As anyone who’s had time to read my debut will tell you, I’m not the sort of writer who shies away from negativity. My characters are all deeply flawed and occasionally unpleasant people, and I’m willing — some might say eager! — to dive deep into the uglier aspects of the average person’s psyche. We’re all a little horrible, and the world is full of horrible things, and I’m a big believer that art should imitate life.
And… with all that said, here are five very real things that you’re never going to see me include in a book unless I hang a big lampshade on it or have the book deconstruct it.
1. “I don’t get along with other women; I prefer having male friends. Women are just so catty.”
This is a really common attitude among women, especially young women. I remember saying things like that, myself! It’s a very real thing to write… but I’d only write it in a scenario where the character in question learns to value female friendships.
Society tells us women that we, as a gender, are mean-spirited, competitive, petty, and backstabbing. And for those of us who had a hard time fitting in when we were younger, it tells us that we’re different. We’re one of the only good ones and those ugly characteristics are just part of what women are and only men, who are clearly civilized and straight-forward and honest, can really understand us, the girl who isn’t like “normal” girls. It’s not hard to extrapolate what’s wrong with this. I want my writing to reflect what I’ve learned as I’ve grown: female friendships are valuable and important.
“I’m not like other girls and prefer the company of boys” is just a way to paint women as lesser, and realistic or not, it’s an all-too-common attitude I don’t want to perpetuate in any context.
2. The promiscuous bisexual.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with promiscuity. Every person has the right and the privilege to decide for themself what their sexual life will look like. Being promiscuous doesn’t say anything about you except that you’re confident and comfortable with that lifestyle and you’ve chosen it over another one. But you’re never going to see me write a bisexual character as promiscuous unless bisexuality is the norm in the story.
Because it’s so common — and it’s damaging. In a world where bisexuality is barely understood when it’s even acknowledged, bisexuals struggle constantly with the perception of being greedy or indiscriminate. Bisexuality is often seen as, not a valid sexual orientation, but a turbo-charged version of promiscuity. Liking sex so much that nothing about a partner matters except their willingness to engage.
In a world where bisexuality is understood and respected, a promiscuous bisexual is just another character and there’s nothing wrong with that. But in the world we actually live in, I don’t want to add another drop to the ocean of that particular stereotype.
3. “There’s just something about this incredibly weak male lead…”
Love is an incredible thing. It makes us into different people. Sometimes better, sometimes worse. When love bends us to its whim, we can sometimes do incredibly stupid things, or act like complete idiots. It can turn the hardest person in the world into a softie. But you’re never going to see me write an independent, tough lady go all weak at the knees and turn into a blushing bride when the right man looks her way.
Because really tough women are often portrayed this way in media because it makes them seem less intimidating. Look, she’s hard as nails — but she’s also so cute in the right lighting. It’s an easy way to make a character seem more palatable — and I don’t think that character types needs that! She’s amazing as she is and making her melt for a man just reinforces the idea that she needs to in order to be something people want to see.
Love brings out the mushy creamy center in us all. So if I want to show that with a hard as nails character, it’ll be through love for something other than a man.
4. Queerness as a phase.
Human sexuality is confusing. Most people have asked themselves questions, entertained ideas, and wondered about themselves in some way or another. It’s natural to be lost and bewildered in the maze of your own mind when it comes to sex or gender or attraction or romance. And it’s also a perfectly natural thing to come out of that maze as the society default. But I’m not going to write that.
Even though it’s normal for heterosexual people or cisgender people to question themselves, it’s a luxury to be able to answer those questions in a comfortable way — no matter how uncomfortable the questions themselves were. Queer people don’t get to have that comfortable answer. And because they didn’t answer the way that the “normal” person does, they get tagged with the assumption that they will… someday. Eventually.
I won’t write a character who has a queer phase because it contributes to the narrative that everyone who is queer is in the midst of a phase.
5. Power imbalances in relationships.
It happens. Either through socialization or something wired into us, knowledge and power can be sexy. A lot of perfectly healthy relationships in real life started out with one person in a position of authority over another. And a lot of unhealthy ones, too — remember when I said that I don’t shy away from the bad stuff under the bed! I am never going to write a relationship between a student and teacher or subordinate and superior.
I don’t want to run the risk of romanticizing a relationship where there is such a power imbalance. This trope almost always focuses on the relative innocence of the younger party and there’s something about it that just makes my skin crawl. And it’s incredibly common, both in fiction created by men and women!
Questionable and overused? I think I’ll keep my distance.