Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

Female Characters and Victimization

Here's a discussion about female characters and victimization.

It started when a male fan asked when one of the female characters would get raped.  Not if, but when.  Okay, that's creepy.  Author said never.  That's her option.  It was pointed out that this is unrealistic.  That's really creepy.  It is also true.  If you write an analog of modern America, and you have more than 3 female characters, then statistically speaking one of them has experienced sexual violence.  For military women or Native American women it's 1 in 3.  If you have a whole story full of women who've never had that problem, okay great, they're empowered.  They're also kind of eclipsing the really huge fucked up mess of sexuality that is what modern American women have to deal with.  A majority of fantasy settings are patriarchal, just because it's what most writers are familiar with, consciously or not.  The numbers elseworld are rarely going to be more than a stone's throw away from the local ones, unless the author deliberately changes them.

Sometimes, there is no right, safe, easy, polite way to write that harms nobody.  Maybe sexual trauma isn't your thing to write about, maybe you think writing about it makes it worse.  But not talking about problems almost never leads to solutions, and it can make people who do have those problems feel excluded or erased.

Me, I'm a representational writer.  There are things I write less, or not at all, because they're just not my territory.  But for the most part I write life, I write experiences, I hike through the light and the shadow alike.  I look at what breaks characters, and what somebody thought would break them but doesn't.  So I include a lot of stuff that many people won't touch, as faithfully as I can.  Sometimes it upsets people; that's why I use warning labels when necessary.  

I have characters, female and male, who have survived various sexual attacks.  (For males, the percentage is about 1 in 9.)  I also have characters, including some very strong women, who don't have that experience.  I've even written cultures where it pretty much doesn't happen.  (All crimes have a spectrum, they're worse in some cultures than others; and the low can approach zero.)  There is variety.

The one thing I won't do is railroad my protagonists, because a protagonist needs agency.  Bit characters and villains don't always get this protection; I'm not above arbitrarily belting a bad guy over the head now and then, for plot or personal gratification.

When we write, we tell stories about how the world is, or could be, or should never have been; our hopes and our hates are all in there.  It reveals what we choose to see, or not to see, to uphold or wipe away.  And how  we write it matters too.  I won't tell you what to choose, to write or to read.  I will tell you to choose mindfully.  I will tell you that your choices matter, sometimes in ways you may not even realize.
Tags: gender studies, reading, writing
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