Literary Tropes

It bothers me quite a bit when, in order to make a female character interesting, writers make her some sort of damaged goods.  She’s been raped, beaten, her father never loved her, her mother never loved her, she’s an orphan raised by wolves/hateful relatives/on the streets, she had an affair with a prominent member of society and his bastard baby was stillborn, she murdered her abuser and buried his body in the garden, etc.  And from the pain of this backstory she manages to pull herself up by her bootstraps and carry on and this makes her beautiful/desirable/interesting.  It makes me a little ill that writers resort to this sort of storyline.

Are they really telling me that a woman can’t be interesting without being damaged in some way?  She can’t be interesting because she’s smart?  Because she reads?  Because she invented something?  Because she made a scientific discovery?  Because she’s really good at fixing cars?  Because she’s spent twenty years studying ballet and is now considered the world’s greatest dancer?  Is a woman really only interesting because of her sacrifices, because she’s overcome some sort of diversity?

I say all this because it’s true: but also because I’m a little annoyed with myself.  The story I’m currently crafting, which I really like, involves my protagonist’s (somewhat) dark past.  She never talks about it, and I don’t really want it to come up at all, really.  But I want it implied that she left America, in part, because she was leaving something [someone (a man)].  But she also leaves America (and this man) for herself.  I want that to be abundantly clear.  But she was also leaving someone and that is actually important.

The real trouble I’m having is plot.  I don’t know what causes the rising action or the climax.  I’ve had a number of ideas that bring her past into the story, but I don’t like that idea.  I don’t want to dredge it up because I don’t want her to only be interesting because of something she’s done before the story starts.

I think I really need to flesh out the rest of the characters.  Maybe something will develop there.

I also don’t want it to be a romance, or about the “friendzone” even though it sort of is.

I’ll keep working.


Hate, Racism, Using Me to Kill Black People: Things I Won’t Accept

It has come to my attention that Dylann Roof, that little prick who shot up a church in Charleston, is using me as his justification for his crimes.  He’s using me, my sisters, and our maidenheads like some antebellum, Jim Crow era rationalization to burn Rosewood to the ground.  This is some Emperor Palpatine-level bullshit.  I do not need some hyped up jerkface to protect me from squat.

I did not grow up with many black kids.  There were a few handfulls of black families in my town, but for the most part our diversity was comprised of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Brazilians, Haitians, and Dominicans.  Lots of Caribbean influence, lots of Central American.  Some Black.  Since leaving high school, I’ve met a wider field of people: I’ve met British, I’ve met Greeks, I’ve met Swedes, I’ve met Chinese.  I’ve met Muslims, I’ve met Jews, I’ve met Rastas.  I’ve met criminals, and I’ve met upstanding citizens.  I’ve met farm-boys, and inner-city ballers.  I’ve met friendly New Zealanders, and douchey Australians.  I’ve met black girls who can’t stop touching my hair, and Ghanaian pastors who invite me to visit their churches.  I’ve met vegan lesbians, and queer Persians, and trans men.  I’m only thirty and I’ve had thousands of students and dozens of roommates from a great many walks of life.  I have had many friends, people who will be my friends for life, and those who were well-needed friends for the time being.  No friendship is superior or inferior to any other.  I love all of my friends.  My friends get to know me and understand who I am.  They have my back if I ever need them to, and I theirs.

Recently, I went on a pseudo-blind date with a man I met on the Internet.  My friend D—- encouraged me to go out with him and not to worry because he’d be there watching if I needed him.  I laughed and told him I wouldn’t need him (and I didn’t) but his offering to be there just in case was appreciated.  I can hold my own with a man.  I know how to handle myself.  There was a time when I didn’t.  There was a time, when I was younger, when I didn’t know how to advocate for myself with men.  I was inexperienced and unused to people trying to take advantage of me, and I found myself in an uncomfortable situation.  He didn’t ask me if he could touch me.  He didn’t ask me if he could do things to me.  I was wise enough to push him away, and he was kind enough to stop, but the damage was done.  I felt dirty and violated.  By a white, mid-western boy.

In my experience, which isn’t singular or unique, I’ve been fucked over by white men.  Almost exclusively.  Black men, in my experience, have always had my back.  I don’t feel as though I need any protection from Black Men.  I don’t feel that I need any protection from White Men, for that matter.  Same goes for Asian Men and American Indians and Caribbean Men.  My vagina isn’t a thing I need a man to worry about.  Women (all women) do not need a man to stand up and, on behalf of us all, make any decisions about our well-being.  We most especially don’t need a man to murder anyone on our behalf.  I will not take on that responsibility.

Far too often Women have been the justification for horrible acts.  Not any specific woman, but Women, in general.  As if we’re all in constant danger and we need the Menfolk to eliminate that danger so we can feel safe.  Quite frankly, I feel less safe with a man who thinks that is a reasonable argument.  It is as twisted as the man who shot women on his college campus because other women wouldn’t have sex with him.  Women are not some abstract concept that can be invoked as a rallying cry.  We’re not “Democracy”, or “Freedom”, or “God”, or other terrible reasons to justify killing other people: we are people.  We are individuals.  We each have a unique point of view and our own opinions.  If Dylann Roof had asked a woman if she felt unsafe from the “threat of Black Men” he would have known better than to use Women as one of his reasons for shooting innocent people.  Rather than invoking the concept of Women (alongside the notion that Black People have “taken over” the country), he should have just stood behind his unreasonable hatred.  It’s no better a reason, but it’s honest.

I refuse to be someone’s rallying cry.  I refuse to be someone’s concept.  I am a white woman, I am not a White Woman.  You may not capitalize those words and do horrendous things because of me.  I love all of my friends.  I love all people.  I do not accept the burden of Dylann Roof’s crimes.  His unchecked hate led him to shoot people, not my sisters, my mother, my nieces, or my friends, and certainly not me.  Do not use me as your excuse to kill black people.

My prayers are with the Charleston community today.  My love for them abounds.  I pray to God to give them strength and compassion.  I also pray that people everywhere stop seeing women as a concept, stop using us for their own purposes, and start seeing women as people.  So many times I’ve read the questions: why do we focus on race?  And, Why do we need feminism?  Because, my dear, there are those out there who still don’t see us.

@RedSox Robot and #GeorgeMichael

red sox cropWhile I was working on this lil’ guy, I listened to George Michael’s album Faith.  Dude!  Date rapey, much?  Seriously, George Michael!  “Faith” is the best song on the album.  All of the rest of them are either “do you love me or him?” or “I want to fuck you”.  None of them are anywhere near as fun as “Faith” either.  “Faith” has a great beat to it, makes you want to get up and dance.

I think Red Sox Robot is a little appalled by the album.  Look at his eyes, poor fellow!

And, yeah, the perspective on the hat is skewed, I know.

UPDATE: I’ve listened to “Faith” about seven times in a row now, and I fucking love that song.  I’m adopting it as my song for the foreseeable future.

1,990 Words on “It’s Not You, It’s Me”

Whether or not this is true, it feels like men see me in two distinct categories. I am either their cool older/younger sister, or I am a sexual object. To the former I say: bless you, brother. To the latter….

It’s amazing to me how many men feel like they can look at a woman and decide that she isn’t worth getting to know as a person, or she is, except that feeling is superseded by the fact that she has breasts and a vagina.1

Men, unfortunately, are often this simple. Boobs. That’s all it takes sometimes to distract them. And if the woman attached to the boobs shows even the slightest interest, say, allows his lips to touch hers, he takes that as consent to touch everything else with whatever part of his body he chooses. His penis takes over thinking and poor decisions get made. Because sex is physical and visual for men. Women know this.2 Now, women: sex for women happens partially in the brain. Men forget this. Women need to be mentally stimulated as much as physically. When their brains switch off, it’s curtains for the rest of it. When a man makes the decision to start touching the woman in places she’s not ready for, or doesn’t want him to touch, then her brain is going to switch off and she is not going to enjoy the encounter anymore.

And, after the incredibly awkward encounter, if the man tells the woman that his penis is hers, and only hers, whenever she wants it, she’s not going to like him anymore (if she even still does). At least, that’s how it was for me. That night I didn’t think he could get any less attractive, but then, the very next night, he started making out with a different woman.

This experience opened my eyes to certain yuckier human tendencies: there are times we use each other for sex, that’s all an individual means to us, and the Person falls by the wayside. I’ve always known this happens (I went to college, after all) but it had never been a reality in my life until then – at least, I’d never been aware of it before. In that moment it became obvious that he didn’t actually want to know me as a person. I was a balm, I was a distraction, I was something completely different from what he dealt with in the rest of his day, men and boys; I was a woman. All he wanted that evening was someone full of estrogen, with breasts. He wanted the anti-male so badly that he forgot I also was surrounded by men and too much testosterone (we worked at a boy’s sports camp) and I had similar-yet-different frustrations with our environment. He forgot that I, too, am a person.

My story of assault is comparatively tame, especially when we consider others’ harrowing tales of rape and psychological abuse by people filled with an insatiable need for control at another person’s expense. I was not beaten or overpowered, or locked in a bunker, or completely taken advantage of, but my story, I think, is probably wicked common; seventy three per cent of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim – a friend, a partner, a coworker, a spouse, a relative. I worked with this man. We hardly knew each other, but saw one another everyday. I didn’t expect the assault. We didn’t have a strong a connection. He was just a dude and we got along ok – apparently because he was hitting on me the entire time.

Another trend I’ve noticed in my acquaintances: Men I’ve known for years and get along with just fine all seem to share the same secret – they find me attractive, and may, or may not, want to get into my pants. Someone I had known for four years, genuinely liked, and always got along with when we were together, finally made a wine-fueled move; a few weeks later we went on a date. Want to know what we discovered? We should not date. Ever. As much as I enjoy this person and as pretty as he might find me, our personalities are not compatible for a romantic relationship. With that date, the weird friendship we’d developed died. But more importantly for me: it was wildly depressing that what apparently fueled our friendship was his having the hots for me.

Don’t misunderstand me: he’s a wonderful person. If you even encounter him, go with the crazy. He’s fun and smart and interesting and a blast to be around. But because on his end, so much of our friendship was based on him thinking I’m pretty (which clarifies his ex-girlfriend’s enigmatical dislike of me), our friendship was disingenuous. A friendship based, even vaguely, on lust and physical admiration isn’t much of a friendship. When one party wants one thing and the other doesn’t (or isn’t aware of the situation), the friendship is doomed. Eventually these feelings are going to boil to the surface and take precedence over any platonic feelings. And when unrequited the feelings are the elephant in the room that makes further bonding nearly impossible.

At least, this is what I have experienced.

Television, novels, movies, and pop songs want us to believe that this is going to happen to each of us: one day a close friend is going to reveal that he has the hots for us, but it’s not just “the hots”, but “true love”, and it’s going to be freakin’ awesome. Except what these leave out is the Lust Factor. So many times this might happen and it won’t actually be True Love, but True Lust. That isn’t to say the man, or woman, doesn’t genuinely like the person, but they’ve already got the person naked in their mind and, generally, they’ve got a vague hope that one day the two of them will date and it’s going to be perfect. But once one person has the whole relationship worked out in their head, it’s over. Because the other person will never be able to live up to the fantasy. No matter how hard they try, or what they do, they are already fighting a losing battle. And there’s little worse than the frustration of being up against something that doesn’t exist.

But we do these things to each other. We either forget that someone is a person and see them as an object, or we project a personality onto a person that doesn’t quite match up with the one they possess. Then we’re disappointed. Because we are the tragic heroes of our lives; assholes who must right our own wrongs. Disgruntled, we try to move on, feeling uncomfortable and unhappy. Why do we do these things? Why do we put ourselves through this?

Mostly because we yearn for a connection with another. But something has hurt us in the past, barring us from being able to connect in a healthy manner. Unsatisfied we’re left continuously searching for that connection, we’re desperate for it, and our insecurities and inhibitions keep us from truly opening up to another person. Which causes us to be inadvertently careless with other people. Even though our carelessness has nothing to do with that person, but ourselves, it still affects the other person, usually negatively. Now that person carries a piece of our pain and they are going to have to spend some time realizing that it had nothing to do with them, but the other person. Then, they’re going to have to accept that, which, hopefully, will make them stronger as they move on from the situation.

Seventh grade, a boy let his friends be rude to me after I turned him down because I wasn’t ready for a boyfriend. Their being rude to me has affected my romantic interactions ever since. Why did he do that? He was hurt and wanted me to feel it? Maybe? I don’t know. I don’t know what his situation actually was, but it led to him being rude to me. Someone I had previously considered a friend, turned out to be thoughtless. And this is perhaps the reason I have trouble believing that a man who is interested in me can be both a friend and an intimate. It was the seventh grade, I certainly wasn’t emotionally mature enough to deal with whatever was wrong with him. What happened was I learned how to hold my head up and act like I wasn’t bothered. To show him that he had hurt my feelings would have meant admitting defeat, my twelve year old brain told me. I wasn’t going to engage, I wasn’t going to show him that he, a boy, could get me down. And, yet, in that moment something did change.

I still wasn’t ready for a boyfriend, that much remained the same, but now, to be vulnerable was a terrible thing. That a man could get inside and cause pain was unacceptable. Men, I knew, had caused women so much pain and suffering over the centuries. I knew that every time a man hurt a woman it was backed by centuries of close-mindedness and hate, institutionalized sexism passed down from generation to generation. And I, the young feminist I was, wasn’t about to let him get to me. Except I did. He got to me and I let it affect me, and I didn’t confront him. Because I was twelve and didn’t understand that confronting him and clearing the air was the best move. Instead I held on to my discomfort and insult and let it affect my interactions with other boys and men.

In the past I have let men see me as a sexual object and not a person, not necessarily wrong, but since it stems from an attempt to not let any one man get too close it was not the healthiest behavior. But, like most people, I have learned from my past experiences and strive to not make the same mistakes again. I try to be more open and let people in. Being closed-off, everyone will tell you, is a lonely way to live, but, sometimes, it’s also something a person needs to figure out for themselves. Their friends, loved ones, books, and movies might help by showing and teaching them this (so keep being there for your friends), but sometimes still a person needs to process in their own way and time. That’s equally important to becoming a stronger person, to figuring out who you are, and being the person you want to be.

That boy was wrong to let his friends be rude to me, and that man should have asked me before he touched me, and that other man shouldn’t have fantasized so much about what it would be like to be in a relationship with me. They were wrong. But it’s also important for me to face what has happened to me, what I have done, accept that it happened, deal with it, and move on. We all have baggage and it is up to each of us to let it go, not let it affect how we interact with other people. Because not every man is going to be that boy in the seventh grade, it would be unfair of me to assume he is; and not every man is going to be thoughtless and careless and I shouldn’t be so with him. We need to give people, including ourselves, some slack. Remember we don’t know their story. And, most importantly, remember other people are, each of them, a person.

1Women do this too, don’t think I’m just bashing men here. Women absolutely look at men and see only a piece of meat they’d like to have carnal knowledge of. But I am a woman who has had this done to her by men, so bear with me.

2Bet your buttons women sometimes manipulate this.

VA mom wants to widen school policy requiring parental permission for “sensitive topics”


Because her 17 year old AP English student son was disturbed by Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

Now, while Beloved is the reading equivalent of running a mile in knee-deep mud, there’s really no reason to ban it from an Advanced Placement English course.  Ok, so it’s mildly disturbing, yes.  I read it as a college student and was pretty annoyed/disgusted/horrified pretty much the entire time.  Until I realized that as much as Beloved is about the dead girl and her mother’s guilt regarding the dead baby – it’s also about Denver, the living daughter, actually living her life — moving past her mother’s guilt and becoming a functioning member of society.

This novel is not easy and anyone who thinks it is has no idea what they are talking about.  This book is about a very tough issue.  But it’s no worse than any other book written in or about the mid to late 1800s America.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as lovely as it is, is the white, sanitized version of slavery.  Harriet Jacobs’ and Frederick Douglas’ slave narratives show a more real, more brutal, more honest side to what was going on.  Beloved shows readers the plight of women under slavery, how bleak a situation it truly was, and some really tough decisions women had to make sometimes.  It’s also a story of healing, of hope, of moving into a future without looking back.  It’s heavy.

Wherever there is prejudice and injustice and hardship there are going to be “sensitive topics” discussed.  The Grapes of Wrath was a book I had to read as a high school junior that left me rather uncomfortable – especially the ending scene; The Painted Bird tells the story of a boy roaming the ignorant and backward Polish countryside during and after World War II, some of the things he witnesses are highly disturbing; Night by Elie Wiesel shows what being in a concentration camp was actually like; In the Time of the Butterflies shows the fear of the Dominican people during President Trujillo’s dictatorship and what some brave few went through in order to gain some justice; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, pulpy, pop fiction, sure, is the story of rotten people perverting what is meant to be a welfare system on one hand, and a warped and twisted sociopath who abuses his own children severely screwing them up for the future, on the other.  What these books, along with Beloved, teach us is to recognize injustice and prejudice and, if we can’t do something to stop the greater problem in play, to have compassion for the people around us.  Do what we can to help the people we love who might be going through a hard time.  They tell us to be supportive of our friends and family.  To try to work toward a brighter future where these things don’t happen.  These books all end the same way: with Hope.

It’s idealist, maybe; some might say naive; but it’s a mature concept that is expected, and often demanded, by society, by authors, by critics.  If a high school student is deemed smart enough and mature enough to take a college level literature course you can bet your buttons that he or she is going to be expected to handle some “sensitive topics”.  The student is going to be asked to be mature enough to handle some adult topics, sometimes harsh and uncomfortable topics.  But being at a college level means acting and thinking like an adult, recognizing that you’re not a kid anymore, and starting to make your own decisions.  Taking a college level English course while in High School might be a “safe” way to introduce a student to college, but it shouldn’t expect anything less from the student than a college literature course would.

This Virginia mom might have a point about including parents in designing the curriculum to an extent, but I think the harsh reality is that her son wasn’t mature enough for Beloved.  There are worse books his teacher could have chosen, but it seems to me that he or she chose an appropriate novel to expect a teenager in a college level English course to be able to handle.  It might be disturbing at times, it might give the kid nightmares, but it hopefully is also opening his mind and getting him to think about the world in a slightly different way.  If high school students are expected to read The JungleNative Son, Johnny Got His Gun, Of Mice and Men, The Lord of the Flies, and The Bell Jar, then a high school student in a college level class should be expected to handle Beloved.

If the student can’t, then maybe he shouldn’t be in that class.

*Click on the picture to go to the NPR website to learn more about Toni Morrison and “This Virginia mom” to read the Washinton Post article about Ms. Murphy’s campaign to change school policies.