I just read a post by writer I really respect. He was commenting on another writer whom I’d never heard of and had some controversy swirling around him. I have to admit I had no idea what the article was talking about until I followed the links provided at the end.
The topic was sexism and an off-handed remark the author made about his books and writing. Apparently, many people were extremely offended. And a few got on their righteous indignation horses and rode them all around the neighborhood screaming at the top of their lungs about the utter gall of this author. Hmm…
In my opinion what the accused author said wasn’t offensive. It may have been a bit of a cop out, or maybe he was kidding or maybe he just didn’t want to answer the question but it didn’t denigrate women. If anything, the author seemed to be putting himself down for being somewhat clueless about women.
Yet, surprisingly a shit storm happened anyway. And now this author may be branded as a sexist. Sad. Really sad. Because based on the description of his books it sounds like he is one helluva writer.
I don’t think the Bill of Rights covers that
While the Bill of Rights ensures certain personal liberties the right to be offended and then to punish said offender does not exist within its confines. In fact, one of our guaranteed rights and liberties in this country is free speech. We in fact, have the right to say whatever we want in public. If it offends people so be it. If people agree with it, so be it. If people don’t agree with it, so be it. But we still have the right to say what we want.
However, what we don’t have the right to do in this country is to slander people. There are actually laws against it. You can actually be sued for doing it or attempting to do it. You could lose a lot – maybe everything – if you were taken to court for it and lost.
Still that doesn’t seem to stop some people from trying to stir up a shit storm and turn the masses against said offender. It doesn’t stop people from starting whisper campaigns and attempting to bully people out of existence. It doesn’t stop anyone from trying to destroy a person. God bless the Internet.
And in the end, this type of incident only serves to scare other writers and public figures from saying anything or writing anything of substance. Because they fear retribution. Because somebody might get offended and try to ruin them.
Small things are never the problem
There are many many things in this world that are truly oppressive, vile, disgusting and downright evil. And I believe as human beings we have the right and the duty to rail against them and if possible stop them. And oppression of women is on that list. There are cultures in this world that:
- Treat women as chattel
- Buy and sell them for sexual gratification
- Mutilate their bodies
- Stone them for having been raped
- Kill them because it somehow restores honor
- Beat or otherwise abuse them for fun
These things are wrong. Very wrong. Yes, we should try to stop them. Yes, we should try to help women in these situations. Yes, this needs to change. However, this author did none of these things. He simply said he was clueless about women.
And while there are many good examples of women being objectified in literature, 50 Shades comes to mind (a book written by a woman and read apparently widely by women) this author’s books (based on their descriptions) don’t seem to qualify. But apparently an absence of women now qualifies as offensive and God help the author who doesn’t include them.
Sorry but this doesn’t make sense to me. And in the reverse would we even be talking about this? For example, all of the thousands of books that explore and discuss and illustrate the trials and tribulations that women go through, are they sexist too because there is a sparsity of male characters? Or the male characters are bad, shallow, stereotypical? I haven’t heard one peep about such a notion. In fact, in modern literature, film and other entertainment venues male bashing, shaming and joking is not only okay, it’s expected.
The problem with this sort of situation (aside from the obvious) is that it’s not really the problem. Yes, there is oppression of women but this isn’t an example of it. And maybe it’s easier to fixate on this very tiny incident than it is to actually go after blatant, obvious real acts of oppression. Because it’s safer. And maybe you don’t think you’ll suffer retribution from it. Or maybe something else. And the problem this type of situation creates is that it doesn’t solve the problem you’re railing about, in fact, it ends up marginalizing it. It ends up having the opposite effect that you are shooting for, it ends up making the real problem disappear and killing the wrong horse, so to speak.
It’s like when a couple has a huge fight over the fact that the garbage wasn’t emptied. Now is the fight really about the garbage? Probably not, it’s probably really about the fact that one partner feels the other partner doesn’t listen to them, doesn’t respect them or care about their feelings. But that’s just too big a bite to chew. That’s too dangerous a topic to broach, so instead they have a knock down drag out about garbage for cripes sake.
Be the change you want to see
There is so much in this world that should be changed, could be improved or even brought to some ideal state. But bitching and moaning, complaining and attacking others does not bring about change. It only brings about fear. It only lathers up others into a feeding frenzy. And no one ever feels good afterwards. We all just feel crappy and then more crappy about it.
Beating up somebody about a negative real or imagined rarely changes anything. If you want change, real change, then you have make that change. If you see something that is wrong then change it. If we as authors want to change the perception of women in literature then we have to change that perception (and in fact, thousands of women authors are doing this everyday). As the saying goes, be the change you want to see in the world.
All the time, energy and effort that goes into attacking somebody for being a certain way or not being a certain way could be used to change the perception or even reality of a situation – and too there is less hate mail.