My Story and Gender Equality

Things have been a little quiet on my blog this month.  It’s because I’ve been focusing all of my writing energy on my NaNoWriMo project.  I’ve been doing a pretty great job with that project, and I’m really liking how the story is going.  I started off strong, meandered a little bit around chapter 6, then gained a lot of momentum after I had an epiphany about what my story was about.  Chapter 6 will get dealt with when I turn my attention to editing.

“Editing” is a good segue into another subject.  Specifically, editing myself.  Even more specifically, I’m talking about not posting stuff here, for fear of offending a new friend or two.

I made a few friends at Convolution that I admire and respect, and I value their opinions.  They are fantastic people, and I look forward to seeing them in person again, and sharing my work with them as it develops.  They’re great people, but sometimes they post things to Facebook that make feel three or four degrees short of uncomfortable.  Maybe that means the posts are effective, because I’m thinking about the subject material without feeling outright upset.

So now that I’ve spent three paragraphs on build-up, let’s get into what I really want to talk about: __________.

 

Damn it, I can’t even fill in the blank right.  I think I’m supposed to put in “feminism” or “women’s rights” or “gender balance” or something, but I don’t know which terms I should use, and which ones I should avoid.

I’m going to struggle with this topic, because I’m a straight white male in his 40s, making a decent living and supporting his family.  I’m the “privileged.” With all of the advantages I have, it seems like I shouldn’t have an opinion that counts for anything.

The problem is that I was born white, I was born male, and I was born straight.  I chose none of that.  And sometimes, when I read about some of the gender imbalance issues, I feel like I should be apologizing for these attributes that I was born with, and did not choose.

That is the root of the problem.  No one should have to feel bad or apologize for traits they are born with.  I try to live my life and make choices to the effect that no one should have to regret the person that they are.  I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman, or a gay man, or any race other than the one I was born with.  The struggles of other people can be described to me, but I’ll never know them.

But what about responsibility?  Don’t I have a responsibility to try and promote equality across the races, the sexes, and the genders?

I believe I do have a responsibility.  The way I address it is through respect, and to take no action to propagate the unfairness.  By respect I mean, I don’t presume to know something I do not know about someone else’s life experience.  I try to teach my children to respect everyone in the same way.  Maybe I am not doing enough, but I don’t know what else to do.

Now, at the risk of undoing any good that I’ve done with this post, I want to talk about something more specific: men objectifying women.

The main character in my current novel is a dog, and I don’t mean a canine.  He objectifies women.  He stares at their body, and isn’t uncomfortable with terms like “tits.” He’s in his early twenties, mostly broke, and basically just wants to have a good time.

Why am I writing a character like this?  Actually, I don’t have to answer that question.  It’s fiction.  People can write whatever they want.

The real question is: am I propagating gender inequality by writing this story, with this character?

One of the articles Juliette Wade (here’s her blog) posted on Facebook talked about gender inequality in terms of results.  The point was that when women objectify men, there are no ramifications, but when men objectify women, it results in continuing the inequality that is still present in our culture.

In my story, Mel’s objectification of women will have no ramifications.  Him staring at a model with lust in his eyes isn’t going to impact how much money she makes.  It’s a realistic depiction because Mel is one rung up the social ladder from homeless.  The real world would not care what Mel thinks of women.

But I’m adding this story to the real world, so what about my responsibility to adding to the culture?

Perhaps I’m justifying, but the view we’re getting inside Mel’s head is honest.  Men look at women in a lustful fashion.  I think women look at men, too, but having never been a woman, I have to take other people’s word on that.  Objectifying strangers happens daily.

We are animals.  I know that when I’m standing in line at Starbucks, I notice waistlines and breasts and eyes and slim necks.  My brain is constantly bombarded with stimulus, noticing what I’m attracted to, and what I’m not.  I want to think that every male has the same experience as me in this regard, and I also want to think that every female also has the same experience.

What separates us from the animals is how we act on the stimulus.  I acknowledge what I see on some level.  I even enjoy it, sometimes.  But I try not to act on it.  I try to treat everyone as equally as I can.  I try to be generous with people, regardless of whether or not I’m attracted to them.  I try to remember to smile at everyone, and not just the ones my body thinks would be good to press up against.

Along that line of thought, I don’t think my story will be damaging to our culture.  What we see of Mel is an honest depiction of what’s going on in that particular male’s head.  He’s a little bit of a creep, but he’s also young, which makes his behavior even more believable, if not acceptable.  I don’t think I’m promoting objectification as much as I’m acknowledging that it is a regular part of our normal lives.

4 thoughts on “My Story and Gender Equality

  1. I don’t think you’re in as much of a bind as you think. If the story is what it is, and you’re not trying to market it as feminist — let it happen. Folks still read and enjoy Bukowski, Palahniuk and Nabokov. Not every reading experience is meant to be a paragon of ideal values. It’s good to experiment. Let your audience find you.

    • Yeah, I think you’re right.

      I should probably also remember that no matter what I say in my story, someone is going to find some reason to complain. Other potential things people might complain about:
      * My portrayal of New Orleans
      * My portrayal of Sacramento
      * How I handle magic and ghosts
      * My overuse of adverbs 🙂

      Actually, that last one, I’ve been working on quite a bit. But you get the idea…

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