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Fantasy Faction Writers => Writers' Corner => Topic started by: Eclipse on June 25, 2016, 06:58:36 PM

Title: If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
Post by: Eclipse on June 25, 2016, 06:58:36 PM
I thought this might interest you from Jim C Hines Blog

My goal was not to say or suggest these three authors were HORRIBLE HUMAN BEINGS and if you ever liked anything they wrote then YOU’RE A HORRIBLE HUMAN BEING TOO! Pretty much everything we love is problematic in at least some respect. (But please don’t take this to mean we should ignore or excuse sexism, etc. either.)

Yep, I started with older, classic/popular works. It would indeed be interesting to see how more recent and current bestsellers looked when put through the same genderswapping process. I’m hoping to get to that.

“What is seen cannot be unseen.” I hope so. One of the most powerful aspects of this kind of exercise, in my opinion, is that it helps us to see things we’ve gotten so used to we might not even notice it. Hopefully, that awareness continues beyond the immediate examples.



http://www.jimchines.com/2016/06/if-we-wrote-men-like-we-write-women/

http://www.jimchines.com/2016/06/if-we-wrote-men-like-we-write-women-part-ii
Title: Re: If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
Post by: Mr.J on June 25, 2016, 07:37:47 PM
A very useful thing to remember and use I think. Good stuff there.

Wish a lot of authors did this really.
Title: Re: If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
Post by: cupiscent on June 26, 2016, 12:04:04 AM
Author Amie Kaufman has said that when she's in the final stages of revising a novel, she genderflips all the supporting characters and reads through for glaring ridiculousnesses. (She's also noted that where things seem glaringly wrong when flipped, she leaves the character flipped in the final version.) I really like this approach, actually. It gives you a chance to see where you're relying on lazy assumptions and cliche, and to consider whether you should work harder.
Title: Re: If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
Post by: zmunkz on June 26, 2016, 12:08:26 AM
Author Amie Kaufman has said that when she's in the final stages of revising a novel, she genderflips all the supporting characters and reads through for glaring ridiculousnesses.

That is a good idea. I'm going to try that in my WiP.

Thanks for sharing that blog, it was an interesting read. I don't think we can rush to conclusions based on how the gender-flip turn out, but it is certainly an exercise worth pursuing to make sure nothing inadvertent is there that really doesn't need to be. Always good to take a moment to self reflect on these matters.
Title: Re: If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
Post by: Elfy on June 26, 2016, 02:36:34 AM
I stlll think one of the best pieces of advice about writing women or men or any character really came from George Martin, in which he answered a question about why his female characters work, and he said 'well, basically they're people.'
Title: Re: If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
Post by: zmunkz on June 26, 2016, 06:06:46 AM
I stlll think one of the best pieces of advice about writing women or men or any character really came from George Martin, in which he answered a question about why his female characters work, and he said 'well, basically they're people.'

Agreed. I think a lot of people get into problems with they write a character according to their role in the story... e.g., this is the romantic interest, I'll write him/her like the protagonists romantic interest. That is bound to cause issues. Write them all as people with interests and desires beyond the plot and their role, and you will be good to go.
Title: Re: If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
Post by: Roelor on June 28, 2016, 11:33:30 AM
Ugh..
So sick and tired of this sexism thing.

As long as the biggest part of the females uses their looks to achieve whatever they need, this will stay a thing.
Instead of fighting guys for sexism, fight the girls that keep it alive.

Title: Re: If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
Post by: TBM on June 28, 2016, 05:23:43 PM
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If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women

They do though. In the romance genre. And in Urban Fantasy, like Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake.


My protagonist, if genderswapped to male, he'd of been tested and his fighting genius would have been discovered alot earlier. He'd be more orthodox in his fighting, but would have grown arrogant in a bad way, advancing much faster than others. He'd be drowning in praise. He never would have discovered the great vulnerability of their society. He'd be a pretty boy, swarmed with girls and would be best friends to a prince. The bandits would take over, he would likely fight his way out, but he'd be able to trust no one, would be driven to grief and paranoia and would join in the anarchist bandit society. The hostile creator god would then invade, and take power unopposed. Forcing all his people to either work as industrial slaves overseen by horrific beasts and demons, or on the front line, dying on some alien war world. The lifespan of any one of them would be short. His best hope would be to become an inseminator to breed more slaves.     

Her brother, if genderswapped to female likely never would have been tasked with protecting their land by their father, never would have been told to root out evil, so wouldn't have journeyed far and wide, sleeping rough, and facing perils to uncover the bandit's plots. Instead she would marry the prince, move in with him, and start a family. Only for them to all get killed when the bandits launch their plans.   

In other words, rocks fall everybody dies.
Title: Re: If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
Post by: cupiscent on June 29, 2016, 01:22:55 AM
As long as the biggest part of the females uses their looks to achieve whatever they need, this will stay a thing.
Instead of fighting guys for sexism, fight the girls that keep it alive.

Not sure how this runs counter to the "write women like characters, not window-dressing eye-candy non-people" vibe of this thread.

Regardless, it's pretty harsh to blame it all on the women who are being told constantly by media and society that they have to be and act a certain way. It's not about "fighting guys", it's about fighting that system - which is supported by men and women, just as it harms both men and women, and just as both men and women fight against it.

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If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
They do though. In the romance genre. And in Urban Fantasy, like Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake.

Not sure you looked at the examples in the link. In romance (paranormal or otherwise), the male characters are treated with a great deal more respect than that - they have to be, since they need to be worthy of their female counterparts. One has to wonder if that's part of why romance genres sell so damn well.

My protagonist, if genderswapped to male...

(Gender-flipping) gives you a chance to see where you're relying on lazy assumptions and cliche, and to consider whether you should work harder.
Title: Re: If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
Post by: TBM on June 29, 2016, 02:41:53 AM
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Not sure you looked at the examples in the link.

Course I did. I didn't find anything particularly egregious though. Just describing the body more; that's supposed to make me uncomfortable when it's switched and it's being done on a man, but it just doesn't - not with me anyway. 

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In romance (paranormal or otherwise), the male characters are treated with a great deal more respect than that - they have to be, since they need to be worthy of their female counterparts. One has to wonder if that's part of why romance genres sell so damn well.

How do you define "respect?" Being stereotypically hyper masculine?
 
Are you trying to say that these female characters aren't worthy of their male counterparts? Do you believe that a woman has to make herself worthy of male attention? Or that she should?

My protagonist, if genderswapped to male...

(Gender-flipping) gives you a chance to see where you're relying on lazy assumptions and cliche, and to consider whether you should work harder.
[/quote]

I think that misses it's true value. It allows examination of the underlying attitudes of the writer. And how one really thinks when it comes to gender. Why bother correcting text for lazy assumptions and cliche when one can go to the source and deconstruct the thinking of the being which writes the text to begin with?   

Does one believe the character if gender swapped? If not why not?
Title: Re: If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
Post by: cupiscent on June 29, 2016, 05:51:04 AM
I didn't find anything particularly egregious though. Just describing the body more; that's supposed to make me uncomfortable when it's switched and it's being done on a man, but it just doesn't - not with me anyway.

Deja vu - it's about the way the body is described. Just pulling from the first example in the first link: "pleasantly plump to deliciously slender" packages the described bodies for the viewer's pleasure - their worth is linked to how palateable they are. Nearly everything about their description is physical - in contrast, nearly everything about the description of the once-male character is non-physical. This makes the secretaries non-physical attributes secondary to the physical in the measure of their worth. They're beautiful, and also secretaries. (Henshaw is a variety of character attributes, and also grey-haired.)

Note: the point is not that it makes you uncomfortable. It's that you never see passages like that with those genders.

How do you define "respect?" Being stereotypically hyper masculine?

Nope. I mean delivered as a well-rounded character comprised of personality, goals, flaws and strengths as well as just physicality.
 
Are you trying to say that these female characters aren't worthy of their male counterparts? Do you believe that a woman has to make herself worthy of male attention? Or that she should?

Nope. I'm saying that in a romance storyline, a reader needs to believe that the two characters have a genuine connection, that there's a meeting of minds and souls. If there's nothing on the page but physical description for one of the characters, you can tell me they're desperately in love all you like, but I've got no reason to believe it. Each party needs to display on the page that they seek, reciprocate and deserve the other's love for a romance line to truly work for me. (This is often easier in romance novels, which are usually told from alternating points of view - his and hers. You get to see both sides from inside. Urban fantasy is often more restricted to the female protag's POV, which gives us a lot of insight into her journey, but puts more pressure on the romantic interest's words and actions to "show" that connection.)

(Gender-flipping) allows examination of the underlying attitudes of the writer. And how one really thinks when it comes to gender. Why bother correcting text for lazy assumptions and cliche when one can go to the source and deconstruct the thinking of the being which writes the text to begin with?   

Does one believe the character if gender swapped? If not why not?

I don't follow your point here. Isn't that what has been suggested?
Title: Re: If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
Post by: TBM on June 29, 2016, 12:04:17 PM

I didn't find anything particularly egregious though. Just describing the body more; that's supposed to make me uncomfortable when it's switched and it's being done on a man, but it just doesn't - not with me anyway.
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Deja vu - it's about the way the body is described. Just pulling from the first example in the first link: "pleasantly plump to deliciously slender" packages the described bodies for the viewer's pleasure - their worth is linked to how palateable they are.
Nearly everything about their description is physical - in contrast, nearly everything about the description of the once-male character is non-physical. This makes the secretaries non-physical attributes secondary to the physical in the measure of their worth.

But the narrative actually states where their worth lies:

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In Henshaw’s opinion the principle of least action required that utility and beauty be combined.

This is in a scene where they're in a pool; cherrypicked out of a wider story. Even then the writer sneaks in the total recall skill. I would ask is there a scene showing the good secretary side of it? Them actually doing secretary things? If the answer is yes, and that's almost certainly the case, what the blogger is doing here is intellectually dishonest.

If you're writing a straight man who chose these women for their beauty as much as their utility, and you did a pool scene, what would you have him thinking? Would you have him admiring their strategic intellect? The whole of their being? Their nails?   

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They're beautiful, and also secretaries. (Henshaw is a variety of character attributes, and also grey-haired.)

He's the main character. He will always have more attributes. You have to compare minor with minor.

Note: the point is not that it makes you uncomfortable. It's that you never see passages like that with those genders.


That doesn't come across from that blog. At all.

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Nope. I mean delivered as a well-rounded character comprised of personality, goals, flaws and strengths as well as just physicality.

Maybe in the old days. What's worked in recent times is wealth, adonis chiselled looks and overprotective domination verging on abuse. --

I'll just rephrase the question: Do you believe the storyline where a female character must grow and change to be worthy of a man's love to be anti feminist? I'm not asking if it makes for good reading. 
Quote

I don't follow your point here. Isn't that what has been suggested?

There's two different exercises that can be done here.

 One can change the plot to accomodate the gender change. Thus examining the very premise of the character.
Why doesn't the character work as a simple swap? Is it because the idea of a grim looking woman who spends long periods of time hunting bad guys in the wild and sleeping like a tramp in some bush like Aragorn, seem less credible for a woman? Why is that? Does one assume fear of sexual assault holding her back? Fear of becoming more haggard looking stronger in a woman? Is a man's expected emotional range too narrow to be reacting this way without ridicule? These questions can be asked of writers and are in my view infinitely more interesting than examining:

Making the gender changes and not altering the plot, and see where it seems "off". This examines  writing style.  And description.

Title: Re: If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
Post by: cupiscent on June 30, 2016, 02:28:55 AM
If you're writing a straight man who chose these women for their beauty as much as their utility, and you did a pool scene, what would you have him thinking? Would you have him admiring their strategic intellect? The whole of their being? Their nails?
If I were writing that, I would recognise that I need to distinguish his viewpoints from the overall narrative, precisely because there are so many problematic examples in the genres history where his viewpoints are the default, the norm, the "objective narrative". So I'd be very, very careful. I'd probably also write it in a way that showed the shallow, exploitative, reality-television nature of that trait. And I'd probably also want to try to include some element showing how the women felt about this situation - because if they're that smart and capable, the girlplay nonsense is either a waste of their time and they know it, or something they enjoy and view as a perk of the position. Either way, an acknowledgement that they have active decision-making power in their lives would be good.

Basically, I'd have at least one of them be a character. Because otherwise, why are they there?

Note: the point is not that it makes you uncomfortable. It's that you never see passages like that with those genders.

That doesn't come across from that blog. At all.

Well, neither does "I'm posting this to make you uncomfortable". The first blog was posted for reaction. From the second post:

Quote
One of the most powerful aspects of this kind of exercise, in my opinion, is that it helps us to see things we’ve gotten so used to we might not even notice it. Hopefully, that awareness continues beyond the immediate examples.

I'll just rephrase the question: Do you believe the storyline where a female character must grow and change to be worthy of a man's love to be anti feminist? I'm not asking if it makes for good reading.

I believe any storyline where one character must grow and change to be worthy of another's love without that other character making any reciprocated effort to be a bad romance. Gender doesn't come into it. Feminism doesn't come into it. For romance - for any big emotional beat, be it revenge or romance or quest achievement - the goal has to be earned but it also has to be worthy of the character who has earned it (who may be - perhaps should be - different from the character who began this emotional journey).

There's two different exercises that can be done here...

To my mind, both exercises are done together. If I change the genders of my characters, it shows me where I'm relying on gender stereotyping both in the big and small pictures. If there are big plot movements that just make no sense, then I need to decide if I'm comfortable with the things I'm including there. (Maybe I am. Maybe I want to highlight certain gendered facets of my world. Maybe I didn't realise I was doing that, but now that I've seen it I can hang a lampshade on it. Or maybe I didn't intend to have those facets, and I should rethink how those elements are working.) But I can also see where I've given my female protag "girly" habits without thinking, or where my male characters are speaking in a way that seems way too aggressive when it's a woman talking, and I can think about whether I'm happy having those gendered elements in my line-by-line writing.

But all of that seems related. It's just a sliding scale of magnitude on the question of "how are my unthinking assumptions of gender showing up in my work without me realising?"
Title: Re: If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
Post by: jefGoelz on June 30, 2016, 06:30:59 AM
I believe excerpts like this are nearly 100% useless.
If I wrote a scene showing sexual subservience of women, it could be flagged, even if the whole point of the larger story was a morality tale how that was wrong.
Title: Re: If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
Post by: TBM on June 30, 2016, 02:56:43 PM
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If I were writing that, I would recognise that I need to distinguish his viewpoints from the overall narrative, precisely because there are so many problematic examples in the genres history where his viewpoints are the default, the norm, the "objective narrative".

That's exactly what they did though.

Quote;
was sitting by her pool at her home in the Poconos, scratching the gray on her scalp, and watching her three secretaries splash in the pool. They were all amazingly beautiful; they were also amazingly good secretaries. In Henshaw’s opinion the principle of least action required that utility and beauty be combined.


They establish Henshaw is watching them before any description, and that the beauty is based in his opinion. It reads like description of what he sees. The writer is portraying that without use of filtering, ie.  Hensaw saw, or Henshaw thought", which is good technique.
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So I'd be very, very careful. I'd probably also write it in a way that showed the shallow, exploitative, reality-television nature of that trait.

To whom? Henshaw doesn't think that. The girls weren't forced into the pool. It kinda sounds like you're inserting yourself into the scene by proxy and wagging your finger at the characters. 
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Basically, I'd have at least one of them be a character. Because otherwise, why are they there?

Any female character can look like an object if you take one scene out of context of the story.

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Well, neither does "I'm posting this to make you uncomfortable". The first blog was posted for reaction. From the second post:

Yes it is. He practically says as much; “What is seen cannot be unseen.” I hope so"

We differ in the sense that I don't believe a char has to prove their agency in every scene they're in. Sometimes the character is window dressing while another is in focus. This blog is not intended to diagnose a widespread problem in fiction. It's providing examples of writing that MAY be problematic, in the right context. Depending on the story.

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I believe any storyline where one character must grow and change to be worthy of another's love without that other character making any reciprocated effort to be a bad romance. Gender doesn't come into it. Feminism doesn't come into it. For romance - for any big emotional beat, be it revenge or romance or quest achievement - the goal has to be earned but it also has to be worthy of the character who has earned it (who may be - perhaps should be - different from the character who began this emotional journey).

Or they could just find someone who accepts them for who they are instead of requiring them to change. That's partly why I don't like romance. This whole I idea that you must change yourself to be worthy of attention. It takes a stronger person to say the hell with that, I'm staying me.     


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I can also see where I've given my female protag "girly" habits without thinking, or where my male characters are speaking in a way that seems way too aggressive when it's a woman talking,

But he's not a woman. So why would you tone down his passion with the cold analysis of gender studies social science? What does HE tell you? As opposed to an alternate she version that doesn't exist in the story. That's what matters. Art as opposed to social science. The female version is an interesting thought exercise that makes one learn more about themselves, but as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't alter writing, which is still done according to feeling, instinct and artistic vision. Things that may change after this self introspection, but then it'll be an organic change in writing, not going through with a red pen looking for gender imbalance.

Title: Re: If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
Post by: cupiscent on July 01, 2016, 02:40:16 AM
The girls weren't forced into the pool.

Weren't they? From the scene as written, a requirement of their employment as secretaries is to gambol around in bathing suits for the entertainment of their employer. He has all the power in the scenario. Their wishes aren't included.

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Well, neither does "I'm posting this to make you uncomfortable". The first blog was posted for reaction.

Yes it is. He practically says as much; “What is seen cannot be unseen.” I hope so"

Yes. That's awareness. If the awareness makes you uncomfortable, or doesn't, that's a matter of you, the issues, the world. But his point was increasing awareness.

There are many, many times in genre fiction where female characters are absent or reduced to objects in the narrative. Maybe we should question whether this is realistic or a good thing. That's all I'm trying to say, and I suspect all Jim Hines is trying to say.

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I can also see where I've given my female protag "girly" habits without thinking, or where my male characters are speaking in a way that seems way too aggressive when it's a woman talking,

But he's not a woman. So why would you tone down his passion with the cold analysis of gender studies social science?

I might tone down his aggression because I didn't mean for him to be that aggressive, I just didn't realise he was being so because social cues for aggression levels are perceived differently in men and women. Or I might leave him aggressive but have another character comment on how overboard he's being. Or I might leave the aggression as is, but also leave the character as a woman because it's more interesting and less expected like that. Or I might leave everything exactly the way it was because I'm writing a society where the men are hyper-"masculine" and are prone to unwarranted aggression as a matter of course.

The important thing is that I think about something that I might not have thought about in the process of writing. I believe "art" is better when it's conscious.
Title: Re: If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
Post by: TBM on July 01, 2016, 12:20:05 PM
Quote

Weren't they? From the scene as written, a requirement of their employment as secretaries is to gambol around in bathing suits for the entertainment of their employer. He has all the power in the scenario. Their wishes aren't included.

The scene makes it clear that they have to be amazingly beautiful to be hired.  Not that they're required to play in his pool in his home. That's not even believable. One grey haired man can pressure no less than three adult women into playing in his pool at his home in bathing suits while he watches? I think it speaks to an infantilization of women that a writer has to explicitly make it clear that these three weren't pressured into it. That should be a given unless stated otherwise.
 

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There are many, many times in genre fiction where female characters are absent or reduced to objects in the narrative. Maybe we should question whether this is realistic or a good thing. That's all I'm trying to say, and I suspect all Jim Hines is trying to say.

But they are objects, right? Being fictional, they're not real people. They can't make decisions, they can't decide what to wear, what to do, or anything like that. Wouldn't you argue that characters don't decide to wear chainmail bikinis? That it's all down to the writer? Like dressing a doll, right? One can't reduce a doll to what they already are.
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I might tone down his aggression because I didn't mean for him to be that aggressive, I just didn't realise he was being so because social cues for aggression levels are perceived differently in men and women.

I just don't see why you'd want to use a human being with ten times less testosterone as the standard for what is too aggressive when writing this man.
Title: Re: If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
Post by: NinjaRaptor on July 01, 2016, 05:09:46 PM
Regardless of how sexist they are (in terms of thinking women are less capable or deserve to have their rights circumscribed), I think straight men will tend to notice how attractive certain women are physically. So of course male writers writing male character's PoVs will tend to describe that. And I can attest from my own reading that attractive men in fiction written by women have their physical attributes described as well. This isn't sexism, this is the human tendency to check out the opposite sex.
Title: Re: If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
Post by: JMack on July 01, 2016, 06:39:49 PM
Regardless of how sexist they are (in terms of thinking women are less capable or deserve to have their rights circumscribed), I think straight men will tend to notice how attractive certain women are physically. So of course male writers writing male character's PoVs will tend to describe that. And I can attest from my own reading that attractive men in fiction written by women have their physical attributes described as well. This isn't sexism, this is the human tendency to check out the opposite sex.

I've been following this post (mostly), and it's been sitting in the back of my mind as I've been writing my WIP. What I like about the discussion is that it helps me be more mindful about my choices. For example, do I need to say that the cigarette girl in the 1930s night club is a "pretty blonde"? Or is there a more interesting choice, such as "pert", which means "attractively lively" and describes the person more than the body?

Either choice might be made. As an author, I want to expand my range of thinking so that I have more options than the default.
Title: Re: If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
Post by: Mr.J on July 01, 2016, 08:14:05 PM
This thread is exactly why there are problems in the first place.

Title: Re: If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
Post by: NinjaRaptor on July 01, 2016, 08:50:03 PM
Regardless of how sexist they are (in terms of thinking women are less capable or deserve to have their rights circumscribed), I think straight men will tend to notice how attractive certain women are physically. So of course male writers writing male character's PoVs will tend to describe that. And I can attest from my own reading that attractive men in fiction written by women have their physical attributes described as well. This isn't sexism, this is the human tendency to check out the opposite sex.

I've been following this post (mostly), and it's been sitting in the back of my mind as I've been writing my WIP. What I like about the discussion is that it helps me be more mindful about my choices. For example, do I need to say that the cigarette girl in the 1930s night club is a "pretty blonde"? Or is there a more interesting choice, such as "pert", which means "attractively lively" and describes the person more than the body?

Either choice might be made. As an author, I want to expand my range of thinking so that I have more options than the default.
I suppose discussions like this can have a positive outcome in that they get you to think. But to me, it looked like the link in the OP was complaining that male writers describe women by their physical attributes too much. And while it's true that women are more than how they look, I am not sure this is always problematic.

I mean, if a male PoV character is checking out an attractive woman, of course he's going to notice her physical characteristics. The same for a female PoV checking out an attractive man, or gay people of either sex checking each other out. That's natural for humans and most other animals.