Today’s a big day. One of the largest week-to-week updates so far, the grand conclusion to //021: Choke Point, in which we defeat the Citadel once and for all and everything is great, forever. Presumably the next four chapters are all about Penelope and Dave eating pizza and playing video games.
Before you go off and enjoy that, let’s talk about something less enjoyable: Sexism.
So last weekend shortly after posting the story update, the shootings made the news. A depressing, depressing weekend followed. Both grief at the loss of life, and the outpouring of madness on Twitter and the like. I followed the #YesAllWomen hashtag and saw heartbreaking stories of the harsh realities of life for half our population… along with more than our fair share of jerkbags who mocked and discredited and spewed outright venom over it all.
(The fair share, by the way, should be zero. I do not believe and never have believed that “The Internet” is an excuse, it’s an explanation. It excuses no level of bad behavior.)
It also got me thinking about my own writing, because I genuinely enjoy writing female characters, and am sometimes told I do a good job at it. I have no idea HOW I do a good job at it, but hey. “Write what you know” rarely ever applies to me because my life experiences are pretty limited, and that’s certainly a perspective I can never fully know, but somehow I pull it off.
After the hashtag went live, I started to feel I wasn’t representing that experience particularly well. Obviously I don’t want to make every waking moment of every day for my characters be a hellscape of sexist garbage, but I am dropping the ball in some respects. In others, I’m doing fine showing that side of life. Let me highlight three prime examples.
One time where I got it right was with Kelsey and her would-be suitor in the Grey Market Gang, Greyscale. He’s clearly a little bastard who feels entitled to Kelsey’s affections, posing as a gentleman, showering her with attention that’s reciprocated only in fear (because he backs it up with implied violence). She doesn’t scoff and dismiss him or yell back because she’s terrified and rightfully so that this maniac will one day decide he’s had enough of “no” and just go for it. This is certainly echoing harsh reality, of persistent men who refuse to accept that they aren’t wanted.
One time I got it wrong was with Marcy’s nocturnal antics. Every night she’s crawling in and around and through the City, alone, and without a single fear about what’s out there. Her sister worries, but she’s worried about things like the Defined Tower, not other people attacking her sister. Granted Marcy’s pretty fearless but the way I wrote her offscreen adventures there was absolutely zero concern for assault there, no preparations taken, not even given a token mention as something she has to deal with. If I could go back and edit vol//001 again (it’s in print, so not likely) I’d at least discuss it for a paragraph or two, acknowledge the reality of it.
Fortunately I didn’t completely mess up with Marcy. A more subtle form of sexism she faces is in the situation with Gus in the previous chapter. When we’d last left the couple everything seemed fine… but it fell apart along the way thanks to the attitude Gus and his clones had quietly harbored. One of his clones, enduring an identity crisis that got worse each month, felt entitled to the life that “the Zero” was leading and decided to partake of that life… and Marcy. In turn, Gus stomped him flat in an act of pure revenge. Outwardly it was in defense of Marcy’s honor… but I like to feel that inwardly, without even realizing it, it was offense at someone taking “his property.” He gets the same possessive fervor when his grocery store is threatened. The same madness that old Gustav had to deal with. The one positive to come out of that is that Gus recognizes the weakness in himself and parts amicably with Marcy rather than constantly trying to “win” her back.
So… I’m improving my writing and my representation of gender issues, little by little, but in other aspects I’m completely ignoring some things that should really not be ignored. In an ideal world it wouldn’t be a problem at all, a character would be a character would be a character, but we don’t live in an ideal world and neither does Penelope. Even if I don’t intend to make my stories a parade of social nightmares, I feel I need to be doing better at acknowledging and dealing with them.
Okay, I’ve chewed your ear long enough. Post reactions in comments below, let’s see how you feel about the role fiction and fictional characters plays in all of this. And enjoy the rest of //021.