11.14.2014

What Sort of Woman Writes These Things?

Quote courtesy of my dear friend Kirstin,
who is in the dedication of STRINGS for a reason
It's a refrain I've heard often about female authors. Particularly female authors of dark or gritty fiction.

What sort of woman writes these things?

As if women can't write about the brutality people inflict upon other people, male or female. As if brutality itself has a gender and its gender is exclusively male.

Do people really believe women are incapable of being cruel and visceral and dark? Maybe we just never met the same women, but I can spout off at least a dozen without taking a breath, and if you can't, you're either lying or not paying much attention. Despite well-known examples of female serial killers, female despots, and female psychopaths all throughout human history, women have long been steeped in a flowery brew of virtue, frailty, and elegance as a counter to the stereotypical male's chauvinistic brutishness. It's a stereotype we often don't acknowledge until a woman is found to be in violation of it.

What sort of woman writes these things?

Must we really be so scandalized in 2014 about what women are capable of? I've never worn a corset in my life, but I can sometimes feel the invisible squeeze of one, especially when someone pairs gender with genre. But we're not only scandalized. We are also very confused.

Take Gillian Flynn. When the movie GONE GIRL was released, it ignited a discussion among feminists and traditionalists alike about whether or not the story was progressive, simply because the story revolves around the actions of a psychopath with a vagina, as if such a combination of traits doesn't exist in nature, or if it does, well we certainly don't want to write about it, because that only makes women look bad! Contributing to the head-scratchery was this notion that, as a woman writing about such a character, Flynn was perpetuating negative female stereotypes. Double bad! The overall tone was she should have "known better."

As if "woman" is a country to which we owe our most jingoistic of platitudes, and Flynn is a traitor of the highest order for misrepresenting us somehow.

But wait . . . isn't it more sexist to portray women exclusively as victims? Even if we see more violence against women, and that certainly is no laughing matter, how exactly is it wrong to show the reverse?

What sort of woman writes these things?

Because certainly women can do no wrong. And they certainly cannot write "these things." Leave such horrific matters to the men, the fighters of our wars, the executors of our patriarchy, the bearers of the keys to our womanly shackles. Leave them to their brutal ways while the woman lingers in the shadows, looking and smelling nice, longing for victimhood, never to express her own darkness, her own aggression, the stuff that makes her every bit as much an animal as her male counterpart.

Swallow it down ladies. Don't express it. You're mothers. Delicate flowers. Nurturers. Bearers of life. Behave accordingly.

Of course, we women are unique creatures with our own drives, our own uniquely female pathologies. That leaves opportunity for expression, not ignorance.

What sort of woman writes these things?

The sort of woman who has had it up to the top of the Hoover Dam with being told how to dress, how to speak, how to believe, how to act.  The sort of woman who doesn't let her gender get in the way of telling stories about real human beings in horrific situations, many of whom ultimately PREVAIL (but we'll forget about that part for now, because we must only focus on the fact that she wrote about "these horrible things").

The sort of woman who wants to live by example for all the OTHER people out there, male or female, who have stories and characters inside them that may go against the current of common thought, who sees that current and its brackish undertow and has decided to chart a different course.

The sort of woman with an imagination that goes down some very dark rabbit holes, who can envision with very feminine empathy how a woman could be violated in a most horrific way, and then show you how she gets through it. The sort of woman who is driven to document these things, because maybe if you glimpse that horrid thing and live that painful moment with that thankfully fictional woman, you might think, hey, my life isn't so bad. The sort of woman who needs to remind HERSELF of that from time to time.

I visit the dank cellar of my mind and I take stock of the people inhabiting it, and I say to myself that if she can get out of this, maybe I can get out of my own pain. Or if she doesn't make it out, that doesn't mean I can't. That is and has always been the function of horror for me.

But never is it intended to be an endorsement of violence, and if you're reading it as a symptom of something abnormal about me, you may be reading out of your level.

What sort of woman writes these things?

The kind you walk by on the street every day without a second thought. The kind who hands you your change and tells you to have a nice day. The kind who teaches your kids, nurses your wounds, cooks your food, mops up after you. In other words, all sorts of women. Womanly women, (whatever that means), normal women (ditto). A human woman who may be different from you, but is no less valid or deserving of common decency and respect.

But take heart. Your mawkish and cowardly views only empower me and women like me to venture deeper into those forbidden corners of our minds, no matter how much it ails you. To be "the sort of woman who writes these things" isn't only a calling. It's an honor.

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