, simply, human.
And, of course, I'm not saying that we should let things lie status quo. Some men can write truly beautiful female characters, but the world still needs more screen words written by a women's pen.
But back to the question at hand: Is writing without sex/gender in mind the key to it all? In your opinion, which male screenwriters write women wonderfully, which crumble to gut-wrenching and terrible stereotypes, and what makes them fail or thrive?