In Which I Rant, Feminist-Style
All day I’ve been trying to decide whether or not to publish this post. I don’t like being negative, and I don’t like ranting.
But sometimes, I think it’s necessary.
Last night, trying to decide on bedtime reading, I realised that it would be Short Story Monday soon and I hadn’t read anything! So I grabbed the horror anthology I’ve been reading, Poe’s Children. I haven’t loved all of the stories so far, but I’ve loved enough to make me want to keep reading it. So I read the next 5 (I tend to read books of short stories in their printed order).
The first was called “Leda.” Ok, I thought, “not my favourite Greek myth, but I enjoy retellings.” And then, I encountered this in the first paragraph:
I begin each day with a three-egg omelet. I hold each fragile orb and think of the swell of her vulva. Then I hit it against the bowl. It breaks.
I’m offended by that imagery. But I thought, “Maybe I’m being too sensitive.” And then there’s the description of the woman being raped by a swan. And it felt a bit sensationalistic, a bit voyeuristic, a bit exploitative. And then I read this passage, narrated by a rape hotline volunteer,
What? Well, no, it wasn’t a busy night at all. This isn’t New York, for God’s sake; we average, maybe, two, three rapes a year.
And I was confused. One in four women in America will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. So they must live in an awfully small town. I finished the story, but it left a sour taste in my mouth.
The next one was just some super-predictable, mediocre thing about a guy visiting a statue yard and ending up as one. But at least it didn’t have any odd violence/hostility towards women, so I began to calm down.
And then came “Plot Twist” by David Schow. I knew it wasn’t going to be my kind of story on the second page, with this dialogue:
“I’m out,” said Vira, tired of the game. “Tapped. Done. I give up.” She looked up at the reddening sunrise sky and shouted. “Hey! Hear me? I quit. F*ck you. If there’s aliens up there toying with us, then they can kiss my anal squint!”
But I saw it was pretty short, so I decided to continue. And, I’m totally giving away the ending here, but after these three friends (one woman and her boyfriend and his guy friend) have been wandering around lost in the desert, the guy friend feels the need to rape the woman. Yep, that’s the twist. And I’m going to type out the scene for you, so that you can understand my rage:
There were no fist-sized rocks or round stones, so Donny used his other boot to hit Vira in the back of the head, so he would not have to look at fresh blood while he raped her. Byt the second time, she was bloody anyway. She might have orgasmed once, through sheer autonomic reflex.
Actually, I’m going to stop there. WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?! (I’ve been trying to type calmly and display sophisticated reasing, but I just can’t handle that at all.) Women do NOT orgasm reflexivally when they’re sleeping with someone they love. And they sure as hell don’t have orgasms, which are the height of arousal and pleasure, when they’ve been knocked over the head while they’re sleeping and raped. I think it’s shameful that any author would write something like that, and I think it’s even more shameful that Mr. Straub would include this in his anthology that, in his introduction, he says is full of “The beautiful, disturbing, fearless stories …make up a kind of reading list for anyone who wants to experience what I think is the most interesting development in our literature during the last two decades.”
After I calmed down enough to get onto the next story, which was written by a man from the perspective of a male narrator about his wife’s miscarriages. The writing didn’t bother me, but I was sad that the story was once again about a woman being violated.
And to round out the five, there was a story that was a silly attempt at metafiction, but of course it had to end with the male narrator strangling a woman and cutting off her head, and how this guy has a fantasy of having s*x with a decapitated woman.
So I was angry again. And then, I decided to look at the table of contents…I hadn’t done it before because I got the book on a whim. There are 24 stories. There are 4 written by women. That’s not even 20%. That’s pretty pathetic.
And I’ve had a similar issue with Joe Hill’s short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts. Many of the narrators had a distinct anti-women stance, and the stories had a mysoginistic tone to them. Is there something about horror that makes writers want to demean or destroy their female characters?! Should I be willing to accept that? And should I give up on Poe’s Children? I got a different R.I.P. anthology that is all ghost stories written by women (The Virago Book of Ghost Stories). Or am I over-reacting to this whole thing?
Please chime in with comments!!! It’s an issue I’ve noticed more and more this year, so I’d love to see other peoples thoughts on it (guys and girls of course!).