I was reading a book a few months ago but didn’t manage to finish it. This is rare for me. I can be brutally impatient with TV shows, tough on films but I’m normally fairly forgiving with books.
This particular book was science fiction. It was well paced, had interesting concepts. It was in many ways a very good read. There was just one snag.
The female characters.
Or perhaps I should say the lack of female characters.
It’s not that there weren’t women in the book, there were quite a few, but every single one of them was a sex object, described primarily in terms of appearance and usually shacked up with one of the male characters within a scene or two. The exception to this was an older woman but even she was described in terms of how she would have been attractive in her day and there were suggestions about her previous liaisons.
Eventually* this facet of the writing became too much for me to ignore and I stopped reading.
And I realised that somewhere along the line, the way I consumed media had changed. You see, five years ago, I would probably have finished the book, just to see where the writer took the other concepts. Ten years ago I may not even have appreciated the problem.
Because that’s the thing: I don’t believe for a second that the writer was intentionally sexist. I think that side of the writing was coming from a place of ignorance, or at least a blind spot.
Sexist messages are all around us and as a parent I sometimes despair how gendered things are at an early age. Mainstream media bombards us with images and slogans that are, at best, outdated and at worst, damaging to our psyche.
Unless we have access to other messages, other ideas, it’s all too easy to mistake the unacceptable as normal.
For me, a number of things have been slowly raising my awareness. Getting together with and then marrying Emma was one of the biggest of those. Watching her get increasingly incensed by the (often lazy) portrayal of women in fiction and realising that when we went to the bank, or talked to a builder, they’d have a tendency to look only at me rather than her.** It made me start paying attention. Before then it wasn’t so much that I didn’t care before then, more that I hadn’t even noticed.
The other big eye opener was following @EverydaySexism on Twitter***. If you haven’t come across it before I’d recommend watching Laura Bates’ Ted talk. What shocked me most about it wasn’t so much the level of abuse or discrimination that women suffer (though that is certainly shocking) but the sheer volume and frequency of it.
I find those messages a useful reminder that things are not okay and there is still a lot more talking to be done.
There’s a clip doing the rounds where an Ohio State Legislator who is anti-abortion is being asked on Al-Jazzera why he thinks women might want to have one. He struggles to answer because he’d never even thought to ask the question before.
It’s easy to be a shitbag when you don’t have to think about the consequences.
*I made it about a third of the way through.
**They should have been talking to her. I’m about as practical as a porcelain hammer.
*** Or you can find them here.