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Women Are Awesome. How about if We Stop Murdering Them?

I don’t remember when I started to care about women. (And I’m not going to say women’s issues because it’s not a self-contained status sort of thing. We’re half the population—-nothing special interest about that.)

In grad school I complained about a professor who told the class his favorite bar was called “The Silent Woman” and out front it had a picture of a woman with her head chopped off. I was told he had tenure and to go away.

In college I complained about a physics professor who said, “You ladies with your pressure cookers will understand this…” I was given extra points on my grade and told to go away.

In 10th grade a male classmate who sat next to me in the computer class told me repeatedly how he was going to find out where I lived, force his way in, and show me how he was “a real man.” I complained to the office. They told me to avoid him and try not to provoke him. (Even by sexist standards, I failed to understand this. I was a flat-chested, make-up-less bookworm. Short of not existing, I didn’t see how I wasn’t going to provoke him.)

In 7th grade I was sent to the office for slapping a boy. He had me pinned to a wall and was about to punch me. He wasn’t sent to the office. I didn’t get into trouble because, as the guidance counselor said, everyone knew I was “really a nice girl.”

In 5th grade I had a button on my person that read, “A woman’s place is every place.” I’d found the button in a bowling alley parking lot. I think it had already been run over. But I pinned it to my purse.

In 3rd grade I complained to teachers about a boy because, “He shouldn’t be talking to girls that way.” He had looked up my skirt and asked me to kiss him. I kicked him really hard. I was told to play nice. He got in no trouble at all.

And those are only the moments I’m going to share.

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of about violence against women around the world and in school shootings. And today I read a piece riffing on the famous quote, “Well-behaved women seldom make history”.

And another piece about having The Right Reader.

It’s funny how everyone agrees with the saying, “You can’t please everyone,” until they’re the one not pleased.

Recently a male facebook friend made disparaging comments about the Duchess of Cornwall–Camilla Parker Bowles. His main complaint wasn’t that Charles had cheated on his wife. Sure that was bad. But the bigger sin was to cheat on his wife with someone ugly, and he hoped the if William ever cheated on Kate, it would be with someone pretty.

I am insecure about my looks, and I had to ask my friend if he really thought that women judge unattractive were underserving of loving relationships. Really? Honestly, while I think Charles is a cad, I reluctantly admire his ability to devote himself to a woman whose looks are constantly insulted in the media. Here is a man who ignored his pretty, young wife for an older, dowdy woman. How cliche breaking is that?

In most places a woman is only as valuable as she is pretty. And virtuous.

I think one reason I had trouble killing a character in a short story recently was because that character was a teenage girl. Before her death, she had not been virtuous… Gosh, now I’m rethinking the ending again. Don’t we have enough violence against women and girls? Then again, because it happens, shouldn’t we write about it?

So, I realize that my “right reader” would be someone who cares about women too.

Do you ever consider how your characters reflect the culture or an issue that matters to you? And I don’t mean being didactic about it. Just, do you consider such things?

11 thoughts on “Women Are Awesome. How about if We Stop Murdering Them?

  1. I thought about it a lot. When I set out writing, my first novel was going to be a straight historic fiction story about the Ancient Romans and the Goths. I did a lot of research, and found precious little about the roles of women in either culture, and what I found about Roman women left little to be desired. I found a passage about how Gothic women were ‘allowed’ to fight alongside men in battle, but found little to back it up. At that moment, my story became historic fantasy. I wanted some kickass women warriors! I created a secondary Gothic warrior sect, comprised only of women. I worried they wouldn’t be accepted by women readers, as so many tales make Amazons into a male fantasy version of lesbians, or have some other titillating intent. I wanted them to be real women, each with various good and bad dimensions–same as any other character–but strong, empowered. (They were, even then, half the world’s population, after all. 😉
    Long story longer (sorry), if my beta-readers are any indication, I’m relieved that most seem to think I’ve succeeded, and the books seem to resonate well with women. Phew. But I did worry, and still do. I’m not sure who my real readers are yet, but they seem to be mostly female, which I think is great.
    Thanks for the links, and for your thoughtful analysis and honest revelations. I hope things are improving for women, even with so many signs to the contrary. I suppose progress is never quite in the straight, direct line we’d like.

    • My progress certainly has never been in a straight line.

      Thanks for your reply. It is good to hear how other writers make decisions about story. Just your awareness of the issue has to be good for your novel–it sounds promising! I am sometimes intimidated when I write from a male point-of-view…I worry that it won’t sound real. I imagine men may sometimes feel the say way when writing about women. But that’s the writer’s job, isn’t it? Putting ourselves in other people’s shoes.

      Have you ever Sherri S. Tepper? Strong/multi-dimensional women warriors made me think of her work.

      Thanks again for stopping by and reading!

      • All my stuff from a female POV has been 3rd person, and I think that helps. Some things are still tough. Just writing a scene today about a woman givng birth. Was going to do it from her POV, and decided against it, for obvious reasons. I have, however, written a few sex scenes from a female POV. Only my wife has commented (positively, thank goodness). It’s challenging, for sure.

        Thanks for the Tepper recommendation. I haven’t read her, but it looks like I should. This reminds me of something I read about Jacqueline Carey: after her successful Kusiel series, 1st person/female heroine, she wanted to do a follow-up from her heroine’s son’s POV. Her publisher, Tor (also Tepper’s) dropped her–didn’t think she could pull it off. The second series went on to sell well, and now she’s with Grand Central because of it. I say Bravo!

        I like what I’ve seen of your blog, Marta, so I’ll be back. Do you have a link on your FB page? I found this one in the WU list.

  2. Oh, I usually write everything fiction in 3rd person. I haven’t learned how to write 1st person without making it all about me! Yeah, writing a birth scene from a woman’s pov if you’re a man…not saying it can’t be done, but it sure would be a challenge. Well, I write in 3rd person, but I’ve written sex scenes telling the reader what the man is thinking. Wait. Sex scenes is surely not the right term. Almost sex scenes. Foreplay scenes? Anyway, the few people who have read them seem to have reacted positively.

    Good for Carey! I haven’t read her work, but I’ll look it up. Seems like a publisher ought to support its writers to try new things, branch out, that sort of thing. Sounds like she was better off to leave them. Success is the best revenge!

    I’ve so far avoided putting my blog link on my FB page. I can’t quite reconcile myself to letting my in-laws and my students find it. It isn’t a secret. Some of them know I have a blog. I just don’t bring it to their attention.

    You don’t seem to have a blog. At least I didn’t see one on your FB page. Have you thus far avoided it?

    • No blog…yet. Maybe someday. I’m just coming around to working on a webpage, believe it or not (and this is six or so years into my writing journey). I old, so a bit of a laggard.

      You should check out JC. She lives nearby, and has been an inspiration to me, even though I found her after I started writing (never actually met, but have conversed online). So many successful writers have been so cool to me, including so many of the WU-ers. It does my heart a lot of good.

      I respect the need to keep your blog away from the eyes of the fam, ect. I’ll just bookmark it. It’s been great chatting today, here on your blog. 🙂 Be seeing you; here, and around the boards! Have a great weekend!

  3. Great thoughts – thanks for the post and thanks to the comment-writers. I think about how my writing positions itself in culture all the time. Lately I’ve been writing about relatively powerless characters who struggle against those with much more power and status. It’s an ongoing theme.

    • It’s good to know your theme…although there are probably themes in your work other people could find. But anyway, the struggle of the powerless–a great and timeless theme!

  4. It’s true that women are violated violently in the most sexist and primitive cultures, but it is also true that that is no longer true in many places, like our country. As a mother of two boys I can tell you that they grew up in school systems were girls were “empowered” and not punished at all for obnoxious behavior towards boys that would never be tolerated the other way around. The little feminists raised with my boys shared a great similarity to the Mean Girls of my day, only worse. But women tortured with cliterectomies, now that is disgusting and vile.

    • I have a boy too. I worry about him constantly and the world he is growing up in. I worry about the ways boys are treated and the assumptions put upon them. But I also think women are still treated violently here. I just read an article in Vanity Fair ( http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2011/05/sex-trafficking-201105 ) about the sex trafficking in America. It is disturbing.

      So far in school my son has had good luck in getting along with girls. His best friends have been girls. And respectful behavior is expected of everyone at his school.

  5. This is a strong post, and I agree. Men in this society even in 2011 don’t value the true extent of women in our world. Even if they choose not to value them due to their gender, one should at least value the life of another human being supplying them with compassion regardless of stature or appearance. I like to showcase issues in my writing, but i haven’t quit hit the anvil yet with a story to encompass that. One story I’m working on revolves around white supremacy, as I believe racism (along with sexism) are plagues on society. It’s sad to hear about some of the remarks made by various men and it disgusts me.

    • There is still plenty of hatred out in the world. I admire writers who deal with these issues creatively and thoughtfully. You’re thinking about it, which means a lot. Too many people ignore these problems all together. And the more you write about them, the closer to the “anvil” you’ll get.

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