Real Men Write (Perceptions of Gender)

The first page of Sharon Creech’s Love that Dog cuts to the heart of this post in many ways. Jack, a young student, is doing a poetry assignment in class, and he writes: ... boys don’t write poetry. Girls Do.


As Jack learns over the course of exploring something traumatic, writing can become the key to unlock his understanding and writing can help him come to grips with the world, at large, in all of its unfairness and potential. Creech’s free verse novel is an important read on so many levels, including puncturing the perceptions that boys don’t write poetry, or about feelings.

They do. We do.

Greg A. —  over at his blog, Dash: Life Between the Numbers — wrote a very powerful post for Slice of Life the other day that has stuck with me for days and had me writing this post as a sort of response.

In a very eloquent way, Greg circled around the idea of what a “real man” is in this world of gender expectations. It was the reading of a short story with his students that got Greg moving in this direction, wondering how it is that we put ourselves in such confined gender boxes, and then he ended his post with these lines:

Dash: On Men

I wrote a comment for him, suggesting in a half-joking way that a social media campaign about what “real men” were in the world of writing and sharing might be appropriate. That’s the image below here — my meme attempt to celebrate men as writers. Of course, there are plenty of male writers in the world, but there are still many boys in my classroom who fall into the gender trap of males as athletes, not as poets; of men as leaders, not as collaborators; and on and on.

Real Men Write

We teachers often dispel those myths as soon as they pop up (I hope), as learning moments, although sometimes (too often?), you can feel the invisible pull of the views from home informing and constructing our young people’s views of the world.

I am very sensitive to this situation, and never openly disparage conflicting points of view, particularly if influenced by parents. Instead, I seek to provide alternative views of the world, where balance and equity prevail. We talk. We write. We try to understand.

And, as Greg suggests, I try to show what I believe a man can be in this world by my own example. This idea that writing, particularly emotional writing, is just for the girls and not for the boys, does an injustice to the power of the writing to dig deep, to gather ourselves into reflection, and to write about the world so that we can better understand the inner landscapes of who we are when no one else is looking. I wonder if this perception originates in the elementary years, when so many of our teaching colleagues are women, and not men. (In our sixth grade, three of the four of us are men, but I know that is a rare occurrence, indeed)

So, I write with them. I share with them. I am careful not to share too much, of course, but I am deliberate in showing how my writing expresses myself, and how young writers of any gender can accomplish great things. I show I care.

Yet, even in my own writing life, I see this gender split. I can’t help but notice that our Slice of Life community, which Greg and I are part of, is mostly composed of women. I am being careful here, because I am not putting blame on anyone for this disparity. They are wonderful women in the Slice of Life world. I am just noticing, as I have in other years, that the disparity is there. The gender balance in Slice of Life is out of balance, although that has always been very anecdotal.

This year, however, we were given access to a database of Slicers, as a way to create “writing pods” (great idea, although I am wary of making “male writer” pods as a solution to this post for fear of further isolation, right? And Two Writing Teacher folks are not suggesting we gather by gender, anyway). I wondered if I could discern gender by looking at the more than 300 people in the database who signed up as Slicers looking for Writing Pods.

Mostly, I could indeed get a sense after some analysis, although my data chart should not be considered scientifically accurate (some usernames and blogs had no discernible gender, and others are blogging without filling out the form, and so on).

But, I think this chart, and its wide gender disparity, does capture my sense of the Slice of Life community. Maybe it captures the teaching profession itself. (And a whole other range of questions around race would no doubt fill many more blog posts).

The numbers generate a few ideas I have that you are invited to dispute, as they are my own general observations only:

  • The “Two Writing Teachers” group are all women, with many connections to female educators and writers;
  • Many women educators, more than male educators, seem to seek a safe and supportive online writing community to share ideas and solicit feedback;
  • Men are reluctant to share personal details and emotional insights in a public space for fear, as Greg notes, of the Man Card gender issues.

And now I have to say this again and be clear: I have only ever felt nothing but supported and invited in the Slice of Life and Two Writing Teachers‘ communities, and there has never been a single practice of exclusionary invitation to anything I have seen. Ever. Not once.

So why aren’t more men writing in the Slice of Life? Why aren’t they taking part in rich discussions about writing and teaching and connections? I don’t know. They should. You should.

sol16Consider yourself invited to the Slice of Life, a daily writing activity through March and then every Tuesday throughout the year. Find your small moments. Write your experiences.

Real men write. They really do.

Peace (in equity and understanding),



  1. Real men implies that there are unreal men. And it also implies that there is some real rubric somewhere with a real men matrix that is secretly judging my realness. Surreal, man.

    Antispamirrealities: OK, let’s make up a slice of life story. “I once wrote a short play for Slice of Life. I got one comment: “I don’t think I have ever seen a play here before.” That was a sad, silencing experience for me…and my last one with SOL. Those acronyms came to have another meaning for me, a rather standard one that you can probably guess. Which is not to say that real men can’t get a real experience from Slice of Life, but it is just that maybe most men speaking from the heart are just shit out of luck.” Eh, good enough, writing is such a raffle. No, wait, it’s a lottery. And the odds on the back of the ticket show what a tax on innumeracy they represent.

    • Hmmm … I guess we write with two audience in mind in these contexts — our own inner voice and the outside writing community response. I guess we need a bit of both to continue, at least in public. And of course, you are right — by saying “real men,” we divvy up the world again into strange borders and odd maps.
      There be dragons … again.
      You and I and others have slowly formed our own small writing communities that we rely on — and no gender affiliation is required. That’s probably the course taken by many. Let’s hope the voices are varied in those same communities, though.

  2. I love Kevin’s blog – AND Terry’s reply – it’s tricky trying to surface the rhizomatic wriggling that is any psyche – and the male psyche especially the working class or blue collar male when asked to reveal their feelings – to a harsh critical gaze.
    These men are typically blamed, shamed and criticised for their refusal to play a vulnerability game – when they are already so despised – when they have been sadly silenced…

  3. You are asking the right questions, Kevin. These are things I’ve thought about deeply in the past few years.

    During both of my searches for new co-authors, only two men have ever applied. (While they were both qualified to join the team, other people’s applications resonated more with me. And believe me, I would’ve loved to have had a male voice on the blog.) That said, I’ve LONG thought about how to get more men to be part of the SOLSC. I don’t have the answer to that, but I would love your input. Please email me if you’d like to chat about this further.

    As you mentioned, we don’t ask for gender identification. I will tell you, from looking at the names in the database, I think we have about 10 men total.

    • Thanks, Stacey. I know you work hard to make sure everyone is welcomed, as best as possible. I may email you, if only to brainstorm. You are not the only group wondering how to make online writing spaces more inviting to everyone, regardless of gender and race and divergent views on the world.

  4. I run a writing interest group in a boys’ school. Interestingly they are not real men in the quiche sort of way and quite often do choose to write poetry. That’s great but the issue with their writing is that they don’t realise they have a source to draw from – themselves. Maybe they write exaggerated and angsty things because they feel, as teenagers, they ought to. Or maybe they think that’s what poetry is, or any writing for that matter. Without success in most cases I try to encourage them to draw from themselves, from what they perceive and know. Their writing is largely unbelievable because it’s not really their writing.
    I am glad that I don’t work with ‘real men’, and that my students feel safe enough in their little group to express their feelings. Because the group is run by the students, we have student leaders who plan workshops and run them. I try not to interfere but I do post a lot of stuff in the Facebook group in the hope that they will read, and that they will come to trust themselves and write from themselves.

    • That ‘real men’ is a real loaded term, isn’t it? I only used it as an echo of Greg’s critique of the phrase, and seek to turn it on its head, if possible. I’m not sure my efforts really worked. Thank you for sharing your story of your writing group. It is a struggle to help boys and young me turn inward for inspiration, particularly in a culture that still sees that as some sort of weakness, as opposed to strength. But where else will they learn the value of that if not in educational settings? Or so I hope. I know you do, too.

  5. Your reflection on male writers is thought-provoking, within the context of SOL, for our student writers, and for writers at large. I agree that the more diverse our writing community is, the better it will be for all. Ralph Fletcher is a writer whom I value greatly for writing mentorship, but his perspectives have greatly helped to inform the way I instruct and interact with my boy writers. While it might be important to make writing a gender-neutral choice/activity, the needs of our student writers can be impacted differently by gender, and it is important that all educators be aware of the differences in engaging student writers. As an example, I recently talked with a boy who told me that his teacher would not allow him to write that he had “pelted his brother with snowballs” because that shows a snowball fight and they couldn’t post writing about a fight. In the same way that you talk about what female writers appear to be drawn to, and Terry references the discouraging feedback he received, educators and writers have a responsibility to value the differences in our writing choices and communities. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts in this topic, and I adore Jack of Love That Dog. He is an annual role model for my students. Thank you for your post and participation in this writing community.

    • We need more Ralph Fletchers in the world … Thank you for your thoughtful comment, and for giving me yet more to think about myself as a teacher.

  6. Kevin, I love this post. As a first time slicer, one who came to it almost out of necessity and not desire, it is obvious that the environment is largely female. I went on a search the first or second day looking for men to read and respond to, and came up with you and one other early poster whose name escapes me at the moment. That didn’t sit well with me, as I am always looking for different perspectives on, well, on everything and to do so, I need the male voice. My own experience here from time to time is what Terry describes above. One comment that has nothing to do with my writing, but is a personal connection. It has been disheartening at times, but then I learned how to categorize and tag, and found that more people outside the group than in respond, and so I …because through this process I have learned that I can do this (I thought I was supposed to be elsewhere) and that’s a gift SOL has given me. I wish I had an answer for why more men aren’t involved. I wonder if it is because of the ratio of men/women in the field and so the pool would be smaller as a result, but I really don’t know. Thanks for the thought-provoking post and Happy Friday!

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment and react. There is a gift in being part of any writing community, if you feel connected and respected and honored. I do believe SOL does that for me.

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