- the writer (we'll assume he's male) actually believes women are inferior to men in terms of intellect, character, or skill
- the writer regards women in a purely sexual way and is indifferent to traits or talents tangential to sex appeal/lack thereof
- the writer identifies women with his mother/wife/girlfriend/whoever and takes out his frustrations with these women on his female characters
- the writer's inability or disinterest when it comes to writing nuanced female characters suggest a disinclination to regard women as thinking, feeling people
And I think a lot of the authors below, especially John Fowles and James Salter, are semi-guilty of #2 in that they see women as sexual beings first. (I feel self-conscious about this sometimes when writing. Can I describe a female character as beautiful or in a sexual context without subtly diminishing her as a character in some way?) But what does that mean, really? Does that mean they can't also portray her as intelligent and nuanced? Come on. No. Fowles writes great female characters. Miranda Grey in The Collector and Sarah Woodruff in The French Lieutenant's Woman may be described as beautiful, but they're as complex as any male characters he ever wrote. And Salter--who I've heard dissed for making the young French girl in A Sport and a Pastime just a "sexual prop"--is beyond criticism in this regard as far as I'm concerned. He writes women elegantly and empathetically--read "My Lord You" from Last Night, or Light Years.
A lot of male writers, though, are guilty of #4. That's the most insidious one. Hemingway is the ultimate guilty party here, I think. He just did not care much about women. He cared about men doing man things, and the rest was trivial. Ellis is similar--while I don't think he hates women, I don't sense that he much cares about them. Some of the women in Rules of Attraction and the letter-writing girl in The Informers are interesting... but not that interesting. I don't know. I feel like Martin Amis struggles terribly hard to overcome this problem but it still plagues him. I don't think he's ever written a female character who interested me much as a human being. I feel like he's conscious about this, though. On the last page of his first novel The Rachel Papers--in one of its funniest passages--he even satirizes the attempt of an astoundingly self-absorbed young man to write fiction centering on a female character. His narrator, Charles Highway, begins writing a novel that starts like this:
"In the dressing table mirror Ruth saw her idiot teddybear and her idiot golliwog propped against the pillows, staring from behind[....] She looked down at the rubble of hopeless, pointless makeup and looked up again. She leaned forward, fingering the barely perceptible lump on her chin. She smiled. If that wasn't a pre-menstrual spot, she thought... what was?"
Read the comments on the last post. Slatted Light posed a question and it made me think about the distressingly high number of "great" (considered at least by some to be part of the very recent canon, I guess) male writers, including some of my favorite ones, who have at one time or another, wrongly or rightly, been accused of misogyny based on their books.
Philip Roth (whose books I have never managed to get through more than a couple pages of...my eyes seem to slide off the words)
Charles Bukowski (never really read him)
Norman Mailer (loved Executioner's Song, haven't really loved anything else)
Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho and The Informers: in my personal canon) ..."We will press this boycott very hard," said Tammy Bruce, the president of the Los Angeles chapter. "This is not art. Mr. Ellis is a confused, sick young man with a deep hatred of women who will do anything for a fast buck. And Mr. Mehta is worse. Ellis could have gone on writing until he choked on his own vomit if Vintage had not agreed to publish this misogynistic garbage." Mr. Ellis said he had received 13 anonymous death threats, including several with photographs of him in which his eyes have been poked out or an axe drawn through his face. "It's a little dismaying," he commented. He went on: "Bateman is a misogynist. In fact, he's beyond that, he is just barbarous. But I would think most Americans learn in junior high to differentiate between the writer and the character he is writing about. People seem to insist I'm a monster. But Bateman is the monster. I am not on the side of that creep..."
Martin Amis (many of his novels suck, but he is astoundingly smart and I love House of Meetings, Time's Arrow, and The Rachel Papers; and all his nonfiction is terrific)
Saul Bellow (I admire his writing and have never finished a single one of his novels)
John Fowles (The French Lieutenant's Woman, I think, really neutralizes all criticism in this regard. I love this guy--loved The Magus, The Collector, Mantissa--which Amis hilariously mocked in one of his reviews--and The Ebony Tower; also, for what it's worth, he writes the best physical descriptions of women I know of, better even than James Salter.)
James Salter (not a misogynist, just a romantic)
Well, that was certainly an ethnocentric list. And yes, I know there are many more where they came from; those are just off the top of my head.