Do women write better about death than men?

Charles 5 Comments

At the Telegraph Hay Festival last weekend, Martin Amis opined that women write better about sex than men. They do so, he said, with greater sincerity. Men get carried away showing off their writerly potency. 

This set me wondering whether female celebrants write better, more emotionally articulate funerals than men.

Amis went on to say: 

“Let me venture a distinction between men’s writing and women’s writing. There is a difference between real sincerity and literary sincerity. When you’re told about the death of a friend you can burst into tears but you can’t burst into song. But I would say there’s a bit more song in women’s writing, there’s more real sincerity in women’s writing.”

I suspect there’s something in this, and that it carries over into funeral scripts. The emotional temperature of a ceremony written by a man is likely to be cooler than one written by a woman, its content thinner.  

I suspect that the best male celebrants acknowledge the general superiority and greater emotional fluency of the sisterhood. 

On reflection, I acknowledge that this may not be a universally held view. 



  1. Charles

    Thanks Charles – what with worrying about the credibility of celebrancy in general, and being a chap and all, I may just crawl off and give one of my (female…) colleagues an extra job in about ten day’s time…

    It may or may not be a universally held view but it is a pretty universally held generalisation. I personally and intolerantly find most generalisations in this work are – useless.

    And – (don’t misinterpret the tone of this comment pl Charles, I’m largely in agreement as it happens) you conflate two things, I feel: emotional temperature, and thinness of content.

    Family A may want a lower emotional temperature – doesn’t mean to say the content is thinner. And conversely, and obviously I guess, you could have buckets of emotion and little substance. What you might call an “X Factor” funeral?

    But I must admit that chaps are chaps perhaps just a little too often for their emotional health.

    As for the mighty Amis, power to his elbow and peace to his teeth, I suspect him of playing games here. He’s a male writer. Does he think he is an insincere writer?

  2. Charles
    Richard Rawlinson

    Interesting! I haven’t read or listened to enough funeral scripts to judge but I’ve certainly noticed a difference between male and female novelists, even when the woman’s tone is dry and the man’s is sentimental.

    There’s a sense, even with good male writers, that they’re vainly aware of their artistry. Women, while also clearly crafting imagery and characterisation, often manage to appear less self-conscious.

    This perhaps allows the reader to focus with fewer distractions on the ‘moral’ dimension, or humanity, intrinsic to the best narratives – the consequences of what people do or don’t do to one another.

    However, contrived artistry may be what’s required of short funeral scripts. Good writing is grounded in reality but indepth realism can be matched by sketches achieved with a couple of choice strokes. The key for both sexes is sympathy with the character in order to convey, even if revealing absurd traits, what it might be like to be them.

  3. Charles

    Hmm, this is difficult! Academic books and essays: I think I generally enjoy female writers, such as Elizabeth Hallem and Jenny Hockey, but then men such as Geoffrey Gorer and Tony Walter were/are great. Novels: I am currently reading The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. She has managed to create the most beautifully written and thought-provoking fictional death/funeral I have ever read! Would a male writer be able to create the same atmosphere…not sure…but then John Irving is very witty and humorous when writing about death. Perhaps the sexes tackle death from different perspectives which are both credible. I guess it is all about what you want to get out from what you are reading. Emotional v factual is too generalised but it is something along those lines.

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