When a female writer writes a male lead, there’s always a question: “How do you get into a man’s head?” (and vice versa, I’m just going to stick this way round to save a lot of s/he-ing!)
It’s interesting, because the same debate doesn’t appear to come up to the same degree with “How do you get into a Elf’s head?”, “How do you get into a murderer’s head?” etc. Even within the same sex, different genders don’t seem to cause as much of a problem – straight women writing lesbian characters, for example.
I suspect part of the problem is one of audience-accuracy. I find it fascinating, for example, that if I write a character I think seems “Canadian”, carefully using their words and syntax and customs, locals will pick up a lot of problems with it, and if the tables are turned, I rip their British characters to shreds in the same way. Similarly, I suspect a man reading a male character written by a woman, will pick up on things “no man would say”, whereas there are unlikely to be many elves or murderers reading those novels.
Nevertheless, it seems to me an incomplete answer. Lesbians definitely read books, so do murderers and cops and adulterers and all the other characters who get written about by people without first-hand experience. As a writer, I would definitely want a few guys to read my male-centric novels before sending them to publishers, and if I ever write from the POV of a lesbian, cop, etc, I would look for a proof-reader with that sort of expertise too.
But is there also an element of stereotyping? Do we feel more comfortable saying men act / think / feel a certain way than we do with other classes of character?