By Louise Ure
Maybe it’s just because I’ve been on a Stieg Larsson kick the last couple of weeks. I haven’t ordered the third in the series yet, but both The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire are steeped in the world of violence against women. Whether it’s the kidnapping, torturing and killing of women explored in the first book or the horrors of the sex trade in the second book, Larsson focused on the perils women face today and created a kick-ass heroine in Lisbeth Salander (who one blogger called “a deviant Lara Croft”) to confront the problem.
And when I turned on the local news this morning, all four lead stories were about crimes against women. The continuing hunt for the killer of a 24-year old Asian woman. The carjacking and rape of a woman driving late at night in a Mercedes SUV. An elderly woman assaulted on a nature trail as she was walking a dog. No progress in the case of a dismembered young girl’s body found in a suitcase.
While I’m glad that the media and our best selling novelists decry crimes against women, the stats just don’t support the emphasis.
- Yes, 95% of all rapes and sexual assaults are against women.
- But only 44% of all armed robberies in the U.S. are.
- Only 33% of all assault victims are women
- And only 25% of murder victims (1/3 of whom were killed by a partner or spouse).
But in books, TV shows and news stories, the number of female victims are much higher. I fear that in all three cases (news, film entertainment and literature), women-in-danger stories equal ratings and sales.
In an article in the U.K.’s The Guardian last fall, author and critic Jessica Mann discussed an increasing trend in crime fiction to write plots with male antagonists and female victims that come close to “sadistic misogyny.”
“Each psychopath is more sadistic than the last and his victims’ sufferings are described in detail that becomes ever more explicit, as young women are imprisoned, bound, gagged, suffocated, stabbed, boiled or buried alive,” she said.
A publisher quoted in that same Guardian article added, “Dead, brutalized women sell books, dead men don’t.”
Publishers have a shorthand name for this: Fem Jep, if the details aren’t too gory. Torture Porn, if they are.
I’m equally culpable in my own work. The victims in my novels are primarily women and the protagonists (all women) definitely fall into the Female-in-Jeopardy mold by the end of the book. I can only blame that on the fact that I write about what I know and what I am most afraid of.
Val McDermid, when asked about women writing more violent plot lines, said: “When women write about violence against women, it will almost inevitably be more terrifying because women grow up knowing that to be female is to be at risk of attack. We write about violence from the inside. Men, on the other hand, write about it from the outside.” I’m not sure I agree with her inside/outside definition, but I do know that women can write equally dark and violent books as men do.
If the success of these Women in Peril novels are any indication, we don’t want to read about cats or kids in jeopardy but there better be lots of man-on-woman danger involved. It’s as old as The Perils of Pauline and as new as The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, but these days the women are likely to rescue themselves instead of waiting to be untied from those railroad tracks.
How about you, my ‘Rati pals? Do you enjoy reading Fem Jep novels? Do you enjoy writing them? And when does Jeopardy turn into Misogyny?
Maybe I’m being clueless, but I don’t pay attention to that very much — keeping track of the people in peril or the gender of the victims. I’m looking for a good read and for me, that entails interesting setting, good character interaction, plot unfolding somewhat realistically at a good pace. I read a lot of historical mystery though, and not the noir-ish, darker, gritty stuff probably for the reasons you’ve touched upon but I’ve never articulated it. Historical times weren’t pretty but I’m not out looking for gory; it’s just not my cuppa.
I am reading the Hornet’s Nest book right now, just finished the first one last week – and although I love the character of Salander, and think the books are very well written, I’m finding it heavy going – particularly this one with the focus on sex trafficking.
At the same time I’m writing my own first crime novel, and am feeling somewhat disappointed to read dead men don’t sell books, as I’m just about to kill one… 😉
I’m not sure how I feel about it. I like Val McDermid’s books and I think the way she writes is always to show the impact – it’s about making the context feel real.
Have you seen the Meg Ryan/Jane Campion film, In The Cut – I think that illustrates the problem very well. I know some men who have seen the film find the violence in it particularly shocking – because the female character kills a man…. Fascinating topic.
Seems to me that there are three ways a female character can be in Jeopardy: as the protagonist, as a secondary character, or as The Victim.
When you have a female protagonist in a mystery or thriller, it will most likely develop into a Fem Jep novel. What use is a story in which the protagonist experiences no risk?
Secondary or supporting female characters in jeopardy can provide plot points, but you really have to be careful to keep them from becoming Sweet Polly Purebread. Remember her? Underdog’s girlfriend who existed for no other reason than to get captured then rescued? Amusing in a cartoon, but boring in a book. Then there’s the danger of the reader sighing, going "TSTL (too stupid to live)" and putting the book down in exasperation. I’ve done this a lot (and I’m wrestling with it in my current WIP).
Finally, there’s The Victim, the character who exists only to provide a corpse. From what I’ve seen, it’s the brutalization of these female characters that gets the most negative attention, because if you’re not careful, she really IS an object. If you don’t take the time to make her anything else than a walk on who gets carried offstage under a sheet after suffering horrible abuse, then I think the feminist critics have a point. But I think that the reason so many of these characters are women is that they are perceived as weaker and more helpless–and that’s why what the villain does seems so much more evil.
PK, I like your approach. I had a boss once who, when asked how many women he had in his department, stammered: "I don’t know. I know how many people I have but not now many men and women." I liked him the better for it.
Ann G, I think it’s "…Who Played With Fire" that involves the sex trade. Hornet’s Nest is the new one and I think it comes out today. I’ll have to go find "In the Cut". It may be hard to watch, but it sounds great.
And JD, your reply could be a primer on the subject. Thanks for that. And for the memory of Underdog’s girlfriend.
Interesting statistics, Louise.
I have decided that my soul does not need to be exposed to such violence, even in literature. I’ve all but stopped watching the likes of Medium and CSI:Wherever because of that sort of thing, and have not watched Criminal Minds in a long time because of same. Patricia Cornwell’s books have turned so dark that I can’t bear to read them anymore, and she was long one of my favorite thriller authors.
My theory is that we bring certain things to us, and being steeped in violence does not help me maintain my wa (James Clavell novel reference, in case you don’t understand).
My sister-in-law feels the same way Karen in OH. But I’m glad you still like mysteries. They don’t have to be steeped in violence and many won’t disturb the wa.
I’ve read all three Larsson books, and while yes, Lisbeth Salandar suffers greatly at the hands of men, she is capable of wielding her own assaults as well. But she wouldn’t have to if she hadn’t been attacked and assaulted first.
That said, I did enjoy the books, and I did not find them too disturbing to read. Karin Slaughter, on the other hand, is one of those authors I just cannot read. I read one of her books and found it so disturbing and chilling in her crimes against women that I just can’t pick up another book of hers.
You’ve given me a lot to think about, Louise. Particularly since my second Hayden book deals with human trafficking and has some bondage and torture elements. Yet it also deals with women empowering women, and brings in an organization called RAGE, or Rallying Against Global Exploitation (the real organization is called SAGE), which is designed to help trafficked women – to take them in, hide them, give them legal support and help educate them.
Nice to see you here, Karen O. Like you, I enjoyed the Larsson books, but I’m having the devil’s own time figuring out why they became best sellers. They’re not as poorly written as Dan Brown’s oeuvres, and I love the character of Lisbeth (cartoonish as she is), but there’s nothing really remarkable about them either. (Slaughter’s work scares me, too, but I think she’s a brilliant writer.)
Stephen, I think the scenes you describe can be well-delivered, but it’s all in the intent. I read a book several years ago where the author (male) went on for sixteen pages, graphically describing a rape from the rapist’s point of view. I felt that the author was enjoying it too much. It didn’t need that kind of detail to deliver the emotional impact it deserved.
Well, you certainly aren’t letting your mind atrophy. What gourmet food for thought.
I’m wondering about books written in the 40’s and 50’s. Has the emergence of the female in the workplace made her more of a target for authors?
I also wonder how much a male author uses his fantasies to create scenes of torture or bondage (just as a female romance writer might use her fantasies to play on other women’s fantasies) and I write that without judgment on the male or female.
Like Karen, I am becoming repulsed by the apparent need to increase graphic TV violence (not that I yearn for the insipid Ozzie and Harriet days). I’ve just finished reading Hart’s The Last Child. I thought he had an excellent balance between the weak women and the weak men and addressed pedophilia without detail, but with a great degree of reader angst.
Thanks, Louise, I’ll never read a book without thinking about your post. Missing your face, by the way. J
JD made most of my points and, as usual, he did it better.
I don’t care for Fem Jep. In crime fiction, someone is almost always in jeopardy, but, as Louise’s boss once said, their gender doesn’t/shouldn’t matter; the story is primary.
Putting women in jeopardy strictly as a way to ratchet up tension is, I think, cheating. I like to read and write criminals who commit crimes for a reason. Saying they like to/need to kill women isn’t a reason; it’s an expedient for a lot of writers who lack the ability to create reasonable motives for crimes.
I do think there’s a lot of merit in what val McDermid says. I interviewed Mark Billingham once and asked him what affect, if any, showed up in his writing after he was robbed at gunpoint and threatened with imminent death. He said it gave him a better understanding of victims, and he’d never let the victim’s story get swallowed by the larger mystery. McDermid’s comment is a good parallel; someone who has lived under a greater threat of violence should be able to describe it better.
I think the author does bring a lot of her own psycho-sexual mindset to the creation of a character or plot, whether it’s reflective of her fantasies or her fears.
And I adored the John Hart book, too. Really well done.
You’re pretty articulate about the subject yourself, Dana, and I think you and Billingham are right. A soldier does a better job of describing a battle scene than a non-soldier.
I agree with you, Louise, 100%.
I agree in the main with JD’s post. I find that I like to read (and write) stories with strong female leads. GIven the genre, it seems nearly inevitable that the female character will end up in jeopardy at some point. But the jeopardy has to be something more than merely voyeuristic, or it’s just pointless victimization.
In my novel-in-progress, I just finished writing one of the climactic scenes. The scene involves the baddies hurting her in the worst way they can, by victimizing someone she cares deeply about. And, I have to be honest that I went in the bedroom and cried after I wrote the scene; I have a really hard time sometimes hurting my characters. However, the scene served several important purposes in the storyline, both in terms of my MC’s reactions to what happened and in making the reader feel as though the bad guys deserve their ultimate fate. And, I made the decision that the worst of the violence needed to happen off-camera, that the reader needed to see the aftermath of the Terrible Act without actually seeing the character’s brutalization. A more direct approach just seemed too voyeuristic, too needlessly licentious. I wanted my readers to be horrified, not titillated, and I think (hope?) I’ve found the right balance there.
On the other hand, I’m sure that if/when this novel sees the light of day, someone will accuse me of pulling punches at the critical moment. So, I guess we’ll see. But violence that moves the character forward, that moves the plot forward, or that otherwise adds to the story is a good thing in my world. Violence that serves merely to increment the count of dead pretty white women in the novel is another thing entirely.
I’m fine with fem jep, but not fine with overdone, gratuitous violence against women. I’m tired of reading it, and I’m one of the perpetrators! It’s sometimes necessary, especially when writing books about serial killers, but it can be soul-sucking. I do think women can write the specific terror of it better, because no matter what, sex is still a consideration in all things. For centuries, women lived in fear of the men around them, were dominated, abused and treated as chattel. In too many countries, that’s still true today.
ON THE OTHER HAND – and it’s a big hand – enlightening the world that this is happening is part of our jobs as writers. I think it’s vital for us to create social commentary as much as provide entertainment.
Can’t we just have Char Jep – putting our characters in jeopardy that’s appropriate to their personalities and experience?
Yes, I put Charlie in jeopardy. I’ve hinted at the terrible things in her past that helped mould her into who she is now. I’ve drugged her, TASER’d her, stabbed her and shot her, but I never think of her as a victim.
Perhaps that’s where I’m going wrong…;-]
Great post! I was reading Philip Kerr’s Berlin Trilogy some months back, and came across a Christa Faust essay on Fem Jep and how in PI/noir it is routine to have the male PI obsessed with the gorgeous girl who ends up dead or naked and dead, but the dynamic is never reversed.
And that made me think about what I was reading….WHY did each book have to have at least one explicitly detailed, over the top scene of rape, torture and murder against beautiful naked women? I’m female – I’m tough but have a lot of feeling and regret killing lobsters and bugs for pete’s sake – is this entertaining to me?
No. Though tough female protagonists still are – just don’t make us the beautiful nude victims all the time (who don’t survive to kick ass in retribution).
I guess I never really thought about it, but there does seem to be a lot of genre fiction out there that falls in the Fem Jep category, as it were. Me personally, I prefer for the protag to always be in jeopardy or there isn’t as much suspense (will she/he make it?). I’ve also read a few lately where there is a child in jeopardy, though they rarely actually become a victim. Not sure what that says about society, that it’s okay for a woman to actually experience all manner of terrible shit, but not a child. Wonder why that is?
Tammy, you probably made the right decision by leaving the most graphic violence off the page and in the reader’s mind. I did the same thing with my first book, Forcing Amaryllis, after first writing it with a very descriptive rape scene of the protagonist’s sister, Amaryllis. The more I read that draft, the more I realized the act was more vicious if left to the reader’s imagination.
Good point, JT. We do provide context and social commentary in work like this. I just hope we can do that without prurience.
"Char Jep," Zoe. When I first read that I thought you meant "Charlie Fox Jeopardy." What I adore about your work is that you put her through trials and challenges; you never make her a victim.
MJ, those PI/Noir novels were built around the 1930’s and 1940’s formula of sexual stereotypes of the times. Unless we intend to write in that retro style, I’d hope we could be done with the Beautiful-Naked-Dead trope by now.
Good question, Jake. Do we disallow violence against children and animals because we see them as Innocent? That must mean that women are not seen as Innocent, non?
I read an article on Stieg Larsson where he is said to have commented on "how slander, innuendo and rumour were utilised by hate groups “to legitimise the actions” that followed — ie, retributional violence. This is in some ways a metaphor for his novels. Readers are persuaded of the loathsome tactics of Salander’s opponents and accordingly her violent reaction has a moral justification. There was also some more basic thinking behind the stories, however. “I told him I felt there was too much violence and sex in the books. But he replied that sex was what sold books.”
Retributional violence. Setting up a character’s excuse for violence based on her misfortunes. As you all have mentioned, it would seem to put the author in a delicate spot, deciding how far to go with revenge or how far to sterilize a character’s inherent reactions to injustice. Larsson somewhat removed Lisbeth’s responsibility for her violence and anger by writing her mental illness and distancing her with that from becoming a truly loathsome sociopath. Sociopath, yes, but one seen not as ‘bad’ as her offenders. Justified in retributional violence. Asperger’s being one of her excuses. The reader is absorbed in pity and terror and moral outrage rather than shrinking back from her amazingly cool, violently brutal acts.
Louise. It was interesting that you said " I felt that the author was enjoying it too much." There have been some of Greg Iles books that have made me think that, at times. The violence can be so detailed and nauseating (especially when he gets into the subject of dog fighting…you know how I am a ‘dog person’). I don’t know. I am sure that sickening scenes are always draining for an author. It does make for really excellent story telling. The newspaper, as you said, is full of the real deal, so why does a novel make us cringe more severely? I don’t have that answer. Fiction shouldn’t make us more scared than reality. It’s just a STORY, right? Hell. Nothing was scarier than the old German faery tales. Hansel and Gretel? Whew! Makes ya think twice about going for a stroll with your bro in the forest, ya know?
Stephen! Can’t wait to read your next book!!! and yours TOO Louise!!
Interesting post and one that strikes home. While I’ve noticed the trend in novels regarding women in jeopardy, it is the relentless beat of women in peril on the news that really gets my goat. Particularly close to home is the nearly constant refrain that women in the military are helpless victims, that 1 in 3 are subjected to sexual assault at some point in their careers and that rapes are on the rise within the ranks. When a congresswoman says that women in the military are more likely to be raped than killed by enemy contact, I bristle.
We as a society still struggle with what is ok for women and what is not. Collectively, and no matter how much we might protest vocally, we still have a deep discomfort with women’s roles outside the home, no matter how many of us are doing just that and thriving. The rise of fem-jep in both news and fiction is an outgrowth of that discomfort and its one that, frankly, pisses me off because we never get to a point where we can have a real discussion with real solutions.
Rapes in the military are discussed by the outliers, by women who have never served or by journalists who are looking for a victim instead of searching for the real problems. Media outlets feed on fear, so fem-jep stories lead and repeat over and over and because these are real fears that are over hyped, the fem-jep story feeds into popular fiction.
I’m really not sure who gains from fem-jep. Women certainly don’t because we are constantly looking over our shoulders instead of forging new paths. Men don’t because women look at every man as though he’s a potential Ted Bundy. And the underlying theme of fem-jep – weak woman, strong man – doesn’t do our society a bit of good.
It’s a great and thought provoking post you have here and one that could be debated for a long long time.
I agree with Louise…the point-of-view of the sicko villain relishing in the rape/mayhem/torture scenes are the ones I cannot abide. I can read quite noir stories with a great deal of violence, but where the reader is subjected to the view of the evildoer who enjoys the torture and is planning more, is where I draw the line. I have encountered this in books written by both men and women and when I encounter it, I immediately stop reading that book.
I enjoy reading and writing PEOPLE in jeopardy books. As a writer, I’ll shy away from describing any crime against a woman (or a man, for that matter) in gratuitous detail, but I am attracted to crime stories — probably because most of us are helpless against crime and it’s nice to see the world set straight sometimes.
Of course, my bad guy did kidnap and bury a fifteen year-old alive in one of my books. But most of the horror in that is in your head, not on the page.
Anonymous, you’re right about all the excuses provided for Salander’s retributional violence. But if I liken it to those two Russian robbery victims trying to kill the other two guys in front on my house, it’s clear to me that, in real life, sometimes no excuse is good enough.
Jess, I have no insight into the female soldier/rape stories, but it does seem as if, while true, the stories are being used in yet another attempt to alarm and frighten. You’ve stated the case well.
Jean, so far I’ve just been skipping those scenes. And have you noticed how many times the most gruesome-evildoer’s POV scenes are written in italics? Easy to spot. Easy to skip.
Rob, I do appreciate our genre’s ability "to set the world straight." It’s my favorite thing about crime fiction. And it’s funny how the imagination can often be more powerful than the printed word.
Yes. No excuse. Having been a victim (I really hate to think that of myself…I’ll say ‘recipient’) of severe domestic abuse for 38 years, I KNOW that there can never be an excuse for retribution. Violence to save a life or one’s own is the exception to that, I guess. Anyway. Violence sucks in any form. Violence against women sucks. It bothers me to read fem jep but it is a huge part of the genre…..and for all of the reasons stated here on the blog, today. But, hey. It’s a ‘crime’ what has happened to women of the world throughout history. We could start with poor ol’ victimized Eve. But there’s the children victims. The elder victims. Racial victims. Inordinate amount about women? It’s because we have those darn vaginas! Whateryagonnado?
Jess? I read your blog the last couple of days and want to say how sorry I am for your disappointment. Please don’t stop writing, though. Save all that good stuff. You’ll have your day.
I agree with Jessica. There is an old, old anger between the sexes that has never been resolved, and can be discussed forever. Do we hate what we need? Anyway, the best books entertain and enlighten, and sometimes, do shock. By the way, The book, "In the Cut," ended very differently, and painfully compared to the movie. I like some resolution in my books as well. Am I alone in thinking that "fem-jep" trivializes the situation, or am I far too serious?
BTW. I didn’t mean to make light of serious subject matter by my vagina remark. But until all men get one of their own…I don’t see anything changing.
Have to agree with the commenters who balk at torture or imminent threat of same . Can’t read it. And I’ve been annoyed at "Law & Order" for years. Every time I tuned in, the body of some poor woman was lying on the floor, blood all around….There seems to be a societal curiosity about the bad things that happen to the most vulnerable. I can’t explain it. On bad days, I think about Rome’s entertainment: Christians and lions. On good days, I read authors who obviously aren’t pandering to that, including you, Louise!
Anonymous, you’re a stronger woman than I. Thirty-eight years of domestic abuse would make me not want to read or watch any violence at all. But maybe women appreciate these Jeopardy novels because we can identify with the situation: it’s a fear we’ve known since we were little girls.
Yes, Lil, I think the term Fem Jep does trivialize the sub-genre. The same way the phrase "playing the racial card" trivializes the importance of including ones’ racial identity in a response to a situation. It seems to be a pat on the head instead of a recognition that "this is important to my racial/sexual/psychological worldview."
Susan, Law & Order SVU was the worst: a series I’ve dubbed "Thong Panties and Blood Pool" in my mind.
Anonymous’s comment reminded me of one of my favorite poems, Marge Piercy’s only-too-powerful "Rape Poem" (available online here). The poem manages to be pulls-no-punches horrifying without being over-the-top graphic, and it describes women as "those who dare live in the leafy flesh open to love", a description I dearly love.
I’m married to a violent crime survivor. You want to be scared? Listen to her talk about THE BURNING BED, and how it doesn’t go far enough.
One of my two WIPs could have gone into femjep territory. Never intended it, but it might have gone that way. Coulda happened. Might’ve happened. After today’s discussion, it will not.
Tom, Fem Jep doesn’t have to be a negative thing. It can be written positively as long as the violence is not gratuitous, and you’d never do that. Say hey to that strong, sweet woman you’re married to.
Louise. I am not strong. I am weak. I should have left my situation a long long time ago. I kept thinking things would get better. That’s not optimism, it is merely stupidity. I had a lovely childhood. Loving nurturing parents and brother who were forever telling me how brilliant and talented and beautiful I was. I actually BELIEVED them!! and well……..you can see that they were RIGHT, ‘eh? : – )
I have stopped loving myself as much as I should. I am pretty cynical about most things. But I read. Good fiction has always been my safe zone. I DO empathize with women who are mistreated. I LOVE it when the bad guy gets ‘his’. I AM angry that a lot of times being a female seems so ‘unfair’. Then I think of Somali women. Hooo boy.
That is a pretty gripping poem, Tammy. Wow. Beautiful.
Thankfully I have never been raped or mugged or beaten. Just treated like I should have been.
"Fem Jep doesn’t have to be a negative thing."
True . . . but we (as an industry) probably aren’t thinking enough about alternatives. Your protagonist in THE FAULT TREE is a great example of turning the tables on readers’ expectations, to the benefit of all.
Jessica’s right from the larger societal pov, though. Poor Belinda’s been tied to railroad tracks often enough.
"Thankfully I have never been raped or mugged or beaten. Just treated like I should have been."
Anon, sometimes you make me cry. Love yourself more, please.
Tom, you’re right. The Fault Tree is probably Fem Jep. But it’s Fem Jep I can live with.
I can live with Fem Jep, have written it myself, but that’s because I write female protags and bad things happen to them on occasion. But I don’t like violence for the heck of it — toward women or men — and tend to stay away from emotionally/physically cruel fiction because I can’t get past the image of the Romans and the gladiators . . . watching people suffer, putting them in that position, for the sheer amusement of it.
I don’t think of books as Male Jep or Fem Jep. I figure women get attacked in books perhaps more often then men, but how it’s handled is what matters.
Gratutitous, salacious violence? I don’t like it despite who it involves.
The catch for me is not who’s in jeopardy, but who fights back. If the woman in jeopardy sits around waiting for a man to save her, I tend to stop reading. Tammy used to call books like that "woman in a pit" because the character can’t do anything but wait. That presents a stereotype of women that just pisses me off.
If, however, she’s able to stand up for herself, then I don’t think about gender roles in jeopardy.
Fran, you and Pari are nith right to evoke the gladiator/pit imagery that Susan Shea mentioned. Where’s an Amazon when you need one?
And Tammy, that poem is magnificent.
Nith. Good one, L.
"Where’s a good gladiator when you need one?" Louise, does your question bring this lively discussion right back to the beginning? To Lisbeth Salander, who, from what I’ve heard, is a damaged human who has trained herself to be tough – to kill – for her own survival. Does she qualify as a modern gladiator? And, if so, do we need her? There’s no escaping this world. If there were, I’d probably be off to St. Mary’s Mead!
Well, I MEANT Amazon, but my pea brain is drifting….
I don’t enjoy reading gory violence, but it’s not a deal breaker. What is a deal breaker is when it’s glorified, romanticized, or mocked. Lame as it is, my all-time worst squig out was a Stephanie Plum book, in which Janet Evanovich wrote a scene where a guy kidnapped and tried to rape a woman because he was too geeky to lose his virginity any other way. I guess that was supposed to be funny, but it wasn’t. I’m still appalled that someone with a vagina could write something as disgusting as a ‘funny’ rape scene. To this day I cannot come up with a scenario where that sort of thing deserves a laugh.
The best thing about Lisbeth Salander is that she is a derivation of Pippi Longstocking !!! Larsson wanted to explore what a modern day Pippi would be like………..wonderful.
See what you writers can do? ; – }
Ah. The real decision. To escape this world…… St. Mary Mead or St. Mary’s Mead? I’d take some of that St. Mary’s mead before I was off to the village of St. Mary Mead. For escape, that is………
Fran, what you said!!!
I’m late to the party, but Louise this was a fascinating and interesting post and made me think about the whys as well as my own writing.
I always have a strong female and strong male protagonist (since I write romantic suspense.) Sometimes the heroine is in jeopardy and sometimes the hero is in jeopardy and sometimes both at different times. It would be really boring to always write the same thing.
I thought most of my books focused on female victims, but in counting them up I have only 4 of 13 where the victims are exclusively women. 2 are exclusively male victims, including the one I’m writing now (though there is a stalker aspect against one of the female characters.) The majority have a mix of victims, male and female, for different reasons. In 6 there was no sex crimes, or the sex crime aspect was a minimal part of the storyline. I have written two books where there was shown violence against women, but I never felt the violence was over-the-top, and it was never glorified. I’m sure some would disagree with me.
I think that society as a whole, men and women, want to protect women and children and thus when a woman or child is in jeopardy, the reader emotionally is more connected with the story–they desperately want the bad guy to get caught. Men are perceived as being able to take care of themselves, there isn’t an emotional connection of needing to protect men as a whole. Considering that 80% of fiction readers are women, women can connect better emotionally with female victims because I doubt that there is one of us who hasn’t thought about being vulnerable at one time or another. And most of us know someone who was raped, molested, or had a near-experience with sexual violence. That goes ditto for readers.
But what Fran said about who fights back–that hit home. I don’t write wimpy women as lead characters who depend on someone else to solve their problems or save them. Sometimes the hero saves the heroine, sometimes it’s the other way around, but usually they are working together to defeat the bad guy.
I am very conscious of the fem jep problem, because I consider women to be my target audience.
I’m going to echo a point here that I read in several comments because I think it’s an important one. What’s important for writers to remember is that putting a *character* in jeopardy is what matters, male or female. If you have to use gratuitous violence or gory imagery to tell your story, you’re probably not focusing on the plight of your characters. And that’s probably just bad writing. Sex scenes are the same way (violent or otherwise). If violence, fem jep, and sex don’t flow organically from the story and characters, they shouldn’t be there because they’ll ruin the almighty suspension of disbelief.
Hi Late Nighters,
Susan, yes we’re back to the beginning: Salander as Amazon. I like that image better than Salander-as-deviant-Lara-Croft.
A funny rape scene, Liz? Not possible, since a rape is about control, not about sex. And there’s nothing funny about being forced under someone else’s control.
Anon, I hate to admit that I’ve never read Pippi Longstocking, but Larsson does love that homage.
I agree, Allison, that readers can often be more emotionally engaged when a child or a woman is in jeopardy. And I love the idea of posing the question "Who Fights Back?" when plotting our work.
Spencer, you’re right. If the jeopardy or peril doesn’t flow organically from the character and her needs and wants, then the story has no resonance or depth.
Thank you all, guys. Have a good week.
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