Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Real Women Don’t

This is obviously an archetypal male fantasy, because I have read it far too often in books written by male authors and it drives me nuts every time. Picture the scene: A woman takes off her dressing gown and sits in front of a mirror to brush her hair. As she strokes the brush through her beautiful locks, she admires her elegant neck, her pert breasts, her flat stomach. Perhaps at this point our author’s male readers are nodding, the image forming perfectly in their heads. But any readers lacking a Y chromosome are laughing—or screaming. No, no, no, no!

Clumsy, amateur writing, you say? Consider the following scene (set in the 1940s) from the book that put DS on the NYT bestseller list:

“Upstairs in her bedroom, Margaret…pulled off her nightgown and sat in front of her dressing table. She quickly brushed her hair. It was ash blond, streaked by the sun and unfashionably short. But it was comfortable and easy to manage. Besides, she liked the way it framed her face and showed off the long graceful line of her neck.

“She looked at her body in the mirror. She had finally lost the last few stubborn pounds she had gained while pregnant with their first child. The stretch marks had faded and her stomach was tanned a rich brown. Bare midriffs were in that summer, and she liked the way everyone on the North Shore had been surprised by how trim she looked. Only her breasts were different—they were larger, fine with Margaret because she had always been self-conscious about their size. The new bras that summer were stiffer, designed to achieve a high-bossomed effect. Margaret liked them because Peter liked the way they made her look.

“She pulled on a pare of white cotton slacks, a sleeveless blouse, knotted beneath her breasts, and a pair of flat sandals. She looked at her reflection one last time. She was beautiful—she knew [it]…”

Leaving aside the ham-fisted cramming of research about bra types and women’s styles, and the fact that when stretch marks fade they show white against tanned skin (even after twenty years), the above image is just plain silly. Now, DS’s wife is on television, so maybe she does look at herself in the mirror and think she’s beautiful. But I doubt it. Every woman I know—even the young, gorgeous ones—looks in the mirror and examines her faults. Her nose is too big. She needs cheek implants. Her breasts are too small. Her thighs are too big. Etc, etc, etc.

Oh--and no woman takes off her clothes to brush her hair. Those bristles hurt when they hit naked flesh.

This is an example of writers seriously failing to accurately portray characters of the opposite gender. Tomorrow’s blog entry will be Real Men Don’t…


Steve Malley said...


A few of us with Y chromosomes enjoyed this howler too. It's the old mirror trope yet again, and worse.

Now, if she'd looked in the mirror and meticulously catalogued every flaw, however minor, and imagined a few for good measure, I might believe it.

Recently at dinner, the ladies present complained about the constantly masturbating women of Bryce Courtenay's fiction as well. I stayed mute and paid attention.

Kate S said...

I enjoyed this, CS. So true. I'll get to the "real men don't" in a minute.