Why indeed? This isn’t a question of ability to do the task, nor of willingness. This is a question of why seemingly many people on the internet believe that it cannot be done, at all. I have come across several posts and articles online that claim that women have an easier job of creating male leads because of the abundance of male dominated literature. Another point, erroneous as it may be, is that in practice, it seems that only women and gay men seem to ‘get’ women. As part of neither demographic and a boy with quite a few female friends, this bugs me a lot, perhaps a little more than it should.
The statement seems to imply that writers create characters from preexisting works and not from being human beings and amalgamating character traits from other such humans they may know. Writers must have a terrible job of dredging through piles of books to find what they’re looking for. This sort of summation seems to blissfully ignore the fact that character building is an art that you yourself perfect. Popular characters are fads that can and will fade when the public looks for a different taste and their clones will as well; good and original characters will persist.
But the question still stands. Why can’t male writers produce quality female leads? Because the question is flawed in and of itself. Any female character in any novel should be a character first, her role in the story second and a woman third. People should be worried about making their characters believable before they worry about their characters being women. However the other players in the story react is based on character, not on being a woman. Because not all women are the same! It would be like treating every person in a supermarket the same way and expecting identical responses. You’d treat an exemplary hockey player with a fondness for snark and sarcasm differently to the quiet one who’s always on twitter, because those are character traits, and just examples from my personal life!
In conclusion, the question shouldn’t really be ‘why can’t male writers create believable female leads?’, but ‘why can’t people accept that all characters are people?’. I know of a couple male writers with female protagonists at the helms of their stories, but I didn’t feel like it was necessary to list them. Finding books is one of the adventures of being a reader.