Once upon a time, on a little Celtic island, far, far away, a lovely princess was cornered in an elevator by a drooling troll. The troll propositioned her for sex, and the princess turned him down and fled the elevator as soon as she was able. A while later, she posted a vlog where she suggested, to trolls everywhere, that cornering princesses in elevators, isn’t going to lead to a Happily Ever After, or even a Happily for Ten Minutes Naked.
And trolls everywhere emerged from under their bridges, outraged–OUTRAGED–by her cruel admonishment. Never mind that it wasn’t “cruel.” The trolls were furious, and couldn’t believe that anyone would impede their right to be creepy. (Apparently the right to be creepy is inextricably entwined with the pursuit of happiness in the Troll Bill of Rights.)
Shorter version: An army of creepy assholes have their man panties in a knot because an uppity woman suggested that they not act like creepy assholes.
What struck me about this debate is that its goes back to my rant about writing gender. My complaint being with the “men are from Mars and women from Venus” bullshit that some writers (especially romance writers) believe. They approach writing the opposite gender (in this case men) as though men belonged to a different species. After all, as we all know, all men are cold, emotionless machines, who think about sex 24/7. Therefore, if you write a man who has…uh, feelings, he can’t possibly be a man.
Ironically, some writers take classes to understand the male mind, which seems to contradict everything I just said. Which is it folks? Are men atavistic-brained, sex machines or are they mysterious as the moon, only understood after you’ve forked over $100 to a writing workshop?
Me, I operate on the wacky presumption that men and women aren’t that different and that the battle of the sexes originates in societal norms, not biology. That “boys will be boys,” because parents laugh when boys shove things up their noses, and girls…well, we get told, in no uncertain terms, to “Stop that!” when we do the same.
Again, there are some biological differences, most notably, physical strength. Which is why, boyz, it isn’t appropriate to corner women in elevators and other enclosed spaces. If you don’t get it, imagine this scenario. You, a smallish dude, are in an elevator with a very large, dangerous looking man. He comes over to you, leans down, cracks his knuckles and says, “Can I borrow twenty bucks?”
You gulp, and stammer, “I don’t have any cash.”
To which he replies and leans closer, “Come on. Sure you do. Look at you, in your nice suit. It’s just twenty bucks.”
That’s what it feels like to be a woman who gets hit on by someone in a elevator. The disparity in size and difference, the reality of rape, is unnerving. If you don’t get this, you are either a steaming pile of shit or a brain dead moron.
But not all men are rapists, though many, like many women, are assholes. The problem with gender stereotypes is that they reinforce bad behavior. If you believe that men are clueless gits who can’t help themselves, who can’t stop acting like senseless jerks, than you’ve pretty much written men a blank check to act like entitled pricks. (Not that all men will take you up on the offer. Again, some people don’t need to be told to treat others with respect. They just do.)
Similarly, this stereotype also operates on the false presumption that women must always be the grownups in the equation. That it’s our job to act like doting mother hens, chuckling indulgently at men’s bad behavior. You see this clearly in Skepchick debacle. It wasn’t okay for the woman to tell the douchebag that he was a douchebag. Because douchebags have tissue paper egos that will go up in flame under the withering scorn of an unkind woman.
Therefore, women should always be kind. Like Snow White. You bet your bottom dollar that Snow White wouldn’t publicly humiliate Dopey if he grabbed her ass. No, she’d act like the good little woman, and gently take him aside and explain that his behavior was naughty. She’d stay sweet even if the little shit grabbed her boobs.
The “women are grownups, men are children meme,” is flogged more than a Congressman by his hooker. In Rom-coms, in TV adverts, men scamper about, happy-go-lucky children, while women scowl and act like buzz-killers. The ultimate consequence, however, being that the boys continue being boys and the women love them nonetheless. The blowup–from misogynistic trolls–over Rebecca Watson’s gentle suggestion, is more of the same. Watson, by not ignoring the bad behavior, committed the egregious sin of suggesting that boys can behave like grownups, or at least like primates with a modicum of empathy.
Well, I don’t want be anyone’s mommy, kissing their boo-boos and making it better. If you’re acting like an asshole, I’ll tell you’re an asshole. Clueless isn’t an excuse. My gender doesn’t require me to put up with bullshit.
Now, to be honest, I don’t expect that romance writers who write interesting men — thoughtful, empathetic men — are going to change the world or end sexual harassment. I’m also not suggesting that your writing should be driven by some political agenda. I’m am suggesting that it would be nice to see a more varied depiction of gender and gender roles in romance.
Again, if you’re approaching characterization from a flawed and flat, one-size-fits-all approach to gender, then you’re writing lazy. There is no “way a man thinks” anymore than there is a “way a woman thinks.” Neither gender is cast from an emotional-mold, plunked–kerchunk, kerchunk–on an assembly line. Expect more from your characters. And…expect more from the men (and women) in your real life.