I may have mentioned a few times that I’m writing a book. And I am, indeed, writing a book. A story-type-y book…thingie (novel). It’s been slow-going because I’ve had to make time to pinpoint my biggest weaknesses in writing novel-length work that have prevented me from finishing one. Up until now, I’ve written a decent amount on a book, given up, and started a new thing. This time, I thought long and then a bit longer until I realized the sources of my past failures (and I intend one day to revisit every one of those failures and make them victorious and awesome) and now I’m confident that I can 1) finish the damn thing, and 2) finish it good.
I now sound like a villain. …A villain writing a book. Where the characters are unaware but have to act out what the villain writes and – …Wait, this EXACTLY what happens.
Anyway, the point. I had one. Where’d it go…?
Ah, right! Women.
My book has a lot of characters, and one of the most basic decisions I had to make about those characters was choosing their sexes. To my surprise, it became been one of the most time-consuming parts of the process so far.
When I started writing my book, I had two characters already in mind to be at the crux of the story. That’s how I’ve started most previous works: I’ve had a few mostly-fleshed out characters and an idea like the one I nearly got carried away with above. Usually just having the characters and a basic plot is enough to get me halfway to the end of the thing, and I make up the rest of the characters as I go.
This time, I decided, “I need to know more than two. Not only that, I need to know all of their histories, their relationships, their worst flaws and their happiest memories, the last time they ate cake, do they even LIKE cake? What’s the first thing they do when they walk in the door? What do they hate being asked? Do they stop at the crosswalk when the light is red if there are no cars coming? How would they react to someone stealing food off their plate?”
I started making a character list in Scrivener. I jotted down my two known characters first, and then I added more. At one point, I realized more than half my characters were men. My main two were men. I stopped and thought about why.
Why did I have to keep reminding myself to include female characters? Why wasn’t it just happening naturally?
The answer, I believe, is in the stories I’ve been told all my life.
The stories of movies, books, TV shows, plays, musicals, and video games all have a phenomenally influential role in how we perceive the world around us. In nearly all of them, we’re told from a very young age: male is default. The hero is a man, and the woman is his love interest. Women are, in much of lauded literature and many memorable movies, restricted to supporting characters. And, as much as I’ve become aware of just how pervasive this idea is, I’m still under its influence. I feel more comfortable writing from a male perspective, because that’s what I’ve been given for the majority of my life.
Luckily, there are many things stories taught me that I don’t believe. For example, I don’t buy that “a woman’s greatest enemy is another woman.” Women are not natural enemies, but we ARE nurtured to think we are. We’re told very early on that our relevancy in life is dependent on our beauty. We’re put in pastel colors as infants and made to look like dolls as toddlers. We’re told to keep our voices down and to sit nicely and put up with boys yanking on our hair because THEIR parents didn’t teach them any freakin’ manners or how to say, “I like you,” like civilized human beings. Those same boys discover that “boys will be boys” is a golden ticket to act like dickwaffles and that they’ll get away with rape or murder if they apply that logic well enough.
Girls are taught that our intelligence and our abilities come second to our beauty. That’s a problem. The other problem is that boys are taught that, too.
However! This is a happy blog, and after all that crushing negativity, I have good news.
Women own colors.
Ever notice that? Girls can like any color, but boys have taboo colors. Didn’t it feel insane to read that and really, really think about that? Boys. Have. Taboo. Colors. In some parts of the world, giving a boy something pink is an act considered as abhorrent as pouring battery acid on his penis. (I apologize for the visual. Still, I’m not being entirely hyperbolic here. I’ve met people all around the world who do, in fact, hover at that level of absurdity when it comes to threatened masculinity.)
So! With all that negativity thrown at women, is it any wonder women are suspicious of each other? Is it any wonder we’re brutally judgmental of other women when we’ll forgive men nearly anything? It certainly makes it easier for me to understand why Chris Brown is less hated than Gwyneth Paltrow, even though it makes me sad, too. I think it’s illuminating that men can succeed even if beauty isn’t his most prominent quality. And isn’t it funny how many people would hesitate to apply the word “beauty” to men at all?
I’ve strayed a little from my point, and there are countless people out there who are much, much better than I am at tackling this subject, so I’ll move on. But essentially what I’m saying is: Chris Evans should not be asked about his acting motivations while Scarlett Johansson is asked what her diet was to fit into her costume. People are people, male or female, and both sexes should be judged by the same criteria.
Okay, I faked you out with the promise of something happy just now, so let me give you some genuine happy:
The world can be changed through stories.
Stories give shape to the confusion around us. Life doesn’t follow dramatic structure, and it’s baffling at best sometimes, but a story can dilute the chaos into a language we understand. It brings us closer to people of different classes, races, and time periods. A story can show you your own expression of pain on someone else and make you feel less alone.
When I was young, I wanted to be a storyteller. I didn’t have a reason, just an urge. It felt right. Now I know that I’ll always be a storyteller, whether or not I’m paid to do it. I’ll always make up stories in my head on the bus or climbing a mountain and some will never be committed to paper, but I’ll always have them.
I want to tell people stories that make them smile. I want to tell them stories that give them hope. I want to tell stories that make people feel love for something they felt nothing for before. I want to tell people stories that bring them light and love in every color.