Friday, August 5, 2011

Fighting for Women - Cultural Voices for Women Being Human

I read an interesting blog post by an author that got me thinking about the role of women in America and their struggles culturally and politically. Some people think that women have everything they need these days, but of course, those people are usually men and have no idea what they're talking about. 

Having been raised by a strong woman and a supportive man, I didn't think there was really anything I couldn't do for many years. I was sheltered. I thought things were based on my talents and skills, or even my appearance (i.e. presentation). Intellectually I knew there was still a boys club - I had heard about such things - but I had never experienced it. It wasn't until I was in college that I truly realized there still were boys clubs. For example, I was the only woman to complete a senior thesis in my department. I ended up being able to break into the boys club with other departments at parties by smoking cigars with the rest of the guys. It's not necessarily something I would recommend, but I did it. It made things easier for me. And I was the only woman to do so. Those men weren't particularly sexist, but they weren't helping to create a feeling of inclusion.

The most insidious sexism is that which is not overt - the little things, even by men who would otherwise not be considered sexist. The fact that women just *don't* participate in a certain area or job is enough to facilitate sexist practices. I worked at a company in a division that serviced military members and there were many more men than women. In a leadership position there, I had to be extra tough in order to be respected. I also had to really know my stuff. It was annoying to have that extra stress, and I am sure I was called many names behind my back. Social outings were rare within the division because it was so male dominated and you weren't going to find me going to a Hooters - EVER. So I spent time with other, more inclusive people from the company.

Those little things that add up, and are in some ways, more acceptable to discuss and protest. At least, they're easier, even if a man may deny the situation. Less acceptable is discussions of things like the definition of sexual assault, let alone reporting an incident. Women are sexually assaulted all the time, but it doesn't mean they're raped. Sexual assault is belittled because it is not "rape" but it can have just as lasting of an emotional, physical, and mental trauma for the victim as rape. It's one of the reasons why it is discussed in my book, The Brothers. I wanted to provide an avenue to at least bridge the subject, even though it is not the central theme of the book.

Media like the show being rolled out by NBC, so much music, video games, and even comic books, portraying women in particular shapes and situations encourages sexist behaviors in men (and women!) and can even lead to more dangerous behaviors - like total disrespect and dehumanization of women. When that happens, it is easy to see how women would be sexually assaulted, physically assaulted, or raped. When a woman is no longer a person, it is easy to make laws that strip away her rights, benefit a male dominated society, and hurt the woman.

More than ever, as a writer, I feel compelled to create strong female characters. Yes, they can be sexy - but they are sexy not because they're pretty. They're sexy because they're strong, smart, and talented. They give their supporting male characters a run for their money. I must write them. If I don't contribute to changing the cultural direction of my society, then I'm probably not doing my job. Maybe someone reading about Khloe will think, "Yeah, I'm female. I'm awesome. I can make the world a better place too!"

That would be the bee's knees.

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