e_moon60 (e_moon60) wrote,

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Women Writers Are Not Pets

Nnedi Okorafor has gotten a lot of flak for her book Who Fears Death, including being interrupted and verbally attacked at the launch signing for the book.   She's been told she isn't African enough to write about Africa, that her use of some African traditions that whites have used to denigrate African culture in general means she is denigrating African culture in general, and that she's possessed by evil.   But she's also been attacked by others who feel she isn't negative enough about her imagined future African society.  Many of the accusers she's mentioned have been men.  She put up a brilliant blogpost answer to her accusers: The Witch Strikes Back.    Read it.  Writers can, do, and should write about whatever they want, for whatever audience they choose, in whatever manner seems best to them. 

In the same week, ginmar put up a fairly complicated post that deals with several issues--and at least one of them overlaps with Okorafor's, in that women who express resentment of or anger about the treatment of women are commonly told that they shouldn't, that they're being unfair, that men have problems too, that all women aren't saints, etc.  
She cites a male blogger who imagines that a certain insult could be delivered, then starts comparing that imaginary insult to the real insults women have had thrown at them.  

Any woman who challenges the status quo anywhere in the world is likely to run into similar attitudes (sometimes enforced with violence, sometimes with social sanctions.)   Those benefiting from the status quo see no reason for it to change, and don't want to know about the suffering it causes...and especially do not want women pointing it out.  
(And here comes the ritual disclaimer: yes, boys, I know that some men challenging the status quo run into similar attitudes...but they're usually considered heroes after the revolution, and not "just another nagging woman.")  

Women writers still get the patronizing questions about their work if they mention that they're writers: "Oh, do you write children's books?"  "Oh, do you write romances?"  and "Have you ever been published?"   One of the most annoying was the guy on an airplane who sneered "Could I read everything you've written in an hour?"  Women still get chewed out for not writing what someone else thinks they should write and writing instead what someone else thinks they shouldn't.   About twenty years ago,  I was stopped by a man at church who demanded to know why I wrote about women: "Men need books too, you know!"   (As if a man could not read a book that did not have a male protagonist, and as if there weren't already hundreds of thousands of books with male protagonists.  He thought it was my duty to supply fiction for men  in the form they wanted.)   Then there was the guy who was shocked, shocked! that a woman would include violence in her book--weren't we supposed to be peace-loving? 

Women writers also get flak from women, of course.  Include lesbian characters and get the raised hands and horror...but from every color of that rainbow.   It was wrong to have them...you didn't do it right...you didn't include at least two of every other possibility and show them as perfectly wonderful...you didn't show them all as depraved and doomed.  
Not including lesbians (or whatever) brings out the immediate guess that you're anti-gay.   If you're white, and you don't include characters of color, you're bigoted, but if you do include them, you did it wrong.   (Leaping ahead hundreds of years to a possibly less racist future, and nobody will notice that many of your characters are persons of color...)   Violence and sex are always up for attack...women shouldn't write about it...women should especially not write with any emotional intensity about women being harmed by men or about women whose sexual choices are unfairly limited/curtailed/damaged/eliminated by men.  Never mind that the courts constantly see domestic violence, sexual assault, etc. cases....let's not write about such awful things, because it might disturb all these wonderful men who would never ever do that.  It might damage the prestige of  Family (or culture, or nation.)    Women are routinely accused of "disloyalty" and "unfairness" for not supporting the exact flavor of status quo that the complainer favors.

Women writers are not pets.   They do not exist to play with your yarn ball, chase your stick and fetch it back,  exist on the ration you choose for them,  warble the little song or repeat the phrases you taught them, and stay in the enclosed space you provide (it's a metaphor...figure it out.)   They exist to do what every creative artist does:  seek truth and express the truth they find.  
For some this will be in fantasy or science fiction or mystery or thriller...for others it will be in naturalism or nonfiction or poetry.  But whatever the form or the genre...they are not pets.   So put away the choke-chain, the little jeweled harness, the gilded cage...that's not going to work. 

(And another ritual disclaimer...yes, there are people who don't give me flak--and thanks to every one of you for that--writers do need readers.   But you're the ones who've already figured out that we aren't pets.)

Tags: politics, the writing life

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