This past year I’ve read a lot more fiction than my usual yearly average. That’s a result of two things — the first being that I’m on an awards jury, the second being that I challenged myself to read more widely short fiction-wise.
Having expanded my fiction horizons this year, I now have some broad opinions and advice to impart to all genre writers. I’m not going to name names or give examples, but if anything I say from here on out hits home then I suggest you take it personally. Ready? Okay.
If I see one more piece of fiction wherein a female character — particularly a main character or protagonist — is raped, almost raped, or threatened with rape, I am seriously going to blow some shit up. I am so, so very tired of this. It not only annoys me, it angers me. Deeply.
I’ve written about this before, but apparently not everyone got the memo.
I will say, briefly, that there are a few instances where rape in fiction does not anger me and is justified within the text. Those instances tend to involve very good writers who know what they’re on about. Though there are plenty of good writers who don’t know what they’re on about; at least as concerns this issue.
I do understand that rape is a reality. And I’m not about to say that because fiction isn’t reality, there shouldn’t be rape in it. What I will say is that rape, in fiction, is often unnecessary, badly used, a symptom of poor characterization skills and inability to plot, and often serves to titillate and excite. If you do not see how all of these are unequivocally bad, then don’t even bother trying to argue your point: you lose.
Writers, when you create the world that your characters inhabit, be it future, past, present, secondary, imaginary or any combination thereof, you get to make choices about that world. And though it is true that rape happens, that doesn’t mean it is inevitable whenever a female character walks onto the page. You can decide that characters who wish to harm, threaten, or exert their power over a female character do it in other ways.
Consider this: if a man was intimidated by another man and decided to strike out and somehow de-empower his rival, he wouldn’t think “I’ll get him drunk and take advantage of him!” If a man found out a secret about another man and wanted to use that to his advantage, he wouldn’t say, “Have sex with me or I’ll tell your secret to the world.” If a man gets pissed off at another man, he doesn’t beat him up and rape him, he just beats him up.
There are hundreds of ways that people can relate to one another in anger, hatred, control and frustration that don’t have anything to do with sexual assault. Why not try considering one of those before turning to the easy one?
I guess it comes down to this: quit being lazy, writers. I won’t have it.
The idea that women should be ashamed of enjoying sex and having it with more than one person in their life is damned stupid. If fiction writers continue to perpetuate this idea, I will be forced to blow something up.
I read a few really good stories and books this year that were marred by weird sidelines wherein female protagonists felt themselves to be worthless and slutty because they enjoyed sex (usually unconventional) and had multiple partners in their life. Not multiple partners at a time, mind you, but in general. “How could I be such a horrible person as to have wasted myself on anyone but my true love?”
Sex is not evil. Enjoying sex is not evil. Enjoying sex that falls outside puritanical ideas of “normal” sex is not evil. Yes, some women feel this way, but again: you, the writer, get to choose the way your characters feel, and I wish you wouldn’t choose this. It’s stupid and boring and, when shoehorned into an otherwise intelligent female character, makes it seem like you have some problems that perhaps a therapist should help you with.
Not many people can pull off the Ironic -isms story. Like, “I’m being ironically sexist with this male character and you’re supposed to know that!” Or “I’m being ironically racist with my horrible stereotypes!” It’s hard to pull off because, forgive me, but most writers who try have never actually experienced racism or sexism or the -ism they are trying to be ironic about. Also, I often just don’t believe you when you say you’re trying to be ironic. Experience tells me that you’re either being clueless or malicious, and I won’t tolerate either one.
If you have to insist loudly and often that your story or novel is really feminist because you are a woman and a feminist and therefore you could never, ever write anything that is anti-feminist or cluelessly sexist in the same banal way that many stories and novels written by men who are unconsciously sexist are written, then perhaps your piece of fiction isn’t as feminist as you think it is.Â I’m just sayin’.
These things wouldn’t bother me so much if I didn’t invest so deeply in the books and stories I read. In fact, if the stories or novels themselves were just crap, I could write it all off as hack writing. But many of the things I read that pissed me off were written by otherwise excellent writers. They drew me in with great prose, an interesting premise, mostly great characterization, and a story that intrigued me. When I hit upon those speed bumps I felt rather betrayed. Like, how dare you make me think you knew what you were doing!?
It’s similar to the way fans get upset at their favorite television shows. There is so much potential there, and yet it’s squandered. It is enough to break our hearts. Or to make me break heads.