Monday, May 26, 2014

Counting Bodies

I'm not lying, not even a little bit. This is the conversation with which my husband and I started our day:

ME: That Laura Lippman is something else! She doesn't just count how many women vs. men authors get awards, she counts the gender of the protagonists!
HE: Huh. I wonder what would happen if you counted the victims. I bet the pages are littered with women.
ME: (After a stunned silence)...Um, I think I've only killed men so far...
HE: Of course!

But the thing is--I didn't do it on purpose! And to make it worse, I mostly only killed off nice guys. (I'm sorry. Sorry, sorry, sorry!!!!!). So I've managed to commit the same sin, in reverse, of many authors: thoughtlessly killing off the other gender.

Gender and fairness are in the air this month. At my company's offsite of "directors and above," women were clearly only 10%-20% of those attending. And our leaders weren't happy about it, though honestly everyone seems a bit stymied about how to fix it: outreach in the schools to promote STEM (or STEAM--someone said the arts shouldn't be separated from science, technology, and math), work harder to recruit those women who are already in tech, work harder to promote those women in the company who aren't yet acknowledged leaders, or...?

And I have dark and dour days when I feel like women judge women as harshly as men. Remember way back in the early 1980s when everyone thought that women joining the workforce would improve the workplace because we'd bring all our warm, nurturing, consensus-building skills?

Not so much. Women tend to judge the exact same assertive behavior as negative in a woman, positive in a man, just like men. No matter what you think of Lean In, it's got a boatload of painful data about this. We've a long row to hoe, as Dad used to say.

But like our company leader, like Laura Lippman, like the nice guys who don't want to finish last nor turn into a sociopath to succeed, I'm not sure what to do.

I'll try harder not to respond to assertive women as if they're "too bossy." I'll rip the softeners out of my speech, even though it means risking getting labeled "too pushy." I'll support the ambitions of my friends and family, and most importantly, I'll make sure that my fiction doesn't shy away from the hard question of how we make the world a better place for our daughters than it is for us.

I guess it's about time we all go a little Rosie the Riveter.
If you've got any ideas, please send them my way. I've only got another decade or two on this planet. It seems like just being strong and "bossy" isn't enough.
P.S. My husband wasn't being mean or derisive when he said "Of course." He knows I'm writing a noirish story with an homme fatale, and sincerely expected all the tables to be turned in my book. His faith in me is amazing.


Diane Vallere said...

Great point about equality of protagonists, villains, and victims. The fashion/retail world where I worked was largely female dominated, the opposite of many businesses, so I'm lucky in that I always had strong women role models. (yet a quick count tells me that I'm 50/50 on bad guys, but slightly unbalanced in terms of the sex of my victims. Food for thought!

Pens Fatales said...
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