I commented in my review of Edge of Tomorrow how it was great that Emily Blunt’s character is never questioned for being a woman and a highly respected solider at the same time. This complete lack of gender stereotyping shows that the world has in part moved forward to eradicate notions that men and women have different capabilities. The idea that people should know their limits based on their gender is slowly dying just not quickly enough.
Most unfortunately though sexism is still a harsh reality that many people in the world still have to face. I suppose I do have the topic at the forefront of my mind at the moment as I’ve been reading through Laura Bates’ ‘Everyday Sexism’ recently which is why I’m writing about it, but it is only because I’ve been more than a little bit shocked at what I’ve been finding out.
Firstly I’ve found out that I should be incredibly thankful that I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve not had to face much sexism in my life; I’ve never been catcalled in the street, I’ve never been intimidated by anyone into thinking I was any less of a person because I’m a woman and I only recall two incidents in my life where I was touched when I didn’t want to be. One guy stroked my long hair in a club, and the boy who pinched my bum at school only did it the once after I politely told him I would break his fingers if he ever did it again.
Perhaps I haven’t faced much because the ‘usual suspects’ wouldn’t want to be openly challenged by someone they think should just take a compliment and I’ve never been a doormat. I didn’t take the boy’s desire to pinch me as a compliment and he was more than a little shocked that I wasn’t grateful for the attention; sadly the rest of my classmates who witnessed it thought like he did, until I said I didn’t care what they thought either and that if they thought I did then they were delusional. Given I was one of the biggest swots/geeks/nerds/outcasts in my year this had less of an impact than if they had ever thought of me as ‘one of them’ in the first place.
Secondly though, I’ve learnt that sadly one of the long running themes of my writing, is more of a reality than I had really thought. As a writer I work predominantly as a fantasy novelist, creating worlds from scratch. In my ‘Phoenix Spell’ series, which I’m still in the process of writing, the empowerment of having a voice to cry out against sexual assault and enforced marriage is still a recent enough development in legal terms for sexism to be very much prevalent. The undercurrents of its effect can be seen throughout my books, from the harrowing belief that women are expected to only be wives and mothers to the daily fear for those that choose not to marry as being thought of as available for everyone.
Women by some people in my books are not seen as capable to be part of government, not deemed capable of being independent, not capable of being intellectuals and are expected to simply put up with being little more than second class citizens. And that is in the civilised half of my world, where the god they worship is a woman, so these ideas about women come from the humans themselves. In the darker half, women are only objects to be sacrificed via torture and mutilation as part of the entertainment; one of my main characters escapes from this place because she kills a man who tried to rape her. She is persecuted for it relentlessly because they see her has the guilty party, not the man who had every right to do as he wished with her.
Needless to say the books I write can be quite dark when it comes to the treatment of both men and women; lots of it I thought I had based on history. The one thing I always remember about the law codices written in medieval times was that fact that you would have been fined less for kidnapping and killing a woman, than if you kidnapped her and she was returned. However, given recent events in Sudan, Nigeria and India I can’t help but be a little bit horrified that some of the worst things I write about is still a reality.
The basis of my books is having law to help protect you; law which is created by experts, ratified by officials and enforced . A recent comment made by an official in India, in regards to gang rape along the lines of ‘boys will be boys’ still sends shivers down my spine. I can’t help but feel very sorry for the girls and their parents who don’t have that support. I also feel sorry for the millions of men in this world who are respectful and are being demonized by the acts of the few who aren’t being punished for their actions.
I don’t think the boy who pinched me learnt anything, but I’m glad that I didn’t tolerate it. It was such a minor act in comparison to what could have happened, but there is no line that can be drawn about where we stop tolerating it and where we start taking action. I can create my world where action is and will be taken to eradicate sexism but that is only in my writing. We need all need to stop tolerating Everyday Sexism and we all need to start shouting up a lot louder to stop the most horrific things in our world from happening at all.
Sexism should only be a part of our histories and the themes to fight about in our fiction, it shouldn’t still be a reality that we are living in. Once we manage that, I’ll can’t think of any reason for it to still be an issue in our fiction either, meaning it would only be left in our past.