A Short Note on Sexism and Feminism

I want more of these colors in my life.

I want more of these colors in my life.

Hey everybody!

Before I go into what I’m certain is a hot topic, I do not condone inequality. In fact, I feel men and women are entirely equal, racism is a social construct meant only to subvert others, and I have a profound respect for everyone. I am a feminist.

So my partially-partially finished novel, Red Wing Black, went to a friend of mine. I wrote it from the point of view of an ignorantly misogynistic guy who knows nothing of himself, and up until the novel’s start had skated on his male white privilege.  There are several examples of this throughout the book, along with several examples of ladies doing–ahem–their thing as well.

This friend of mine handed it back, half-read, and said, “No. No I can’t read any more of this. I can’t.”

Why not?

“This ingrate,” she continued, “comes swooping in and saves the woman from a bunch of men trying to abduct her! I’m so sick of reading about things like this! God. She’s strong for, what, a third of the book? Then she breaks down and needs the man to take care of things? Really?”

Given she didn’t read all of it, and given I haven’t even finished the rough draft, I scratched my head.

This came as a bit of a surprise, given how most of this novel is my dedication to gender role reversals, a painful learning curve, and a main character who is on a personal mission to, simply, suffer. Suffer for as long as it takes to understand the crazy, screwed up American world he lives in.

Never mind this woman carries a pair of antique pistols that she uses to kill the abducting men. Never mind the MC only manages to kill a vicious dog before dragging her to safety. Never mind the same woman carries this puking boy out of a bar after his beer was drugged at the beginning of the book. Never mind said woman is in charge, the majority of the book. Never mind she loathes him for saving her, in an unspoken way, for the entire rest of the book. He even rides bitch on a motorcycle most of the book! Seriously.

Since this guy isn’t a fan of feminism (or even understands it much), and I’m clearly the same person I’m writing about, I’m writing exactly like all the other ignorant white men do when it comes to this very testy subject.

Maybe I am writing like all the other guys. But I’m trying.

Slut shaming, victim blaming, and violence against women is bad. Really bad. I have no idea what many women go through in their lives. I only know my limited knowledge. My abuse. The violence against me. I’m trying.

Yet.

I’m not sexist just because I’m a man. I’ve lost a few friends over this recently, so I’m going to be very careful about how I write this (I guess they aren’t too good of friends, are they? Heh). Men need to talk about this, too. And not simply, “I support you,” conversations–which are awesome in their own right. But not everything.

I need to be able to communicate, “I wrote this novel because I had a dialogue this one day, with myself, over how it’d be if, ultimately, a middle-class American decided to go balls-out to learn about what he’s doing wrong.”

I know my friend is just one voice, and I can’t make everyone happy. I hear that loud and clear. I know this is a very real issue for a lot of people, including myself, so simply writing about it can be a trigger. But hers isn’t the first voice I’ve heard about this kind of, “You aren’t a woman, so you shouldn’t be allowed to write about it,” mentality. Hell, the whole reason the MC IS a guy being pulled through the ringer is because I don’t feel I could give a woman’s perspective justice. Plus it’s entertaining to watch an otherwise douchey guy get his comeuppins.

I think there’s a bit of a miscommunication going on. Yes, my MC ultimately ends up treating the woman like a complete equal, they share battle scars, and walk shoulder-to-shoulder. When a man is given advice his whole life to handle things a certain way–by everyone in his life, including the women, the sisters, the mothers and grandmothers and teachers and girlfriends–and he repeats that advice, however ignorant it might be, he shouldn’t be ostracized as a sexist man. The situation should be understood as the man saying something sexist, but not him being inherently sexist. Otherwise you’re throwing labels around willy-nilly, and whatever constructive surgery we started halts to a standstill. He should be allowed to evolve and grow and improve.

I know. White guys have been on top for a really long time. And we really should spend some time on the bottom. Suffering is good, when it’s a learning tool. I also have no problem being on bottom. So to speak.

Real life example: rocket scientist guy with the tacky shirt that his woman tattoo artist friend gave him, crying an apology to the world because he did something ignorant. In the right context, wearing that shirt was an incredibly sweet thing to do for his friend: you can tell she means a lot to him. You can tell the shirt actually means something wholesome to him. Yet, he’s lambasted and crucified on the media because he’s clearly–clearly–the kind of white man who takes advantage of women.

Interestingly enough, though, if that was a woman wearing something incredibly tacky, it’d be wholly commonplace to hear everyone lambasting her for what she wore. Usually women are doing the lambasting. I get it. I really, really do. Sometimes violence is the only answer. Sometimes, though, it isn’t. Unfortunately this gent wasn’t from the USA, and he seems to have come from a place with a little more equality–or maybe not. I don’t know.

Ultimately, every human needs help at some point in his or her life. Period. Woman, man. Makes no difference. The “subservient” woman character in my book is clearly the person in charge, throughout. She has the transportation. She carries the weapons. She gets shit done. Her shit is together. Even though she dresses like a “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader” (quote from my MC).

His shit isn’t together. /rant

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10 thoughts on “A Short Note on Sexism and Feminism

  1. Oh, Chris, don’t worry. You and I can be sexist pigs together. I’m certainly a sexist pig, myself. Maybe I need to do a post on this too, sometime soon. Oink, oink.

    I understand feminism, and I’m certainly a feminist. But women, like men, are complicated creatures. Women, like men, can be weak, can make stupid decisions, can get into trouble they can’t get out of, can be abused, can be shattered, can be half-people. I don’t think having guns or getting into fights necessarily makes a person strong, but then again, I don’t think having somebody else save your ass every once in a while makes you weak, either. Or, maybe the better way to put it–why the fuck is our society, men and women together, so very DOWN on portraying weakness? People are weak sometimes, it’s part of what makes them people. I think the pressure on female characters to be gun-toting, curseword-spewing, mail-wearing badasses is actually deeply reactionary. Especially since, at the slightest sign of real trouble, these Hollywood ‘badasses’ tend to crumple back into traditional ‘girlfriend/sidekick’ roles. Haven’t read your story, so definitely not talking about it. Just talking about the other fifty thousand movies/stories out there where this happens.

    Personally, I think a lot of the problem comes in with gender sterotyping–that ‘wearing the pants’ is masculine, therefore strong, therefore right. There are plenty of strong women out there who prefer dresses, who’ve never shot someone in their lives. Who wear makeup, or dye their hair blonde, or are, yes, Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. People get strength downright twisted. It isn’t about wearing pants or holding a gun or having an open attitude towards sex (or the opposite, depending on who you’re reading). It’s about doing what you want, and fuck what the other guy says. Goodness in strength, of course, is about doing what you want, and fuck the other guy, because you know it’s the right thing to do.

    Men have their own problems in a world rife with gender sterotyping. God help the man who likes to cook (though this one’s getting a little better), or enjoys romantic comedies, or, God forbid, wants to throw on a dress every once in a while. Or, more potently–a man who needs help. Who’s been, perhaps, abused or raped. These things, in the eye of society, make him ‘weak’–feminine–and are therefore immediately not taken seriously. It’s a damn shame, and it’s wrong, wrong, wrong–as wrong as the perception that women are flighty, emotional, etc.

    Matt Taylor–you know my opinion on this. I think he was wrong to wear that shirt, but it’s more because it wasn’t appropriate attire for the important announcement he was making than because the shirt was ‘sexist’. Also, I find a world where a guy can’t wear a cheesy anime-style shirt but Kim Kardashian can paste her greasy ass all over the internet a world of incredible sexual double standards.

    Hi, by the way. Sorry, this is a heated subject for me.

    • Hi!

      I figured you’d have something to say about it. And I agree. I tried to distill the whole thing down to something simple for the post, but the truth is I’m perpetually stepping on eggshells when it comes to feminism, given some of my friends…

      A lot of people state that a man should study in silence, when it comes to feminism, and I mostly agree. People are people are people. But read some of the stuff agents want, or publishing companies are actively seeking–“strong” women wielding swords or staves or blades, walking sexy and talking hard–and you’re left wondering if all they want is a man’s role in a woman’s body. Which is still so double-standarded it’s freaking me out.

      And your statement about Kim Kardashian makes my skin crawl. She has no place in anyone’s home. Yet people still talk about her. We’re turning into such simpletons. Grr. And I’m only barely above that curve.

      We should collaborate on a book together. That’d be supercool. Maybe. You know. Whatevs.

      Everybody’s bones are just holy branches. – Radical Face

  2. That’s the thing about feminism. I hate to say it, but as a man, you’ll always be stepping on eggshells when discussing it with women. I don’t think it SHOULD be that way–you might not understand exactly what it’s like to be a woman, but hell, you’re just trying to learn, and it isn’t as if you don’t have interactions WITH women every day. People have the right to try and learn more about something, especially when all they want to do is good. And I feel like the state of women in this society would be much better and more widely understood if more women tried to reach out to men and tell them, not what they DON’T understand about being a woman, but what they need TO understand.

    A blade doesn’t make you strong, any more than a love of needlepoint makes you weak. I don’t think hard talk and a big walk are essentially male–I’ve known plenty of girls who walk bigger than a lot of guys–but I think, until that sort of role becomes feminine as well as masculine, until our traditional understanding of ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ principle is blended, that tendency to trash-talk the quiet girls who do sewing and laundry and, yes, have families, is debilitating in the extreme. These women are women too, with important thoughts and feelings and happinesses and flaws. Just like those guys who cry at night and occasionally talk about their feelings are men. Just like those guys who chew tobaccy and drive rusty trucks and never say ‘I love you’ are men too.

    I try to waste as little worldspace as I can talking about the Kardashians. People love to be outraged, and that whole family is outrageous–I leave it at that.

    • I’d say I surround myself with “strong” women, but in reality, I surround myself with people who are aware, who question, who try to develop and grow in understanding. It just so happens I connect much better with women. I find most guys to be really odd, closed off, and disconnected with reality. Yah, bro. Bud light is great beer. Heck no, broski, that truck doesn’t make your dick look small. Yeah, dude. Having a girlfriend behind your wife’s back is a no-lose situation! Said no intelligent person ever. Yeah. You’re a real good guy. Thumbs up.

      Somewhere, someone decided that ALL _______ should be the same. Be it women, or minorities, or guys. Or whatever. Nope. Let’s just, you know, be ourselves. I’LL GRAB THE SALSA.

  3. You know what? As a writer, it’s better to swing for the fences than bunt (sorry; I’m not an athlete, so I hope that metaphor worked). Who wants to read a milquetoast story full of nice characters who don’t need to learn anything?

    Tell the story you want to tell.

  4. Did you ask your friend what she thought you could do to fix the issue? And did you explain to her what you were trying to do? If not, the book may very easily be coming across as just another story with a terribly sexist male protagonist who saves the day and gets the girl. Your friend may be able to help your intentions become more obvious so that people don’t have the same reaction in the future.

    • She wasn’t in the mood to talk, but I’m sure we’ll be able to discuss that in the near future. I gave her a quick overview before she started reading, without giving away too much, concerning tropes and themes and the like. My protagonist comes across as ignorant, but evolving.

      I think it is coming across as “just another,” simply because it’s first person. It spounds like it just isn’t her type of book. The satire, or content, or something might just be the wrong flavor.

      I just have to remind myself to keep the conversation lines open. I want discussion, you know? But I don’t want to walk in with my walls high and defended. It’s a difficult place. Thanks for stopping by!

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