[Spoiler alert for minor plot points about Fury’s Kiss and Man’s Ruin.]
I have been feeling overwhelmed lately by the number of revelations from women in the media about sexual assault, harassment, and abuse, especially at the hands of their employers. I think it’s awesome that the world is finally taking notice of this horrendous cultural norm, but the #MeToo movement has reminded me of my own experiences with harassment, some of which I prefer not to think about. It also has me questioning whether I have been complicit in the exploitation of my own gender.
On February 3, Jessica Chastain tweeted this statement, which is both powerful and accurate:
When violence against women is used as a plot device to make the characters stronger then we have a problem. It is not empowering to be beaten and raped, yet so many films make it their 'pheonix' moment for women. We don't need abuse in order to be powerful. We already are.
— Jessica Chastain (@jes_chastain) February 4, 2018
The thing is, I have used physical and sexual violence against a female character as a plot device. In my debut novel, Fury’s Kiss, the heroine manifests the powers of a Greek Fury when her life is endangered and she fights off her assailant. And Fury’s Kiss isn’t the only book in which I explore this type of interaction. In Man’s Ruin, there is a scene in which the threat of sexual violence is used by a villain to attempt the intimidation and subjugation of the heroine.
So how can I justify these scenes to myself and my readers?
I’ve devoted a lot of time to considering my reasons for writing about violence against women, and I think the reason I often circle back to it is because it is, or has been, a reality of everyday life for so many of us. The first time I was ever catcalled on the street, I was twelve years old. Twelve. When I was fifteen, I quit my first job because a man who was at least four decades older than me groped me on multiple occasions.
And as is the case for many (most?) women, it only got worse from then on.
I write about sexism and misogyny because I have experienced it. I think this is why I feel compelled to exorcise those demons through my writing. I’m sure that some critics might look at my work and find fault with it, but I can only write about the world as I see it.
When writing about violence, and specifically violence against women, I rely on these basic rules:
- The violence must serve a purpose to the plot or theme of the work. It must not be gratuitous or titillating.
- The woman wins in the end. Always.
- No explicit violence against children or animals.
These are my boundaries, and what works for me may not work for others. For example, I have read books that depict violence against children in a way that furthers a message or makes sense in the context of the plot (Room by Emma Donoghue comes to mind), but it’s not something that I feel comfortable writing right now.