Fade in on a woman slowly wiping mascara streaks from her face. She sits in her bathtub clutching a pint of Ben and Jerry’s with strategically placed bubbles practically inducing a nip-slip — she is the pinnacle of #writtenbyaman. Tik Tok recently discovered the phrase “written by a man” and has erupted with skits parodying female characters lazily written by men. These Tiktokkers call attention to what artists and writers have been saying for decades as depictions of women slide further from the truth. This trend has also sparks conversations about the inverse, what characters look like when they are written by a woman. The flooded comments section of these videos might not know it yet, but the users are identifying the stark differences between the male and female gaze. Following this identification, the users then provide social commentary on the unrealistic tropes continually perpetuated through media.
What does it mean to be written by a man?
Male authors are unfortunately notorious for their lackluster attempts at writing women. This is not to say male authors cannot or should not write women but, they should provide more dynamic and fully formed female characters instead of the prototypes that are plot propellers or accessories rather than women.
These portrayals of women are usually hyper-sexualized and unrealistic, providing characters that encompass how men think women act. In feminist theory, this viewpoint is known as the male gaze, the act of portraying women from a heterosexual male viewer. This type of gaze often subtly objectifies women while tending to male fantasies and leaving out realistic depictions of women.
The subreddit r/menwritingwomen, which originated in 2017, served as one of the first places readers could discuss the male gaze and how it impacted female characters. Similar to fashion cycles, social commentary, and online trends are also cyclical so, the new Tik Tok trend is simply a visual medium for the aforementioned subreddit from several years ago.
One example of this TikTok trend pokes fun at the one-night stand trope showing clips of a woman waking up with her makeup somehow perfectly intact who clumsily (and yet silently) sneaks out of her lover’s apartment after leaving a note.
The video by @tabeabussmannphotography ends with a cinematic classic of the woman leaving the one-night stand with her shoes in hand, contrasting to the real-life scenario of simply wearing the shoes. Even more realistic, but of course never mentioned and decidedly less sexy, would be the rolled-up pair of black socks many women tuck into their bags as we recognize heels are uncomfortable, and going barefoot is frankly not an option. Outside of movies and television, have you ever seen a barefoot woman walking down the street — probably not.
Other users point out how different life actually is with comments reading, “They act like we don’t come in and immediately change out of our clothes” and “they think we’re gonna leave pretty notes as if we even want to see them again”.
TikTok user Morgan Ling’s version of the written by a man trend reads, “pov: I’m a female video game character written by a man”. The video with 3.4 million views shows Morgan in a skintight bodysuit with minimal coverage, lots of cutouts, and a complete lack of armor meant to somehow protect against physical blows and literal super villains.
While some comments argued with the creator about how it shouldn’t matter, many women came to her defense with the top comment saying, “that’s actually covering too much girl” which has garnered 42.6K likes alone.
What does it mean to be written by a woman?
When a character, namely a woman is written by a man she is describing the viewpoint from the male gaze. The female viewpoint was then coined the female gaze by female film theorists. This gaze is less formulaic and tends to focus on the characters themselves as people rather than objects or pawns used to heighten the experience for audiences. Since the female gaze is arguable the lack of a male gaze, being “written by a woman” would mean being written realistically without hyper-aestheticized sequences that depict a largely false showcase of reality.
The previously mentioned Tik Tok user @tabeabussmannphotography, developed a series after the virality of her first #writtenbyaman video and provides a side by side comparison of the same scene, a woman leaving a one night stand but this time from the female gaze.
Conversely to her first video, the female main character awakens with a hangover and smudged makeup leftover from the previous night. Whereas the last woman casually got dressed for some reason in front of an open window, this video shows a woman frantically searching for her clothes in her visitor’s messy apartment. Unlike the other woman, she pops an aspirin, uses mouthwash, and sends her best friend a selfie from the bathroom before leaving the apartment with her feet in last night’s heels.
The comments section erupted as young Tik Tokkers learned the difference between the male and female gaze without the stuffy rhetoric and terminology tuned out in any gender studies course. The top comments exemplify this understanding and celebration of realism with statements reading, “so written by women is just real life and not over-sexualized” and “immediately texting your friends while you’re still there HAHAHA accurate”.
Other examples of characters “written by women” on Tik Tok are men described as kind, intelligent, and unafraid of femininity. These tropes are usually men modeled after male love interests in books. This is because romance novels or books involving romantic plots are usually written by women and portray their ideal version of a man that is eloquent, multi-faceted and flawed but ready to learn the error of their ways. They often cite real life men including Tom Holland and Harry Styles as men written by women because of their attitudes and masculinity that is not rooted within the normalized toxic standards.
Plot twist: everyone is written by a man at times
Although the female gaze shows realistic depictions of both women and men the male gaze still dominates media, popular culture, and has led to what is known as an internalized male voyeur. Margaret Atwood describes this presence in her novel, “Robber Bride” by stating, “Even pretending you aren’t catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur”. This internalized voyeurism is the result of a societally normalized male gaze. As society shift towards more realistic depiction of women this gaze will lessen in popularity and provide an influx in media hopefully minimizing the presence of the internalized male voyeur. But when movies show a woman dancing in her kitchen without pants girls wind up ten years down the line in a big t-shirt (instead of a mini one) seductively licking pancake mix off a spoon next to their significant others because that is what they know.
Being written by a man is not the worst thing in the world but it should urge women to take a step back and reflect on the reasons for their actions and whether or not they are acting for themselves or for others. It takes introspective work but sometimes growing takes unlearning one’s internalized male gaze. Furthermore, unlearning an internalized male gaze is not only for women as men should also try to formulate their thoughts and opinions based in reality rather than the idealized version of society from their vantage point.
Unlearning the male gaze simply means recognizing the pitfalls of it’s skewed perspective and embracing a more realistic depiction of all genders. Tik Tok’s written by a man trend is fun and light hearted but holds a lot of value specifically regarding feminist theory, film theory, and their beloved intersection. What is fun and games also provides a nuanced look at varying perspectives as well as refreshing social commentary from various perspectives. Whether or not the users are aware of it, they are providing insightful discourse on the male and female gaze and every Tik Tok brings society closer to understanding the unrealistic expectations of women, and how to unlearn this gaze for a more accurate one altogether.