I just released my first solo anthology. I’m quite proud of it.
But that’s not why I’m writing today. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how my writing has changed in the last couple of years. There’s a lot of reasons for that, including simply more practice doing it, a lot of feedback from a lot sources, and, of course, my own experiences. But something happened in 2014 that made a very real change in the way I created tension and conflict in my writing.
I commonly used (please note the past tense of that verb) the threat of sexual violence in my writing. You want tension, you want conflict. And in a conflict between a male and female character, sexual harassment or even the threat of sexual assault provides a lot of increased tension. In fact, one of my first published stories involves demons who take advantage of women by use of a spell, manipulating them by appearing as their perfect man, and eventually taking their souls when they have sex. Another centers around a college professor who sexually harassed one of his grad students and murdered her when he learned she’d become pregnant. Sexual violence was a common theme in my writing.
On May 23, 2014 a man I will not name killed six people and injured fourteen in Isla Vista, California in what he described as “retribution.” He wanted to punish women for rejecting him and sexually active men for living a more enjoyable life than his. He ended six lives and altered fourteen. Because he hated women. This crime shined a bright light on the MRA (so called men’s rights activists) and PUA (pick up artists) communities and the harm that toxic masculinity can do.
NOTE: I am not saying that masculinity is toxic. I am saying that some men express a form of masculinity that is toxic not just to women, but also themselves and other men. So, yeah. #notallmen and all that.
That incident sparked a nationwide conversation about misogyny, MRAs and PUAs, and harmful media representations of both men and women. We talked about it here on this blog at the time, and it made me take a hard look at my own writing.
At that time I was in the process of writing a story that appears in my just published anthology (I won’t tell you which because of spoilers!) in which a woman is restrained and a man who hates her is confronting her. It was my intention all along that he at the very least threaten her with sexual assault, or possibly follows through on it. As soon as the story broke of the killings in Isla Vista, I changed the scene, changing it to a verbal assault instead. I did not want to contribute at all to perpetuating the problems.
I’m in the process of revising a story right now where a young woman finds herself alone on a mountain with a young man who hates her. If I wrote this a couple of years ago, he absolutely would have threatened her sexually. I was proud to realize that it never occurred to me to include that threat in this story.
I’m not saying the subject of sexual violence shouldn’t be written about at all, but that it shouldn’t be used casually. It shouldn’t be used because I just want more tension in a scene. It should be used thoughtfully. Carefully. My goal is to be one less writer contributing to the normalization of sexual violence.
And if you’ve made it this far: check out my new book.