In talking about gender differences, keep in mind the perspective of a writer where stereotypes are supremely helpful. Too many writers ignore the difference between men and women that it must be addressed.
Many people have problems with discussing the difference between men and women. In the 1970s, it was a major faux pas to even mention that there might be a difference. The fact is, there are a lot of differences in the average man to the average woman. A combination of societal expectations, physiological influence, and evolutionary tendencies that go all the way back to our hunter-gatherer days influence men and women to be different.
The number of differences between the genders may not be apparent at first glance. There’s the physical things, of course. Women are (on the average) shorter, weaker, and curvier than a man, but these are physical traits more associated with sex than gender. So what is the most striking difference between men and women?
It’s their brains.
I’m not talking about their behaviors. Brains cause behaviors. I’m talking about the brains themselves. Men and women think very differently and process things very differently from one another. This is a source of almost all the “women are unknowable/men are stupid” stereotypes.
Take the different ways of communicating Men often only see “what is actually said” and take it at face value. Women, however, often try to find the hidden meaning behind words and how the other person feels. Even the most logical woman seems to dig through words to find hidden truths. Meanwhile, even the most emotional man seems to take things at face value without further thought.
Our brains are the source of the difference, of course. Men tend to think only with their left brains when talking to someone else, while women utilize both sides of their brain. The left side of the brain is good at doing logical things, like analyzing facts and being literal. The right side of the brain is good at concepts, creativity, and connecting ideas. This makes men communicate with facts and words alone to get ideas across. Men rarely think about how someone feels naturally and even more rarely communicate their own feelings. Women, on the other hand, tend to believe that letting someone else know how they feel is a key component of good communication, so they try to imply what they’re feeling through body language, tone, and the way they say something. Men only listen to the words and don’t even notice the other aspects of the conversation. They’re simply not wired to do so. This frustrates women because they’re obviously saying something and the man doesn’t seem to care. Meanwhile, women fail to realize that men don’t use body language or tone in their communication style the same way women do and start to worry that a man is saying something else. This frustrates the man because he’s clearly said what he meant, but the woman is coming up with all these “crazy ideas” about stuff he’s not even talking about.
J,K Rowling, being the brilliant writer she is, plays these gender differences brilliantly. In one of the books, Harry gets a date with a girl he’s been after. They seem to be doing well, though Harry is clearly out of his element and much of the girl’s behavior confuses him. Still, he presses on. Then, when he realizes he needs to meet a friend, who happens to be a girl, he fails spectacularly, communicating in a traditionally man’s style that he needs to meet his friend. The girl he’s dating takes this as him not being interested in her and becomes upset. This confuses Harry because he just said he needed to meet a friend, not a girlfriend. This is a classic example of the two sexes different communication styles and the problems that can arise between them.
This phenomena is something you can play up for great effect in your works. Not only can you pit traditional gender roles against each other to create drama, you can exaggerate traits in characters to create a desired effect on the reader. For example, a girl who exhibits masculine traits and tries to take on the world can be seen as an underdog by today’s readers and they’ll cheer for her to win in a world where she’s atypical. In life, these types of women might be becoming more common, but if you contrast this with women that exhibit more traditionally feminine traits, you can create a great contrast. For extra bite, you could contrast a woman with highly masculine traits with a man with highly feminine traits. Your characters are tools. Use them.
No box will fit more than one person, no matter how well designed. If you try, there’s always going to bits that stick out. Every person shares their traits with others, but no one person has the exact same combination of traits. It’s the combination of traits that make people unique.
In your books, your main character is not an island. Their traits are not unique. Who they share traits with can be as important as the events of the story. Perhaps they share a substantial amount of traits with the villain. This can cause your hero distress. He may start to doubt himself, and maybe he’ll even go over the villains side. All this comes from shared traits, or the perception of shared traits. It’s up to you to decide how you want to use them. Contrasting a man and a woman with the same traits can be a great illustrative tool, but you must keep in mind the difference between using both halves of your brain, and just using your left.
Using gender differences effectively and realistically can give your writing an extra kick. Your writing will read as fiction that tells the truth to your readers because your characters imitate life, not a sad shadow of it via stereotypes. Ignoring the gender difference can only hurt you, never help you. Accept that male and female people are very different and your writing will soar.