Throughout Hush, Hush, Nora is a textbook case of the behavior Fugitivus describes:
If women are raised being told by parents, teachers, media, peers, and all surrounding social strata that:
* it is not okay to set solid and distinct boundaries and reinforce them immediately and dramatically when crossed (“mean bitch”)
* it is not okay to appear distraught or emotional (“crazy bitch”)
* it is not okay to make personal decisions that the adults or other peers in your life do not agree with, and it is not okay to refuse to explain those decisions to others (“stuck-up bitch”)
* it is not okay to refuse to agree with somebody, over and over and over again (“angry bitch”)
* it is not okay to have (or express) conflicted, fluid, or experimental feelings about yourself, your body, your sexuality, your desires, and your needs (“bitch got daddy issues”)
* it is not okay to use your physical strength (if you have it) to set physical boundaries (“dyke bitch”)
* it is not okay to raise your voice (“shrill bitch”)
* it is not okay to completely and utterly shut down somebody who obviously likes you (“mean dyke/frigid bitch”)
If we teach women that there are only certain ways they may acceptably behave, we should not be surprised when they behave in those ways. And we should not be surprised when they behave these ways during attempted or completed rapes.- Aja of Bookshop in her post Bad Romance
Late last night, my BFFLs and I were trading stories as girls often do. One in particular was about a cousin (not mine) who had been talking to another guy that we all knew from Facebook regularly. They were discussing a club that they were both in and he kept asking her to meet at a restaurant on campus to talk in person instead of just online. For whatever reason, this made the girl very, very uncomfortable.
"Well, why doesn't she just tell him she doesn't want to meet up with him?" says I.
"She's really straightforward in everything else, except guys. She doesn't know how," says the BFFL.
Um...what? So, the rest of the conversation goes like this:
"This is the problem with a lot of girls. They're taught to be polite at the cost of their own comfort. And if they're not, they're considered a bitch," says I.
"Speaking of," second friend chimes in. "I felt really bad for XXX when you told him to sit down after he offered to walk you to the metro."
(Also, I promise this is all connected.)
So does anyone see the bridge here between the conversation we were having, to the conversation that second friend started? No? I will give you another story.
A very large group of us went out to dinner about forty five minutes (via train) from where we live. It was getting late, the mother realized I was still out and demanded that I return to campus immediately. Being the good girl that I was, I picked up my purse, said my good byes, and prepared to leave. It was dark outside, it was shady, but I could handle myself. Despite that (and I'm not saying this is a bad thing) a guy stood up and told me he was going to walk me to the metro. He didn't want me walking the few blocks alone in the dark and so he was going to do it. My response? Sit yo' ass down. I can handle myself. I don't need you to walk me to the metro.
Basically, my friend (who I love dearly) consciously or subconsciously thinks I'm a bitch for turning him down. And it isn't this specific incident that made her think that. It's that in general, I have a very hard line towards the male gender. If you're in my space I'll tell you. If you say something that makes me uncomfortable I'll tell you. If you treat me like you have a claim on me, I will disabuse you of that notion very quickly.
But, to my shock and disappointment, this isn't something that most girls do. Most girls are taught to be polite and not cause a problem, even if it costs them their physical safety and dignity. Most girls, if guys bother them, say, 'No, no. It's okay. It's not a big deal.'
Uh. Excuse me? It's not a big deal? Who is telling you that? And why are they telling you this? Where the hell did this idea come from? If a guy is bothering you, what you're supposed to do is tell them to leave you the hell alone. Not grin and bear it. And I find it incredibly depressing that this idea of grinning and bearing it is such a part of our culture that it's made it's way into young adult literature.
Guys. Do you know that people are reading what you write? Did you know that? And did you know that when you have a main character that allows herself to be stalked and thinks it mother-fraking sexy that you're teaching girls that its okay to be stalked? You're reinforcing this idea that girls should grin and bear it and carry on.
I, personally, have hard and fast rules for myself about the way women and men interact. If I can touch you when I stick my arm out, you're too close. If you're being vulgar to or around me, you had best leave before I say something. Also, I don't know who you are or where you come from, but I'm not your problem, I'm not your responsibility, and I sure as hell ain't your goddamn property. So take your hands off of me, step back and don't tell me what to do 'cause I don't have a problem telling you where you can take that macho mess and stuff it.
Mothers, you should be teaching this to your daughters. Women, you should be looking out for each other and telling each other that it's okay to get an attitude and that your safety is so much more important than whether or not you fluster a few people.
And writers. You're not obligated to write anything but what you want to write. But take a good, hard look at what you're writing. What is the message you're sending out? What are you telling both the girls and the boys that are reading your work? Are you helping reinforce the idea that it's okay for a girl to be silent and harassed and that it's okay for a guy to harass her? That yes means no? That love starts with malicious, dangerous, hurtful acts and that this is the foundation for a healthy, lasting relationship?
I'll be honest. I don't read too much paranormal romance (and as I understand it, this is where the main problem lies) but what I have read is disturbing. What I read about it is disturbing. And what I see in women and young girls that I know is disturbing. And you, as a writer, have the power to enforce this disturbing trend or to help break it.