Thursday, January 24, 2013

Is What We're Reading Hurting Women?-- Or a Post in Response to a Post about Literary Rape

Today when I opened my Goodreads updates, the latest blog post from Maggie Stiefvater was first on the list.  After having read five different novels in the past couple weeks in which the main character was raped, Ms. Stiefvater had to speak out against what she calls "gratuitous rape."  These are not rape scenes that have an essential reason to be in the story, but rape scenes that she says "enforce the woman’s role as Sidekick and Victim and Rescue Me! and I-Am-Only-The-Sum-Of-The-Places-On-My-Body-You-Can-Violate-Me."

I don't know Maggie Stiefvater.  But from what I've read on her blog (and books) I think I'd like her. A lot.  And I agree with what she has to say in her post: This Is a Post about Literary Rape.   She talks about how these particular rape scenes are doing nothing but selling rape culture.

I agree.  But I would also say that there are way too many books out there that feature no rape scene at all yet that are just as damaging to women.  And that these books are way too commonplace.  I'm talking about novels in which the sexual tension between the protagonist and her love interest is heightened through dominance or violence or force.  How many times have you read a novel where the man pins the woman down, is rough with her or shoves her against a wall, barely keeping his desire under control?  Where, if he does not rape her, it's only sheer willpower keeping him from doing so? And where we, as readers, are expected to see this as seduction?  Where we, as readers, DO see this as seduction?

Our culture is so twisted that we teach girls and women to want to be sooo sexy that men can hardly restrain their sexual urges in their presence. And we tell men it's okay (in fact, that it's normal) to see women as sexual conquests rather than whole people.  We are told this in magazines, on TV, over the radio and in books.  We see it in pictures and scenes and stories.

We are steeped in it.  Marinaded in it.  It's the water we drink, the air we breathe.

And so, even women buy into it.  We read the kind of books that propagate our own objectification.   We also write them.

I'm not saying that women shouldn't enjoy feeling sexy.  We should.  There's nothing like that rush you get when you know you've got it.  When you feel desirable.

But there is nothing sexy or desirable about being violated.  Nothing.  At. All. EVER. 

And near-rape isn't hot.  Yet because the idea permeates our culture and we've been fed it since birth, we can read these scenes and find them erotic. Really erotic. Which is why this issue is so convoluted and confusing and scary and infuriating.  How are we supposed to teach boys and girls that this is not okay?  Is it even possible to do so when this is our norm? 

Writers need to be aware of what messages we are sending.  And readers need to be aware of what they are buying.  We all need to examine what we write or what we read.

It's time for a change.

I don't know exactly how to make that change come about.  But I do know one thing.  I agree with Maggie Stiefvater when she says, "World, we need to talk."

And we need to do it now.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Some Things Never Change

"Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents and everyone is writing a book."
Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106 B.C.- 43 B.C.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Half-wrong. Half-write.

I am sitting here at the computer as snow falls onto the balcony, covering the half-dead geraniums with a fluffy, white fur. Just yesterday, the geraniums still boasted deep red petals and sturdy green stems. It only takes a harsh bit of real life to make them wither into weak shadows of themselves.

I know how they feel.

After an hour and twenty minutes of coaxing, cajoling, screaming, seething and soothing, I finally got my youngest to fall asleep.  I pinched a nerve in my neck taking the garbage out -- a nice shot of pain zaps me anytime I move.  My husband won't quit smoking -- close call with death or not, the nicotine wins.  I've decided I hate everything I've written on my new novel from page 42 forward.  The cat puked on the living room rug. And to top it all off, I'm out of popcorn.  Right now I'm feeling about as snappy and tough as those geraniums on my balcony; right now I'm ready to wilt.

But here I am, sharing this whiny post, and you know what? I may be wiped out.  I may be cranky. Yet I'm already feeling better.  I've said nothing worthwhile.  No insight has been made, no poetry has been penned.  But my fingers are flipping along on the keyboard and my mind no longer feels like it's melting.

Because I'm writing.  It makes no difference what.  Just that I'm doing it. I'm doing it to keep myself alive.  I'm doing it to keep myself human.

And I wouldn't be surprised if tomorrow in that mass of frozen geraniums on the balcony there isn't one who's somehow kept its color.  If there isn't one who's managed to survive by doing whatever geraniums do to keep themselves alive. 

If so, I'll take it inside.  I'll put it here, by the window, and watch it bloom.

While I write.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Shame, Shame. Real books are not my secret love

All my life I've been a book lover.  Everything about a book helped feed that voracious void inside me -- the smell of ink on paper, the feel of sharp-cut vellum in a cardboard spine, the weight of the words in my hands, a story held open with my thumb and pinkie finger tacking down the paper.

Trips to the library saw me taking out ten novels at a time, loving the possibilities for adventure or love or drama so easily obtainable just by opening a page.  In the States, I frequented the second-hand bookstore, inhaling the scent of books like heady incense (when it wasn't ruined by someone's lack of deodorant).

And here, in Geneva, I smiled when I walked up the creaky stairs to the local English bookstore to pick up books on order.  It was worth dropping 25chf on a novel if only just to run my fingers along the multicolored spines on the shelves, if only just to walk home with a whole new world sized to fit in my shopping bag.

But then, something happened.  Something terribly, awfully awesome.  Something I said would never, ever occur:

I got a Kindle.  And I was hooked.

It's really my appetite's fault:  when I read, I eat --popcorn, cereal, vegetable curry.  Do you realize how hard it is to hold open a traditional book with all its pages and eat rice at the same time?  Do you understand that I've propped open stories with salad tongs and clothespins and full cans of ravioli just so I could read during a meal? 

I tried.  I really, really tried.  But I cannot deny it:  the e-reader seduced me!

I love its flat surface, the ease of keeping it "open".  I enjoy how I don't need a nightlight to read by or that the pages don't get ripped.  It needs no dusting.  And I can buy a book, two books, twenty books -- and have them -- in the time it takes to push a button.

Shame on me.  I know.  A writer who prefers e-readers.  Where is the literary world going?  What will happen to the local commerce?

But just know that I'm reading more than I ever was.  My hunger is not just for the edible.  I'm craving books.  With such a huge expanse of them out there (and so easy to buy with one click) I will never be sated.  And for those of you who write, this is a Good Thing.  Really.

Feed me, says the voice inside me. Fill that void.  And I do.  I will.

I just turn on my e-reader.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Fragmented Archaeology--for My Mom

Today is my mom's 85th birthday --my poor mother who thought she was done raising kids and ready to restart life when (surprise!) I showed up in her uterus.  I know that she cried when she found out she was pregnant with me.  I know that she hadn't wanted me at all.

But I also know that from the second the doctor put me into her arms she's loved me like I was a happy miracle.

So as an ode to the most wonderful woman ever, I'd like to post here a very short piece that was first published in Offshoots XI, Writing from Geneva.  Happy birthday, Mom.  I love you and wish I was half as good a mom to my kids as you have always been to me!

Fragmented Archaeology

My mother wanted to be an archaeologist.

As a girl, she spent afternoons in the library, turning crisp pages full of fuzzy black and white photographs, detailed drawings of famous mummies and lists of strange artifacts. She intended to dig in Egypt, sweat stinging her eyes, treasures from the gods of long ago unearthed delicately by a soft brush and her fingertips.

She ended up at home, raising six children.  The treasures she so delicately picked out of the sand were bright plastic trucks and bottle caps and sticks punched through leaves to make flags for castles.  Her tools were not brushes and picks, but soft words and pancakes and singing and love.