I’m going to tell you a story about a woman that I don’t know. I don’t know her name, and quite honestly, I don’t even remember her face. Instead, I remember what happened to her and my response.
This was at the beginning of my career and I was new to conventions. It was late one night, and several of us, including her, were in the lobby chilling out, as we are wont to do. This man walked up, and I was excited, swooning, because I knew him. Or at least, knew of him. Everyone at that convention knew him. He’s as close to famous as you can get without being Stephen King in the field. Anyway, we were all talking and chatting, and then the Famous Writer Guy bent over and stared directly into this woman’s face. Just hovering there, ignoring the rest of us, blocking her from us. The woman looked around Famous Writer Guy to continue the conversation. Then he started touching her, lightly rubbing his finger up and down her arm, and then poked her, hard. She held up her arm to block him and stepped away, doing her best to ignore him. Famous Writer Guy moved closer to her and began rubbing her again. She looked to me and to the group. She’s thinking what I’m thinking, “This is Famous Writer Guy, what can I say? If I scream at him to cut it out, I’ll look angry and as if I’m blowing it out of proportion. If I smile or talk to him, he’ll think I’m interested in him. I’m scared.”
But none of us said a word. Nothing to help her out. This was her problem. One that I was damn glad that I didn’t have, so that I could ignore the hell out of it.
After a moment, she gave this meandering excuse about needing to get up early and left. Famous Writer Guy wandered off shortly after. Finally, I leaned in and whispered to the guy beside me, “That was uncomfortable. I hate seeing it because I’ll never be able to see him the same way.”
The guy’s response: “He was drunk. He’ll be better in the morning.”
Famous Writer Guy would be better in the morning. He would feel better, so obviously everything would be better. No Name Girl didn’t matter. She was simply a character in Famous Writer Guy’s story, a throwaway stand-in that could perhaps help him become a better person. That was all.
–Chesya Burke on harassment in horror.
[Content warning in the above and at the link, for discussion of harassment and rape.]
Sorry for the long quote, but it’s hard to have the denouement without the set-up for this one.
Burke’s post in general is about harassment in the horror genre, and she explicitly queries the link between acceptance of harassment with acceptance with the over-worn trope of rape in horror fiction.
Something of an aside: I love horror in general but I am so fucking sick of rape as a plot device, especially as written by men. Recently, I read an anthology of Shirley Jackson stories. These aren’t “horror” in the sense of “monsters and zombies and gore, oh my!”, but definitely “horror” in the sense of “horrible things people do”. They’re also all very understated–Jackson’s most well-known story, “The Lottery”, is also arguably the least subtle–and, notably, almost all of them are about women and/or women’s concerns. It wasn’t until after I’d finished reading the book that it occurred to me I’d gotten through the entire thing without that usual feeling of “… urgh” I inevitably get when reading works by men. You know the one I’m talking about, ladies.
It was kind of a stunning realisation, particularly for stuff nebulously labelled as horror–I’m too used to that genre being packed with “… urgh” moments, even for writers I quite like–and particularly particularly for stuff written in the first half of the 20th century (Jackson died in ’65, and a lot of her stories deal with the suffocating life of the pre-60s housewife).
Anyway. The next book I flicked to was another anthology, this one of Ray Bradbury. Literally the second story in the book, called “The April Witch”, turned out to be the pinnacle of “… urgh” moments.1
Male authors, amirite?
Tl;dr, female voices, yo. Important for every genre!
- Seriously, dudes, if you don’t get what I mean by “… urgh” moments then go read this story, think about why a woman might react extremely negatively to it–and, spoiler alert, there’s more than one reason–and your essay is due back on my desk by Monday. [↩]