Since deciding on this writer as an it’s gonna happen thing, there is one aspect that bugs me. It shouldn’t bug me, but it does. Too many time on forums and Facebook pages, I’ve seen guys ask the same question.
“How do I write a female character?”
It always takes me aback. It always makes my eyes go wide and my temper to flare. Why on earth would anyone ask that question? Why would there need to be responses from well-meaning women detailing on how sensitive the fairer sex can be, how much more emotional, how much more nuanced we are as the more curvaceous side of the species.
My response is always the same: write the scene you want with a cast of all dudes, then switch half the characters to female. There you go. Problem solved.
What continues to boggle my mind are the interviews done by Neil Gaiman, GRRM, and others talking about writing ‘strong female characters’ as if men are the only authority to writing well-rounded, exciting, strong, independent women.
I’m sorry, what?
Where are the interviews with Kameron Hurley and her Nyxnissa no Dasheem, with Jaquelyn Carey and Kushiel’s Dart or Marion Zimmer Bradely and Margaret Atwood’s thoughts on the subject?
Where are the published (self-pubbed or otherwise) women giving advice on writing strong female characters publicised by the media?
There’s a hashtag movement on twitter I suggest you take a minute and read. It has everything to do with the Elliot Rodgers manifesto and subsequent killing, and everything to do with the misogynistic rape culture pervading our society and absolutely nothing to do with denigrating and berating men.
the #notallmen hashtag proves it. It proves that there are men out there who don’t understand ‘rape culture’, and who fervently deny that there is such a thing. These are also men who, no doubt, complain about the ‘friend zone’ and how ‘nice guys finish last’ as if it’s some universal conspiracy that they, as the ‘nice guy’ are somehow entitled to a woman’s affections and love because he is a ‘nice guy and filled some mysterious check list that all women secretly have.
Women aren’t objects. We’re not a reward for good behaviour. Men are not entitled to women. Men aren’t even entitled to men, and hell, women aren’t entitled to women.
Thinking otherwise, whether I’m off or I’m dead on the money, is precisely what’s wrong with the world; precisely what’s wrong with men and women who deny rape culture, who blame the victim, who count themselves amongst those catcalling, hurling ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ and saying ‘she deserved it’, ‘she asked for it’ and who are proud of doing so, who sit and give credit to the ‘nice guy’ trope as an entitlement. They are the problem.
This problem is pervasive, so deeply ingrained in our cultural being that when it’s brought to light, when it’s stripped naked and put right there in the open, the first instinct is to get defensive.
You don’t get to use #notallmen.
When you use the hashtag, you’re not telling women you’re the nice guy, or that you’re not a rapist, or that you won’t hurt us when we’re alone in the elevator or parking garage, who won’t catcall us or grope us in the office when you think no one is looking, who won’t drug our drink at the bar. You’re telling us that you’re just as much of an asshole as the guy that is out to hurt us.
I have been the victim. Men who were ‘nice guys’ turned out to be not so nice.
I’m not proud. I constantly tell myself there’s something I could have done, some way I could have gotten myself out of the situation, and worst of all “I shouldn’t have done that” where ‘that’ is an outlier that means so many things and nothing at the same time.
It’s not pretty, and it’s not fair.
I’m not going to highlight my own experiences because they are still very raw, and still very hard to wrap my head around even though four years have passed. And my experiences are not what defines me.
The fact that news outlets are talking about ‘mental illness’ and decrying the NRA and heating up the already burning debate about gun control and gun rights, is only touching on the tip of the iceberg. What lies underneath, the biggest part of this issue, is the way our men and boys are brought up to see and treat women. What Elliot Rodgers did is what’s at the core of every murder, every rape, every mass shooting that has ever been committed: control.
Elliot Rodgers took control over every life and ended it, he took control and then turned around and blamed a girl for his inability to get laid. He took control then turned it on its head and told the world he had no control, he wasn’t to blame for his actions, that because she rejected him he had to retaliate in the only way he knew how.
He blamed everyone but himself.
He played the martyr. He played the victim. He extrapolated on his own loneliness, wrote a 140 page manifesto, and then went on a killing spree. Because a girl rejected him.
And it’s all her fault.
Except that it isn’t her fault. It’s his fault because he was too wrapped up in himself to get the help he so desperately needed. It’s his fault because he knew how to hide his illness until he felt he needed to act. It’s his fault because he blamed everyone else but himself. It’s his fault because he went on the internet, ordered four different guns, and went on a killing spree.
It’s his fault because he took lives. It’s his fault because he is the abuser and he left a trail of victims.
It’s his fault because he is the type of person women live in fear of every. single. day.
We are set up as rewards. We’re put on a pedestal, and when things go wrong, we are blamed for the fallout. Put on sexual display we are ogled, idolised, photoshopped, told we’re not good enough, we’re not strong enough, we’re not smart enough, told that to be pretty means we have value, underpaid, the list goes on and on.
So what does this have to do with writing?
Take a look at the hashtag on twitter. Take a look and understand that to be a woman doesn’t mean the Hollywood definition of pointed boots and patent leather. It means living in fear that rejecting a man will get you killed. It means catcalls and being called ‘bitch, slut, whore’ at least once. It means keeping your keys in between your fist and your rings out because it will hurt a lot more. It means understanding that ten pounds of pressure will break a kneecap and five pounds of pressure breaks each collarbone. It means that when you seize up and can’t defend yourself, can’t scream for help that it isn’t your fault.
It means that women are people, not objects, or writing mysteries to be solved.
#YesAllWomen because our girls are taught not to be raped.
#YesAllWomen because our boys are taught ‘boys will be boys’ and that’s somehow okay.
#YesAllWomen because She-Hulk was called a porn-star.
#YesAllWomen because we shouldn’t have to be afraid of the dark.
#YesAllWomen because men ask how to write us as characters.
#YesAllWomen because we’re more than our looks.
#YesAllWomen because #notallmen care