As a writer of dark fiction, the question asked in the title is one I hear far too often. Everyone wants to know why I’m so mad.
As women, we must fight for certain rights denied to us simply because of our gender, rights that include or have included, the right to vote, the right to choose, the right to healthcare not policed by religion, the right to wear what we want, the right to equal pay and inclusion in the workplace, and the list goes on and on. You get it.
So amid the rights continuously fought for by women worldwide, it’s jarring to know that we must also fight for the right to something as natural and human as the expression of our own emotions.
It’s no secret that society frowns upon women who display emotion irrelevant to acceptable displays of femininity. We’re expected to walk around with silly grins plastered on our faces at all times as though we are nothing more than the aesthetic accouterments of Mother Earth. Even then one can display too much happy female emotion, in which case you have either been medicated or you got laid. Expression of tension, aggravation, or anger means we have PMS, we’re crazy, or we need an attitude adjustment (read the latter as: needs to get laid).
This is where some of you begin rolling your eyes and calling me a feminazi. You think I’m overreacting. I get how you might feel that way. You think there’s no harm in telling someone to smile, after all, you actually do look prettier when you smile (sarcasm). You may believe there’s no harm in being told to calm down when one is frustrated. You may feel there’s no harm in questioning the overly happy woman or in my case, the woman splattering her prose with murder. And you’d be wrong.
The problem with expecting women to repress emotion is that it strips them of their humanity.
You’re insisting that a woman be aesthetically pleasing to you as if she were placed on this earth and exists solely as an object meant for the gratification of others. Not to mention, it’s sexist. There is no equivalent for resting bitch face for men in the same way men are not policed on the clothes they wear. Men have the right to exist in any emotional state they choose, and should they be in public without a grin etched on their face, well, that’s okay. However, women must smile and not just smile, but smile at men. We must remove our headphones or put down our books and respond to the strange man because he’s being nice to us and that’s a compliment. All in all this boils down to ownership and entitlement. Denying a woman the right to feel and express her own emotions is simply one more way to objectify women.
Men are allowed to be angry.
In certain situations, it’s expected of them. Assertiveness, persistence, and determination, are admiral qualities in a man. If a woman is determined in the workplace, she’s aggressive. If she displays the qualities of a leader, she’s bossy and controlling. Women are to be accommodating.
I wasn’t surprised to find my voice in dark fiction. I enjoy this type of literature. I’m a sucker for this film genre. I was a literary thrill seeker from an early age. I wanted to be scared. I loved the feeling, the suspense in the pit of my stomach as I turned the page was much like sitting in a car on a track at the highest point of a roller coaster, knowing all it took was one malfunction and I would be a stain on the pavement below. So why get on the ride?
Writing horror is a way to confront fear in a safe environment, to examine the darkest recesses of the human psyche, to explore the depravity of humankind. To write horror is not just to understand that evil exists in the world, but to question how it works; to look deep within the souls of others and discover how evil is bred. And like the roller coaster ride, it’s thrilling.
A horror writer must court the ugly, the vile, the deranged and all that is evil.
A good horror writer will find some spark of humanity in their villain’s core. Horror understands that evil exists in us all. Writing horror has been one of the most challenging endeavors I’ve ever pursued. At times, it’s a mirror of one’s soul. It can be a brutal, honest slap in the face, a chilling confrontation of the lies we tell ourselves about our world and the people in it.
I never knew how to respond when people asked me this question before. And there were varying forms of it too like, “You should get a counselor,” or, “Can you find nothing to be happy about?” And my personal favorite, “Well, I’m sure your writing is cathartic.”
I responded to these questions and statements with a variety of awkward responses ranging from blank stares, confused expressions, and agitation. Sometimes I would smile outwardly and assure the well-meaning individual (read: judgmental ass) that I was happy and harmless while envisioning the speaker’s head exploding all over whatever surface we stood upon (now that’s cathartic). But, thanks to the public outcry over a young woman’s brazen twerking, I found my answer to this question.
So for anyone who wonders if I’m angry, well, I have a question for you: did you ask the same of Stephen King, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Richard Matheson, or Peter Straub?
Or did you just ignorantly and rudely assume that I’d sat down one day, fueled by PMS, and wrote two violent, visceral short stories because I was mad at the world and off my Prozac? Did you think, well, she must be crazy to conjure up this stuff, or did you say, “I wonder what happened to her?”
Do you hail from a misogynistic era and believe that if I were a proper woman I wouldn’t be writing horror, but maybe romance? Or should I maybe, as a mother, be writing only cutesy little talking animal books?
What an artist creates is born from their soul and is comprised of that person’s entire existence. Perhaps they were inspired from their own life experiences or the lives of others. Maybe their work was inspired by the work of another creative. Maybe that artist’s creation is an echo of a memory, of a love, of a dream or even a nightmare. It is symbolic, it is hopeful, it is a message, it is a reprimand, it is beauty, it is a voice for those without. It is a mirror through which the viewer may glimpse his or her own soul.
But what art most certainly is not, is a singular thing.
Art is born in much the same way a building is built. You begin with a foundation or the inspiration for the creation. You then build upon this with another idea like an emotion, a memory, a sight, a smell, a touch, or a song, and so on, until at last you have birthed a work which transcends its inspiration to become something unique and original, and wherein its creator becomes immortalized.
Never negate an artist’s work to one single emotion, experience, a sexual urge, or a need for attention, unless the artist expressly stated their creation was such. Art is subjective, true, but it is so much more than that to its creator.
So in answer to the question I am most commonly asked, I answer: I am inspired. I am touched. I am overjoyed. I am aghast. I am appalled. I am amazed. I am sympathetic. I am understanding. I am angry. I cry. I laugh. I have seen. I have heard. I have tasted. I have touched. I have loved and I have hated.
All the same as you.
I have given you a glimpse of my soul, a glimpse of the world as I see it, and a glimpse of the people I encounter. If, while reading my work, you’re trying to figure out if I’m angry then you’ve not read at all. You’ve merely looked at a mental image you’ve formed of me which may or may not be factual. Maybe you do this so you don’t have to see the part of you that’s reflected in my words. Maybe you’re projecting. Maybe you’re just rude. Maybe you believe women should be all smiles while they clean and cook and make babies and be sex goddesses. Maybe you believe you’re saving me from the cliff of morality upon which I’m precariously perched.
I hope that we, as a society, can learn to stop maligning the creative endeavors of female artists and entertainers.
Less judging would be nice. Before you bash, think. Open your mind and actually see what the artist seeks to convey in their work. Before you think that young starlet is out of control, look for the symbolism you jumped over, in your haste to point a finger.
Let female artists create without being shamed, ridiculed, or questioned, and let them do so without fear of being called crazy, angry, or slutty. Just let us be. We’re no different from the rest of you or from male creatives.
A side note here. I am forever grateful that my husband encouraged me to pursue my writing dream. He wasn’t threatened by my creativity. He didn’t ask me why I was so mad. He never suggested I write in a genre for women. He gave me room to make mistakes, he had the courage to stand up to my work and call me out when I was not being true to my voice. He never expects perfection. Every artist should be so blessed to have someone like this in their life.
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.”
― Martha Graham
Creatives: read this.