According to the Legend of Joss Whedon, during an interview he was asked why he creates so many strong female characters. He responded, “Because you asked that question.”
I write a lot of female characters—the main character in my six-and-growing unpublished book series is a woman. The villain in my fan fiction is a woman. But I’m not doing it to be political. I’m doing it because, “Why not?”
My fanfic villain was conceived to be a man, but as I sat down to write, I scribbled an “S” in front of “he,” and now she is menacing the sweet holy hell out of Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, but as a petite, frequently underestimated Native American woman as opposed to the imposing badass I’d first considered. Why did I add the “S” in the first place? Because part of the character’s origin is in their spouse getting murdered, and do we really need another dead wife?
The thing is, it’s not that hard to write women. I don’t know why the entertainment world has such a problem with it. Yes, there are differences between the genders that, as a cis het-male I’ll never fully understand, but I can always ask. And even so, the real lesson here is that there are more similarities than differences between men and woman from a character-building standpoint. Men and women both want things, and as long as you understand that, for women, these wants don’t stop at pretty dresses and a man, you’re on the right track.
So yeah, if somehow my books got out in the world and I was asked about my female protagonists, the first thing I’d say is, “You know who could write women better than me, even? A woman.” Then I’d say, “Women are people. Try writing people. I don’t see why this needs to be spelled out for you.”
The “Why not” principal also works for races that aren’t yours, as well as sexualities. Just don’t make cartoons out of characters, and you’ll be fine.