We had a debate in the forums about this awhile ago about if men could write women realistically. A lot of men can’t. I have even been guilty of writing exaggerated female stereotypes because I grew up watching “divas” and my mother was a strong willed woman with a hot temper. […]
Think of women in soap operas for example, they are usually either a. the diva-bitch b. the stalker sociopath c. the needy vulnerable love interest or d. the motherly kind one who is all flowers and light. Men need to understand that women can be all these things. A woman can be a bitch but it doesn’t make her a bitch, she can be promiscous without being a slut and a woman can have dark moments of depression without being a psychopath. I think the core failure of men understanding women is that they fixate on the physical for one, second they lock them into a personality based on moods. The fallacy of this is men hide their emotions while women are more open with them so it isn’t fair to judge someone by their honesty […]
Thought-provoking, if gender-essentialist, take on men writing women, yanked from the comments section of this article, “Her Breasts Were Too Small: Why a Dose of Feminism is Good for Writers” (also an interesting read, and for the most part really good, although the ending does sort of drop off).
My thoughts: so, I’ve always wanted more women characters who are enigmatic in the way that white male characters tend to be portrayed as enigmatic. And this commenter makes a good point: men are societally expected to hide their emotions, while women are expected to reveal them. The problem with this in fiction is that characters are made tantalizing and fascinating by what they choose to hide — their interior life. So, naturally, this poses a problem. Writers (of all genders) often lock female characters into mind-numbingly obvious exterior characteristics, thereby removing all sense of interiority. Women characters who are visibly The Naive Virgin, The Nagging Bitch, or The Fussing Mother … why worry about their insides, when the author has done us the honor of creating an outside that’s so overfamiliar and so uninteresting?
Commenter nails it there with the “woman can be a bitch but it doesn’t make her a bitch …” sentence. How often do we see female characters acting like a bitch only intermittently? Too often, it seems like if they’re a bitch once, it becomes their definition, unshakable and irreversible.
Obviously, tropes are just tropes, and the writer may choose to reinvent The Bitch or The Mother as having some sort of backstory or contradictory internal characteristic that makes them interesting again, gives them new life, if you will. But I still wonder why so many writers prefer to stick to the trope, instead of building a genuine character from the inside out. Mind you, this goes for most bad writing in general, but it’s particularly pervasive and popular among female characters.
I mean, look, if you were to ask me to describe the women in my life — who they are at the core — I’d be using words like optimist or insecure; generous or cowardly; hilarious or self-obsessed or ambitious. Non-gendered words. Certainly not related to sex appeal. In the end, whenever I see female characters who are just littered onscreen or on-page to be half-naked, I end up wondering, how little obligation must that writer feel to their female characters, giving them an attractive body but mustering up jack shit for the boundless interior space that constitutes their mind, their history, their personality, and their experiences as a human being?
On Keeping a Notebook by Joan Didion - A great essay about making notes that gets to the very core of the writing process
Write Like a Motherfucker by Cheryl Strayed - Raw, emotional advice on the role of humility and surrender in the often tortured world of the writer
Thoughts on Writing by Elizabeth Gilbert - On disicpline, hard work, rejection and why it’s never too late to start
Write Till You Drop by Annie Dillard - “Do you think I could be a writer?” “I don’t know… . Do you like sentences?”
Why I Write by George Orwell - On egoism, a love of beauty, the quest for truth and the desire to change the world — Orwell’s ‘four great motive for writing’.
Despite Tough Guys, Life Is Not the Only School for Real Novelists by Kurt Vonnegut - A beautifully argued defence of the role of teaching in developing writers.
That Crafty Feeling by Zadie Smith - A lecture by a great essayist and novelist on the craft of writing.
A Place You All Know Well by Michael Chabon - On the central role of exporation in writing.
The Nature of Fun by David Foster Wallace (excerpt) - DFW on what drives writers to write
Uncanny the Singing That Comes from Certain Husks by Joy Williams - “Who cares if the writer is not whole? Of course the writer is not whole, or even particularly well…”
I also recommend Writing Into The Cold by Ted Solotaroff
A weird thing I find incredibly helpful for art/writing.
Eplans.com is a website that sells blueprints for houses.
This might not seem that helpful but if you want a characters house you can make selections based on what sort of house you want them to live in.
Then browse through the results and find the house you want. Then you can view the blueprints and have a room layout for that house, which can help with visualising the space they live in.
It makes describing generic homes so much easier.
I will admit it. I have read all three books in the Fifty Shades of Grey series.
I am not admitting this because I am ashamed of my sexual desires or even because I feel the need to rant and rave about the poor writing quality of these books. (And it is extremely poor. I set my Kindle to count how many times the word “gasp” is used in the third book and the total was more than 70). I am admitting this because I feel the need to share my opinions about what I consider to be the incredibly — and dangerously — abusive relationship portrayed in the books.
When I first heard about Fifty Shades of Grey and learned they began as Twilight fanfiction, I swore I would not read them. I have read all of the Twilight books and I did not enjoy them. I found the relationships between Edward and Bella and Bella and Jacob to be patronizing and emotionally abusive, and I also thought the writing was pedestrian at best and boring to read. Why would I devote the limited amount of time I have for reading for pleasure to a series like this?
But as the dialogue about Fifty Shades of Grey increased, both in the media and amongst my friends, my curiosity was piqued. I attended a talk titled “Fifty Shades of Grey - Bad for Women, Bad for Sex” and decided that I should see what all the fuss was about.
To quote the book, I gasped. I rolled my eyes. I even bit my lip a few times. But not for the reasons Anastasia, the protagonist, did. I did out of exasperation, boredom and disgust, but also out of fear. After reading this book series, I am deeply afraid that this type of relationship will be viewed as the romantic ideal for women. And I consider that to be extremely dangerous — much more so than anything that takes place between Christian and Anastasia in the Red Room of Pain.
Could the character of Anastasia Steele be any more of a stereotype? She is an introvert, has low self-esteem, has abandonment issues from her father, apparently has only one close friend who bullies her and even though she works in a hardware store, she doesn’t seem to possess any self-sufficiency aside from cooking for her roommate and herself. She seems to have no sexual identity until Christian Grey enters her life and requests that she become his Submissive in a sexual relationship.
In order to be Christian’s submissive, Anastasia is expected to sign a lengthy and detailed contract that, amongst other requirements, requires that she exercise four days a week with a trainer that Christian provides (and who will report to Christian on her progress), eat only from a list of foods Christian supplies her with, get eight hours of sleep a night and begin taking a form of birth control so Christian will not have to wear condoms. Anastasia negotiates a few terms of the contract with Christian (she only wants to work out three days a week, not four), but all of her negotiations are only within his framework — none of the terms are hers independently. Nothing in their relationship is hers as an independent.
The character of Christian Grey is a rich, superpowered businessman who was abused as a child. He is in therapy, and Anastasia frequently references his therapist, but based on how he treats Anastasia, he doesn’t seem to be making much progress. As Anastasia’s relationship with Christian progresses, his controlling tendencies affect her life more and more. When her friend takes portraits of her for his photography exhibit, Christian buys all of them, because he does not want anyone else looking at Anastasia. (They weren’t even in a relationship when he did this.) When she is hired as an assistant at a publishing company, he buys the company — to make sure she’s “safe” working there. When she goes out to a bar with her one friend, against his wishes, he flies from New York to Washington State that same night, just to express his anger — and exercise his control over her. When she does not immediately change her name at her office (in hopes of maintaining some professional autonomy, given that he bought the company she works at), he shows up, unannounced, at her office, in the middle of her workday, to pick a fight with her. When she asks why it is so important to him that she change her name, he says he wants everyone to know she is his.
Christian’s possession of Anastasia is the cause of much of my disgust and fear of the book’s influence on people and how they view romantic relationships. After they exchange their wedding vows, the first words he says to her are, “Finally, you’re mine.” The control he exercises over her does not reflect his love for her; it reflects his objectifying of her. Christian never views Anastasia as a person, let alone an independent woman. He wants her to obey him, and even though she refuses to include that in her wedding vows, it is exactly what she does. When her mother questions her choice to keep her wedding dress on rather than change before traveling for her honeymoon, she says, “Christian likes this dress, and I want to please him.” Her desire to try some of the “kinky fuckery” in his Red Room of Pain comes from wanting to demonstrate her love for him, not her own sexual desires.
Wanting to please Christian apparently includes subjecting herself to verbal and emotional abuse from him ‘til death do them part, because any time she tries to stand up to him — which isn’t often — he berates her, guilt trips her and beats her down verbally until she apologizes and submits to him. After she uses the “safe word” in the Red Room of Pain so he will stop, he bemoans his sad state of mind later, mentioning that his “wife fucking safe worded him.” He is not concerned with her well-being or why she felt the need to use the safe word. He only cares about how it affects him.
The question that I kept asking myself as I read the books was why Anastasia stayed with Christian, and the answer I found was that she has absolutely no sense of self worth. She only feels sexy when he says she is, and when he insults or patronizes her, she accepts what he says as the truth. One of the passages that disgusted me the most was when Anastasia was at a club with Christian, dancing and thinking to herself that she never felt sexy before she met him and that he had given her confidence in her body. Yes, being with a partner who frequently compliments you can increase your confidence, but Anastasia went from zero to one hundred thanks to Christian. None of that came from within herself. Because of his influence on her, nothing in her life came from herself — her job, her home, her way of life, or even her self-esteem.
The co-dependency between Anastasia and Christian is alarming to read and even more to contemplate. When she breaks up with him at the end of the first book, the second book finds her starving herself and wasting away to nothing until he contacts her again. When she thinks his helicopter has crashed in the second book, she thinks to herself that she can’t live without him. Their marriage only comes about because he is scared she will leave him, and when she asks what she can do to prove to him she isn’t going anywhere, he says she can marry him. Yes, origins of insecurity and desperation are a great start to a healthy marriage.
When Anastasia finds herself unexpectedly pregnant and shares the news with Christian, he rages at her, asking if she did it on purpose and storming out of the house, disappearing for hours. Even though Anastasia thinks to herself that the pregnancy happened too soon in their marriage, she never considers terminating it.
The themes of the novel — that love alone can make someone change, that abuse from a spouse is acceptable as long as he’s great in bed, that pregnancies should always be carried to term even if the parents are not ready to be parents, and the ridiculously antiquated, Victorian idea that the love of a pure virgin can save a wayward man from himself — are irrational, unbelievable and dangerous.
Our culture has seen a radical shift of ideals moving towards traditional gender roles and Fifty Shades of Grey is a shining example of that. Early marriage to one’s first sexual partner, having a baby even when saying neither of the partners is ready to be a parent, and submission to one’s husband as the head of the household are all aspects of life that feminists and progressive thinkers have worked to move beyond. Anastasia and Christian’s relationship is not romantic. It is abusive. The ways he tries to “keep her safe” are not masculine or sexy. They are stalking. Fearing one’s husband’s reaction to an unexpected pregnancy is not normal, because “boys will be boys.” It is sad and dangerous and should not happen in a healthy relationship.
Fifty Shades of Grey was one of the best-selling books of the year. Sex toy classes have been inspired by it, as have new types of cocktails. The film adaptation is already in the works. I sincerely hope that honest discussion will be had about the book and that the Christian Grey ideal of romance is not one that will be perpetuated throughout our culture. The best way that can happen is through open, honest dialogue that leads to healthy relationships of two equal partners. That, in my opinion, is sexier than anything that can happen in the Red Room of Pain.
Spread this like wildfire on all media!
Q:Oh my god! :O You are incredibly intelligent! (even more so than I originally thought)
Obviously this person isn’t upset because you ‘talked to them’ - they are upset because you have a voice at all, and they take the fact that you are using it on a platform that allows people to read it, appreciate it, and learn from it, as a personal attack on their own space.
So its just the usual ‘Omg people are talking about POC, that is WAY too much talking about POC’ levels of racism.
I happen to agree with you and I think it is pretty obvious that’s the issue. But as long as i keep getting messages along the lines of, “I just don’t understand why people keep attacking you”, I will keep demonstrating it over and over…I’m not telling anyone what to think or what conclusions to draw.
I mean, the sheer amount of “criticism” that boils down to “you really need to be talking about this other thing” and “how dare you put it in these terms” is definitely the clash between disciplines manifesting. Like, I piss off professors all day at work, I’m not super impressed by your stomping about.
The part where it gets malicious and scary/violent is when they see it not only as an attack on their space but also as an attack on their identity…and rather than seeing that I’m attacking white supremacy and using that to analyze ways that they might identify with white supremacy, they just see me as the problem. Which of course is much easier and reinforces their worldview rather than calling it into question.
I’ll go ahead and direct people toward this amazing article: Dorothy Kim, Divergent Bodies and Medieval Studies, for Inthemedievalmiddle.com.
^ They’re doing a series right now on medieval studies and diversity, and it is really, REALLY insightful/amazing. I posted a quote and a link to Helen Young’s piece yesterday from the same series, and I think it is even more relevant here when we talk about white supremacist history, white entitlement, and feeling like a white-only space is being “invaded” by these discussions:
Well, thanks. But at the same time, it’s really just mind-boggling to me how people invest so much into the mouth the words come out of, rather than letting the work stand on its own. But for some people, who they think I am is much more important than anything I’ve said.
Like, for example, this recent reblog:
I will add here that I have 100% respected their request that I never speak to them on account of my failure to meet their criteria for “a historian”, whatever it may be. I have enough life experience to cope with abrupt and arbitrary rejection with relative equanimity and even some amusement. I feel like I’ve made it clear I won’t talk to anyone who doesn’t want me to, doesn’t really matter why.
I’m just saying, don’t underestimate the ability of people to completely close themselves off from any kind of discussion whatsoever.
Not only are the Middle Ages constructed as a nostalgically longed-for pre-race utopia, the same argument is also used to in attempts exclude people of color from contemporary fan communities and to construct those communities as normatively white.
People of color are only welcome in many medievalist digital spaces if they pass as white by not asking questions or commenting on any thread to do with race, let alone starting one.
The myth of the monochrome Middle Ages, in which the medieval is originary, pure, and white, transcends geographical and temporal boundaries. It is attached, through supposed biological descent, to white bodies, wherever and whenever they go, even into the apparently non-corporeal digital realms of fan-forums, television and video-games.
There are many fans of color of popular culture medievalisms, but a hostile milieu which consistently repeats the messages that ‘you don’t belong in the Middle Ages’ and the ‘the Middle Ages are not yours’ actively discourages setting out on, let alone completing, a journey from interested fan to professional scholar.
There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter — the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last — the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion. And whether it is a farmer arriving from Italy to set up a small grocery store in slum, or a young girl arriving from a small town in Mississippi to escape the indignity of being observed by her neighbors, or a boy arriving from the Corn Belt with a manuscript in his suitcase and a pain in his heart, it makes no difference: each embraces New York with the intense excitement of first love, each absorbs New York with the fresh eyes of an adventurer, each generates heat and light to dwarf the Consolidated Edison Company.