Misogyny and Me or I’m Not a Misogynist but Sometimes I Write Like One

Me. Sometimes misogynist. Apparently.
Me. Sometimes misogynist. Apparently.

That’s right, I’m going there.

For some reason, I’ve been inundated lately with videos, blog posts, and just general thoughts about misogyny (a word I hope to be able to spell all by my lonesome without the help of spell check before the end of this post). For those of you that don’t know, here is the definition of misogyny (damn, spell checked again) from dictionary.com:

“hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women”

I have been accused of being a misogynist (nope, not that time either) which people sort of use interchangeably with “sexist” and my stories (particularly Bob Moore: No Hero) having misogynist (nope) tendencies. I was, I’ll admit, particularly surprised by these accusations and responded by creating Nissa, a particularly strong female character in my second book, Bob Moore: Desperate Times. And while I’m not sure I have anything particularly insightful to say on the subject of misogyny (got it! suck it spell check!), I do think I will do something that not a lot of writers do. Rather than point out problems in other people’s work, I’m going to explore the problems in my own.

Refreshing or a thinly veiled way of defending my own work? You decide.

So, if you’ve read No Hero (or just download the thing here), you know that the first chapter has two female characters. Bob is up in a tree taking pictures of the two of them in flagrante delicto. You know, messing around. One of them, Cindar, chases Bob and tries to kill him and the other, Whisper, tries to talk the pictures out of Bob. Neither character succeeds and, when asked about their relationship Whisper says, “Just having a bit of fun.” Other than discussing the pictures with his client, this whole thing really doesn’t go anywhere.

First, the problems.

As I’ve been told, because of this scene, I’m a misogynist (two in a row). The reasons are thus:

  1. The women in the scene are both basically naked (true)
  2. The women in the scene are engaging in a sexual activity that is essentially in the book to titillate the reader and not for any sort of character development (sort of true)
  3. The evidence for number 2 is Whisper’s “Just a bit of fun” response (unfortunately, totally true)

My reaction.

As you can probably guess, I didn’t take kindly to the suggestion that I might hate women. I don’t. I know I don’t. My wife is pretty sure I don’t. And, honestly, the most misogynistic (three! I’m on a roll!) habit I believe I have is that I often refer to women as “girls”. Much in the same way I refer to men as “boys”. But I’ve never had a guy correct me though my wife goes to great lengths to make sure I use the proper term.

So, I didn’t agree. At first, I chalked it up to “the Internet”. If you’ve been online for as long as I have, you’ll come to one inevitable conclusion – people want to hate you. Some people want it so bad they’ll go to great lengths to find justifications for why you (in this case, me) are an incredibly unintelligent kludge. My working theory is that they do this because you’ve said, typed, or intimated something that they disagree with so vehemently that only haunting your online presence with constant reminders that they think you are an idiot will allow them to reassure themselves that they are, in fact, right.

It isn’t a great theory.

But, it turned out, that other people, more importantly people I respected, also agreed. When I laughingly told them that people had suggested that part of the book is misogynistic (I think I have the hang of it now), they said, “Yeah, it is.” Specifically my podcast partner Liz. If I had to describe Liz, I’d have to say that she was young (er than me at least) and probably would describe herself as a feminist. But she knows me. She’s been doing a podcast with me for years. She knows I’m not a misogynist. But she agreed. That meant it wasn’t the Internet. It was me.

I didn’t like that conclusion. So I ignored it for a while.

What I was going for.

In a word? Parody. The first Bob Moore book is a bit of a mess. When I wrote it, I didn’t really know what I wanted the final product to look like. It reads (to me) more like a movie than a book. That’s because that was the way I wrote it. I have scenes in the book that are there simply for character development and world building but that don’t advance the story. That’s commonplace in movies but really odd in books. The real story doesn’t begin until about half way through the book.

The world I was trying to build was a more realistic mirror of the comic book world. I wanted to show how ridiculous the whole idea of spandex-clad supers really was. So, when you meet the first two women in the book, of course they are oversexualized and scantily clad. That’s the way they all are in comic books. It’s a very misogynist medium. It’s stupid to think anyone could fight in such get-ups much less the high-heeled shoes they all wear. I thought that showing women is such a state of dress and Bob’s uncomfortable reaction to having one sit so close to him would achieve the results I wanted.

Why I was wrong.

Simply put, the scene didn’t work because it didn’t poke fun at the conventions of scantily clad women. It showed scantily clad women and just left it at that. There wasn’t a real payoff for that scene. There was nothing to let you (the reader) know that this wasn’t okay. Bob was uncomfortable. That was pretty clear. He thought the costumes were stupid. But the women? They didn’t seem to have a problem with it.

And I think that is where I really dropped the ball.

It isn’t okay for women to be included in books or other entertainment to be eye candy, to be motivation for masculine characters (like how many books, games, and movies use the death of a women as the man’s motive for revenge), or to be two-dimensional sex objects. Gale, Bob’s ex-wife isn’t like that. She’s sexy and strong. She’s got her own mind and life. And Bob, I hope, comes off as pretty pathetic compared to her. She’s moved on with her life and Bob…well, he hasn’t.

What I should have done.

I took so long to write this post (there are three Bob books now) because I really didn’t know how to fix the misogyny problem. My initial reaction was to cut the scene entirely. Like I said, it was more of a world-building thing and to put some action at the beginning of the book to hook the reader. But, honestly, I like the scene. Cindar and Whisper both show up in Desperate Times. Cutting them out didn’t seem right.

Tonight, as I was driving back from the supermarket, I hit upon a possible solution. First, a rehash of the problems:

  1. The women in the scene are both basically naked
  2. The women in the scene are engaging in a sexual activity that is essentially in the book to titillate the reader and not for any sort of character development 
  3. The evidence for number 2 is Whisper’s “Just a bit of fun” response

Number 1 and 2, I really don’t have much to say about. Yes, they are naked but the point was that they were doing something sexual. Of course they were naked. Plus, the whole “fire is my costume” thing always struck me as sort of impractical even though you could, technically, fly around naked. But number 3 is where I really think this thing could be saved. What if instead of this:

“Hmm… so that was you,” the pieces were starting to click into place. “I didn’t think you rolled that way.”

“Just having a bit of fun. Now the film. I heard what you told Cindar. I’m not buying it.” She picked up the camera case from the floorboards. “Or maybe I’ll just take it myself.”

It went like this:

“Hmm… so that was you,” the pieces were starting to click into place. “I didn’t think you rolled that way.”

“Really?” her voice lowered, her hand slowly rolling into a fist. “And why is that? Because of this?” she waved a hand over the strips of fabric that served as her costume. “You think we like dressing like this?”

I shrugged, keeping my eyes fixed on the road, “Then why do it?”

She shook her head, “Safety, Bob. Someone like Gale, she’s got enough power that she could wear a moo moo and be fine. But people like me? Like many of us? We need all the advantages we can get.” She put an arm out the window, watching the trees roll by, “You know how often male supers get killed or seriously injured in battle? Take a guess.”

“I wouldn’t have a clue.”

“A lot. I see it happen every day. But women? Not so much. We’re more likely to be taken captive and…” Her voice faded. “Well, the point is that if I wear something like this and that same super that punched a hole in the chest of the guy next to me, suddenly doesn’t want to swing.”

“So it’s a type of armor.”

“I suppose.” She paused, her hands back on her lap. “But you can’t talk to them. Most of them at least. You give them the time of day and they can only think of one thing.”

A small laugh escaped my lips. Her head whipped toward me, her eyes hard.

“You think it’s funny? That they are justified?”

“I didn’t say that,” I swallowed. “Not at all. So you and Cindar?”

“I don’t know.” She picked up my camera from the floorboards. “It gets lonely out there.” She rolled the camera over, “Now the film. I heard what you told Cindar. I’m not buying it.”

That’s not perfect, obviously, but it is better. Maybe a bit heavy-handed but I like the direction it is going in. It justifies the costumes while pointing out how awful they really are. Samantha now has a deeper character, the relationship now has a purpose, and the whole world (Bob’s world) is better (and by “better” I mean “darker and more complex”) for it.

So, that’s it. I’m Tom, and I’m not a misogynist. But sometimes I write like one.

One thought on “Misogyny and Me or I’m Not a Misogynist but Sometimes I Write Like One”

  1. Very thoughtful and insightful. Regardless of how I feel about that particular content or scene, your solution is light years better and (as you surmised) makes the story better in the process. Of course, now you’ve opened the lid to a new world of thoughtfulness and intention in your writing—at least in this particular area. Kudos.

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