Thursday, June 27, 2013

Boxes Full of Women

by Brighton Luke

There has been a lot of talk going around on social media recently about sexism in certain genres, particularly speculative fiction. The problem of bias towards female writers by some is a big issue tied strongly to the culture of sexism you’d find anywhere else it exists. To try and tackle it all head on as an individual would be daunting and impossible. As writers though I think we’re in a unique position to affect a more subtle, more effective change.

Stories in their myriad forms are how we as society spread, process, and establish our culture. We are all collectively the stories we tell. Some stories are verbal—a recounting to your friends over drinks of the events from the night before—while others are blockbuster films or novels that reach millions.

Regardless of how large the audience, every story you tell is a reflection of you and your culture, and every story you tell adds to the perceptions we all have of the world around us. That’s why stories are so powerful.

Ignorance and insecurity, even if only on some imperceptible level, are the root of the stereotypes and boxes so many of us feel compelled to put people in. It feels safe to define and label everything to know where it fits. This is the box for women, this is the box for men, these are the actions, attributes and feelings you are allowed to have. The more we tell stories that reinforce these, the more true the lie seems in our collective perceptions.

It is easy to tell stories that continue to put people in those boxes, because there are plenty of people out there who are happy as clams to read them to have these notions validated. You have a choice, though; you don’t have to take the easy way out, you don’t have to write those stories that keep everyone locked away into preconceived cookie-cutter templates of what a person is based on their label of man or woman. Look around, and really see people for who they are as an individual—they don’t fit into those boxes. Those are the kinds of characters whose stories will change our culture. Those are the stories that are truly unique, because their characters are unique.

Recently in a conversation about love-triangles it was interesting to see responses about why so many of them seem to be the woman choosing between two guys. It made me sad to hear explanations such as: women like to shop around and can’t make up their mind, and men just cheat and date both. Not only is a belief such as that a narrow way to go through life, you will never truly know anyone if you go into it already deciding what they are like simply because of their gender. It also is a stagnating way to approach writing. Right off the bat that attitude towards men and women cuts off countless possible characters they could have had in their stories. Real characters, who are nuanced and textured and individuals, whose actions are a culmination of their life experiences not just predetermined by their sex.

This idea of vast differences between men and women, these stereotypes, are a fallacy and a social construct. It stymies creativity, individualism and reality. I walked into one of those everything-marts the other day and the girls' toy aisle was a blinding mass of bubble-gum pink. I guarantee you pink is not every girl’s favorite color. [Having just done an informal poll of every woman in my general vicinity right now, there were as many colors named as women I asked. Though the one who said, "That red that's on my Racetigers," (a racing ski by Volkl) really won my heart.] Real life and real characters are far more nuanced than generalized boxes proclaiming universal truths based on their chromosomes. Truly great characters aren’t men or women, they are just people.

As a writer you have the choice, you can write the stories that will change our culture.

Brighton's chromosomes, by the "box" logic, would dictate that he doesn't own Dawson's Creek on DVD, and yet he does. Clearly he has magic. You can find him on Twitter, Tumblr, and motivating the procrastinators of the writing world here.

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