Monday, February 26, 2018

Violence Against Women

Violence against women has been in the news lately. Not that it’s new; men have likely been abusing women since before there was language to describe it. A lot of frustration and anger overflowed its dam after the Harvey Weinstein revelations, which were revelations only to those outside of Hollywood, where Weinstein’s predatory behavior was an open secret, making a bad situation even worse.

This is a writing blog, so I’m not going to discuss the Right or Wrong or the politics of it. Franky, I don’t see what there is to discuss in the Right vs. Wrong arena, which means I don’t understand why it’s a political issue at all, but that’s me. We’re still not going there.

But this is a writing blog, and writers have things to answer for here. I’m not talking about any sexual transgressions writers may have committed themselves, though I’m sure there are many. I’m talking about our attitudes toward it, and there’s no way to discuss that without discussing the attitudes of readers.

Placing a woman in jeopardy is a quick and easy way to ratchet up tension in a story, as women are the more vulnerable members of society. (Children and the elderly even more so, but they are so vulnerable writers go there at their own risk.) It’s an effective and legitimate technique when used in moderation and as an organic part of the story. Women are in jeopardy. A lot. To ignore this fact is to write unrealistic fiction.

The problem comes when the author too often uses a threatened woman in this manner, or reaches outside the logical construct of the story to do it. Then it’s cheating. There are many other ways to create tension, but you have to work a little more than if you just tie Pauline to the railroad tracks and fire up the engine. To consider it acceptable as a routine device to get readers—or viewers—on the edges of their seats is a tacit acknowledgement that it’s accepted in society, or we wouldn’t see it so much relative to the use of children, the elderly, or pets. (Dear God, don’t hurt a pet.)

I’ve written two books where violence against women—or the threat of it—were the focus. A Dangerous Lesson was my serial killer novel and I’ll never write another. I was noodling around with an idea I won’t describe here because it gives away the ending and I know several of you haven’t read the book yet, and having a serial killer made sense. I’m not fan of serial killer stories, but I was curious as a writer, so I went for it. I think the book works for what it is, but it is my least favorite.

The current book, Bad Samaritan, deals with crimes against women in two different ways. Soccer mom Becky Tuttle is also steamy romance writer Desiree d’Arnaud. Becky goes to extraordinary lengths to keep her personas separate, even hiring an actress to make personal appearances as Desiree. Still, someone figures out her ruse and sends letters that, while not overtly threatening, are certainly disconcerting, if only because he knows who she is and where she lives.

Researching Bad Sam led me to the primary apologists for crimes against women, men’s rights advocates. While I was uncomfortable writing A Dangerous Lesson I felt like I needed a shower every time I spent more than twenty minutes looking into these evolutionary cul-de-sac degenerate motherfuckers. (Feel free to pass that along. Any day one of them has a harsh word to say about me is a good one.)

As the father of a daughter I became much more sensitive to the multiple threats women face about 27 years ago. Researching the MRAs brought the lesson home. The recent #metoo revelations are the icing on the shitcake. If authors want to be taken seriously as coming down against such behavior they must be sure not to risk normalizing it. If you’re going to place a woman in danger, don’t do it just because she’s a woman. Make her someone another character decided needed to go, like any man might be. If you are going to place her in jeopardy solely because of her gender, do it for a reason other than cheap suspense. Give your readers something disturbing to think about after they finish the book.

Readers are not blameless. These things get written because publishers know people will read them. If you would not want to see a woman terrorized then don’t read about it just for the “entertainment” value. It says something about you, and what it says isn’t flattering.

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