If I have to explain the title of this blog post, then you’ve probably been living on a different planet for, well, most of humanity.
Far too often in the slush pile, I read disturbingly violent stories about women. Some even turn my stomach and leave me wondering how someone could write such a thing.
But most often, it’s the stereotypical female roles that overflow the slushpile. Enough so that Suzanne (ie. Wielder of Great Editorial Power) recently updated the Flash Fiction Online submission guidelines with this little gem:
PLAYBOY: We’ve grown more than weary of stories in which women are objectified, little more than buxom prizes to be won or the targets of sexual victory or violence. The same would also be true if we happened to receive a plethora of stories in which men are objectified in a similar manner. But we don’t. Come on, guys. Take a leap into the 21st century.
So, a few hints on what’s definitely going to get you axed in the slushpile:
Betty Homemaker – she was created by Hollywood to glamorize women returning to their traditional roles when WWII vets needed jobs after returning stateside. Betty doesn’t really exist. Real women are complex and messy and have toddlers hanging on their ankles and answer the door in their yoga pants. So when women are written in the Betty Homemaker archetype, it immediately reads as false to anyone who’s ever had to pick smashed Cheerios out of her hair before a dinner party.
The Victim – weak and cowering, the Victim asked for violence in some way. She made a bad decision — wrong place, wrong time; married the jerk; wore the short skirt; had too much to drink; left her door unlocked; went down the basement stairs alone…. The flip side of the Victim is always the Perpetrator (who usually gets some sick fantasy kick out of holding power over the Victim).
Little tip: Women don’t exist in order to be controlled. They are not a fallback plot device anytime you need someone to control or commit violence against. Make someone/something else the victim for a change.
The Sexy Sidekick – her only job is to pop cleavage and make her man look good. She might fire a few rounds off a high powered weapon but she still isn’t a fully fleshed out character (except in ways that make her seams strain attractively under the male gaze).
Sexy Sidekick is also going to get your story axed in the first round. She trivializes women who work hard, who get dirty and do what it takes. Real women who throw down with the bad guys don’t need cleavage and fire engine red lipstick (unless they want to… and then, you go girl…) to prove both their strength and their femininity.
The Princess Prize – Ahhh… everyone’s favorite. The hero suffers and toils. He fights giants or his own depression, gets hit by a car or learns to walk over fire, and he’s rewarded by receiving the love of a woman. He doesn’t have to woo her in any significant way. He doesn’t have to get to know her, take her out for sushi, or cat sit her Siamese that won’t use the litter box. Nope. All he has to do is show up, wave around some dragon’s teeth, and she falls into his arms.
It’s not the Dark Ages anymore. Daddy doesn’t get to hand over his daughter in exchange for watering rights to the neighbor’s land. A wife isn’t a prize for winning at B-I-N-G-O.
Ladies, would you really want to spend a lifetime with some guy you met ten minutes ago? Even if he did have a Gorgon head and well-muscled calves?
I thought not.
I have serious believability issues with the Princess Prize stories when they show up in my slushpile. Hence, the first round rejection.
To be fair, I’m not just talking to the men here. We get stories like this from men and women. These female stereotypes are buried deep in our culture. So I ask you, across gender lines, to think before you plot. Re-examine your story’s casting. Shake things up.
I believe in you.
Now go write me a story. And submit!