I am a feminist. I make no bones about it.
This is reflected in my characters and storylines. Mina loves clothes AND hitting people, but more importantly, nobody finds that odd. Conversely, Rick and Sam are bad ass demon hunters who are also super caring, homey people. Sam does almost all the cooking, and Rick is, in universe, a calming, soothing presence. And, more importantly, nobody comments on these behaviors negatively.
On the other side, neither does anybody look down on the non-action characters, male or female. Jeff is a non-action oriented, male hero. He’s the cleric (if we want to get really geeky, and I usually do.), and is well respected by the monster hunting community.
One of my big beefs, as a feminist, is the fact that male villains are almost inevitably rapists. Look, I know the stats on sexual assault, and I’m not saying that we should ban rape and sexual assault in media.
On the other hand, can we not also admit that making almost every villain a rapist is lazy writing? 1, it short-changes men and their emotional depth (as usual), but 2, it reduces rape and sexual assault to the mundane. A paltry banality that every captured female character “must” suffer.
And I realize that this is a fairly heavy topic for me, so let me explain where it’s coming from.
I’m working on my novels these days. It’s a series, and I have this former couple, Edie and Randal. She broke up with him and took a vow of abstinence. In Book One, Randal was pretty much the bad guy, sullen and uncooperative, usually ruining whatever team building Edie managed to do.
The books begin knowing that they broke up nearly a year before, but not what lead up to it. Now in Book Two, I’m getting into it. So to sum up, he’s angry, and she’s trying very hard to ignore it, because they work together, and if people think there is a chance she’ll break her vow of abstinence, they will kill Randal. Which she doesn’t want. Because his jerkass tendencies aside, he’s still important to her. It leads to this exchange:
“What happened the night Edie was invested?” Miguel asked.
The memory of Edie’s tear-streaked face as she ordered him out of her rooms haunted him for a moment. “Ask your sister,” Randal responded, unable to do anything but snarl and glare.
“I’m asking you.” Miguel’s rock-hard tone demanded obedience.
“I’m not sure which version Edie prefers these days.” It was a cheap shot. But the truth would likely end in his exile, if not his death. Edie was keeping her mouth shut, and he’d do the same.
While reading this passage out loud to my husband, he stated that I needed to change it, because it sounded “rapey.”
Now, both of us know exactly what happened that night, and it was not rape. But to my husband, the implied sexual violence of the image combined with slightly ambiguous wording would damage my attempt to redeem Randal in this book.
My (feminist) argument for keeping this particular wording is that people shouldn’t jump to rape when reading this. Randal’s a jerk in the first book, but at no point do I ever, remotely hint that Edie is afraid of him, or that he was ever, ever violent towards her in any manner.
The idea that our immediate assumption as readers would not be that a young man got in a fight with his girlfriend, said something that made her cry, and she told him to leave, is an insult to men. And it really is infuriating.
As a feminist, I’m ready for men to have relationships with women that show depth and nuance. I’m ready for men in stories to engage with women on levels beyond the physical, be it romantic or violent.
Yes, Randal shoulders the role of antagonist for most of the first book. That shouldn’t mean that people automatically jump to rapist, but we do. It’s so universal that it’s a running gag on series about movie cliches.
As a feminist, I know I need to write more complicated men. Because keeping my men simple and one dimensional also limits my women. It reduces their interactions with male characters to shallow stereotypes.
We need to challenge the idea of men as oversexed, under emotional, perpetual children that women must ‘tame’.
It’s not about conceiving a universe without sexual assault, or putting women above men. It’s about conceiving a male antagonist who doesn’t default to rapist. It’s about letting men and women interact with the richness and complexities of real people, good and bad.
In short, I’m a feminist writer, and I refuse to short change any of my characters based on gender.
Kate Whitaker writes for fun and profit from the woods of the Olympic Penninsula. You can most likely find her sitting at her kitchen table yelling at kids as she tries to figure out a new way to kill made up monsters. She has a newsletter and a comic.