Friday, August 16, 2013

Subtle Sexism in the World of Storytelling

   So here's the thing, I've been steering clear of this topic for a little while for the sake of maintaining my newly recovered state of mental health. It was one of the bigger, more easily identifiable, triggers that helped to initiate the plummet in my serotonin levels or what have you that happened several months back. It was fire that I just couldn't seem to stop playing with. Rape culture, oppression, misogyny it all felt so urgent and pressing... and honestly more than anything it felt noble. I felt like I was on a one woman crusade to make the world a better place and instead I just wound up rubbing my nose in all the most vile tendencies that we as human beings are capable of playing out in this real world of ours. I did that  long enough that my anger burned all the way out, bringing almost all of my other functional emotional states and capacities with it.

   The good news is that I'm mostly better now. The bad news is that in the meantime the problem didn't conveniently go away, nor did my desire to speak out on the problem(s). So, while I need to exert caution in the level to which I engage in these discussions, I also need to practice living in a world that isn't all or nothing. My propensity for obsession won't go away simply by avoiding any and every topic or trigger that could lead to such extreme mental preoccupation. Besides a new one will always come along to fill the void.

   So what's the point I'm getting at here? Well, all of the above being the case I have decided that I am re-opening my "series" on this wide-ranging, broad topic that can't be summed up in one word. BUT! I am doing this as less of a new direction for the blog itself as originally intended and definitely not as a restrictive, scheduled and structured thing. More of a this ish is important so I'll write about it when and where I can type of thing, being careful to keep in mind the crazy, wild wormholes that are present in this world of societal call-it-out commentary blogging.

Today's Topic at hand? The privilege of  dismissal.
Or something like that...

   Basically there's a nuance at play in this big picture that's been on my mind a lot lately that I haven't seen a lot of coverage on, though I haven't gone digging for it either, so I'm sure somebody somewhere already has... hopefully a lot of somebodies. This notion crystallized in my mind yesterday when I clicked a link in a tweet to a blog that linked to another blog so on and so forth until I was reading this amazing article from May of 2012 by Greg Rucka, writer of comics and novels, titled "Why I Write Strong Female Characters". If you haven't had the pleasure of reading it, stop what you're doing and go there. Now. Seriously, he hits so many great points and does it intelligently and articulately in a way I can only hope to come close to myself in the rest of this already too-long post of mine.

Okay, good. Back to the point. Which is this:

   Our world is currently set up in such a way that it is considered a given that women are, on almost every level, expected to attempt to understand and relate to men, where they are at, without question. It is so much the norm that male characters, male attributes, male desires are assumed to be the standard. Women are all but forced to understand Men but men are allowed a pass from even attempting to understand women in a lot of ways. Yes, women are complicated. But guess what, that's because of our humanity not necessarily because of our gender. There may be some areas in which the female make-up tends more towards extra layers that seem hard to comprehend on a surface level, but it is way more often than not used as a flippant excuse to not try. To write it off. To write US off. To dismiss thoughts, feelings, desires and needs that lean toward the feminine end of the spectrum.

The part of Rucka's post that reminded me of this issue I've been wanting to address was this quote in particular:
There's a second part to the question. The unspoken part.
It's the part where I'm being asked and not, say, Laura Lippman. Because Laura is a woman, and it's presumed therefore that she knows how to write about women, what with having been one her entire adult life. By the same token, Laura Lippman is not asked how it is she can write such convincing, strong male characters. Implicit in her job as a crafter of fiction is the demand that she must. No question need be asked.

   In general it seems that women are made to seem mystical and mysterious or are dismissed as silly and insubstantial. Both extremes have the same effect, giving men an out from the task of attempting to understand and relate to women in ways that are more meaningful than temporary surface efforts to pacify women. It's ok for men to dismiss storytelling about women under the guise that it's only for women. It's considered normal for men to classify anything with a strong female lead, or feminine tone as a "chick flick" or any storyline with a love story that focuses on the female character's perspective or desires as "romance" (and understand I don't mean disrespect to these genres... quite the opposite in fact), as an easy excuse to opt out.

   Maybe we're all missing something in this whole male / female brain-wiring gender gap thing. Maybe most men who inadvertently play in this dismissal of femininity and opt out of the responsibility to understand their fellow earth-mates that is expected of women is actually something else all together. Maybe men are more complicated than they want to let on too... my theory is not fully formulated yet, but I think it's something worth considering that maybe just maybe the cliche' that "women don't know what they want" (so we don't have to either) is true of men as well. Maybe just maybe they dismiss feminine things because they assume we really do want those things all to ourselves. To have an all girls club in some areas. It would explain why so many men get so defensive when women are interested in things they once thought to be exclusively masculine, all the while hoping to have their chosen significant other share their interests.

   The thing is however, that even if this were the case, it's still no excuse. So let me say from my perspective as one lone woman, that I don't. Sure I like having some things to myself... that one box of chocolates that nobody else is allowed to touch, that show I want to watch when nobody else is around because, no, I don't want to hear anybody elses opinion on it. But when it comes to the female experience I absolutely do want you to try your damnedest to understand. To be systematically and personally dismissed doesn't make me feel like I have a fun little secret with my female counterparts. It only ever feels like men just don't care enough to try to relate. So far as I can tell one thing that is present in most women is the desire to be known and loved. The attitude that men can't, and worse, shouldn't have to relate to us is at the very least hurtful... but more important it's extremely damaging. To women, to girls and to our culture on the whole. Which side note, means it's damaging to men too.

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