I'm a little late on this subject, but I feel like talking about it anyway. As a male author, I do have female characters. I fact, most of my main characters are female. I would like to clarify, however, that they are characters first and female second, or, as I read somewhere else, Strong Characters (Female) rather than Strong Female (Characters). Far too often in modern media that "strong" becomes "eye candy," and the "character" becomes "lolwutkaratur" but that's part and parcel of the hypersexed American media, and topic for another post. It's a tricky proposition , as a male with full male privilege, to try and write from the perspective of a woman or girl. In order to cover my bases, I often have more than one character (female); the more the better, because I can assign a wide array of character traits to each without the worry of stereotyping that comes from the Smurfette Principle. When done right, and when you actually get into the shoes of the characters, it can help you as the author develop a new way of viewing the world. The key word here is "empathy;" being empathetic towards others is the best way to avoid stereotypes and create fully-fleshed out characters. I won't stand here and say that I'm an expert, but I haven't been hung by my friends yet, many of whom are female, so I must be doing something right.
If male authors only wrote about male characters and female authors only wrote about female characters, the world of literature would be a boring place, anyway. Some of the most memorable male characters come from female writers (Hercule Poirot) while some amazing female characters have come from male authors (Irene Adler, the only human to ever outwit Sherlock Holmes). So the watch word is empathy and being aware of your privilege if you're a male author writing as a female character.
I walk an even narrow tightrope because not only do I write about characters (female), I write about characters ("minority", female). I put "minority" in quotes because I hate the word but can't think of another word for it. I have some experience here, falling into two "minority" groups myself in America (clinically depressed/ADHD and atheist), but most people don't know that by looking at me, so I get a pass as a White individual as well, which means, until I open my mouth, I get to enjoy all the privileges that come with that as well. This is an even harder line to walk, but I can attempt to understand. The attempting to understand is what was call "empathy". It's trying to step outside of your privilege, seeing where it ends, and trying to understand what someone else goes through.
This is not about fiction, and this is not about characters, however. This is about males posing as females, especially males posting as minority females, but not for the same reasons I detailed above. Recently, there's been a rash of male bloggers posting and acting as female bloggers, usually from countries where females are actively discriminated against: case in point, there was a recent kerfluffle where some asshole was posting as a Syrian female blogger, and crafted this whole story that scared the hell out of everyone who followed the blog, and some other blogs. People were understandably pissed when they found out the whole thing was fiction. The guy behind it deserves to be called out for it.
So what is the difference between what he did and what I do? He'll claim that he was just doing the same thing that I do; exploring privilege, and attempting "empathy." There is, however, one key difference. See, with mine comes the admission that my work is fiction. I am not a female "minority" author writing about characters ("minority," female), and my readers will know that going into it. They'll know that my characters are not real, and while my writings may (I hope) have an impact on the struggle for equal rights, people will be able to see that they are fictional and they are not real people.
There was no admission the whole thing was fictional on this guy's behalf until it was too late. And then, suddenly, everyone realizes this is a man writing this blog. What does this do? You can't exactly be sure who is on the other side of the screen, typing this stuff. Now all those actual Syrian bloggers are going to come under question. Are they really actual Syrian females, or is this just another asshole guy, "exploring privilege" by reveling in it? It's easy enough to sit from a position of privilege and believe that you're "fighting for the cause." But you're not. You're damaging it, because in your ignorance, you're taking away from the actual struggle these women are facing, by undermining their credibility as actual female bloggers.
And that is the key difference between what I do and what these men do. I attach one key word to what I do that distinguishes me from them: fiction. I respect your fight, and I help, but my stuff is not real. I may have some reality too it, but it is not real. It does no damage, it undermines nobody's credibility other than my own. And if there are any remaining male bloggers out there who are e-crossdressing, it's in your best interest to attach that "fiction" label to your page too. To not to only shows that you have no respect for the actual fight these women are struggling with and that you have no understanding of the actual position of privilege you type from.