The Real Reasons Behind Reader And Author Shame

I recently read a thread on a reader site in which women were heatedly discussing Stephanie Meyer and E. L. James, authors of the Twilight series and the Fifty Shades of Grey series, respectively. The jealousy and contempt these women had for fellow female writers and readers alike astounded me. What happened to women sticking together? Men have spoken out about these series as well, but I’ve not seen them do so with quite the malice I’ve seen from women as of late (and that just may be a biased conclusion based on the social media avenue used). Still, in all the fictional works I’ve come across in my lifetime, I’ve never seen two authors garner more hate than these two women. You’d think they were the first authors ever to publish prose pockmarked with grammatical blemishes. While the level of hate and outrage these women received is proportional to their level of success, it also highlights attitudes of jealousy and entitlement.

We reader and writer shame because of our own internalized issues.

I can easily look past those writers who, having worked to create perfect manuscripts without so much as an extra space, are butthurt that James and Meyer received book deals instead of them. These types forget that a book’s literary and monetary value are two different things, and at the end of the day the Big Five are corporations motivated by profit. I can ignore their outrage over Twilight and FSoG as butthurt extending from the entitled view that a perfect manuscript should warrant a contract. It doesn’t. What they also seem to forget is that a book’s plot and characters must connect with readers. FSoG and Twilight did just that.

The fact is, you’d have a hard time finding a book or work of film or television that doesn’t harbor some misogynistic, sexist, stereotyped, or objectifying view of people in general. Why then do so many women harangue the writers of these two works as opposed to decrying every work in which women and men are not depicted according to current equality trends?

What throws me is the backlash to these works in response to their themes. FSoG and Twilight are considered by the Literati (and I use that term loosely) as how-to books for batterers. That so many females have been so outraged by these works is evidence of jealousy and perhaps a bit of internalized misogyny, and I say this because many of these women have yet to be as vocal about other works whose depiction of violence against women are far worse. The Game of Thrones television series has garnered some scrutiny in how it portrays women but has yet to reach an outcry even remotely close to matching that of Twilight and FSoG (more on this below). The fact is, you’d have a hard time finding a book or work of film or television that doesn’t harbor some misogynistic, sexist, stereotyped, or objectifying view of people in general. Why then do so many women harangue the writers of these two works as opposed to decrying every work in which women and men are not depicted according to current equality trends?

There is a movement of sorts in the horror film genre that focuses on violence against women as misogyny. Criticism is largely reserved for works that depict women being murdered as punishment for sex or behavior that opposes patriarchal standards, and slasher works where female victims are either partially or fully nude while being murdered or tortured and in these instances, the woman’s body is sexualized or objectively displayed for the male gaze (heterosexual male viewing).

If a female character’s sexuality is your criteria for killing her off then you need to take a closer look at how you view women.

I’ve heard many women disgustedly say they hate misogynistic horror and those who present horror in this fashion. And on a personal level, I agree.  If a female character’s sexuality is your criteria for killing her off then you need to assess why you’ve made that choice. If this method is the killer’s choice then their misogynistic views will be known to the reader or viewer as part of their victim profiling or MO, and if not then you, the creator, are unknowingly or consciously choosing to depict misogynistic horror in your works and should take a closer look at how you view women.

Spoiler alert for this paragraph. G. R. R. Martin was lauded for his portrayal of women in his GoT book series, but recently many have questioned his portrayal of female characters in the television series namely in regard to the character of Sansa Stark. The problem here is book readers who regard Sansa’s rape at the hands of Ramsay Bolton as unnecessary and voyeuristic. While Sansa was not Ramsay’s victim in the book, the victim, Jeyne Poole, was still horrifically tortured and raped. Though the character is different, Ramsay’s treatment of Sansa is in keeping with his psychopathy and she is not being tortured because of her sexuality. Also, Martin doesn’t depict one type of male or female character, but an array of characters with vastly different religious beliefs, customs, flaws, and charms. In other words, he creates real people characters.

So then is it censorship to eradicate misogynistic violence in horror?

G. R. R. Martin’s treatment of women is not misogynistic. These acts of violence occur in real life. To eradicate them from television and literature is censorship. Is it censorship to eradicate misogynistic violence in horror? That’s a slippery slope and one largely dependent on several factors. According to some, each horror genre presents its own form of misogyny. Some believe the horror genre itself was the male response to feminism. I’m not sure how I feel in regard to these notions. I believe it’s a case by case situation, and it’s a topic I find intriguing, but one too involved to condense to a single paragraph. Suffice it to say, I believe if you are a writer who depicts the violence of women through a  misogynistic lens then you need to evaluate why you do so, but I will also add, at what point is censorship warranted?

Am I or the work of art I create accountable for the actions of others?

Some have suggested I consider how my words influence others, lavishing on me some Catcher in the Rye superpower of which I’m quite undeserving. Ironically, a Christian said this to me, and when I questioned the individual as to religion’s influence on violence they said that the Bible did not condone such acts but included them for the sake of teaching morals. I pointed out the many instances in the Bible wherein God had sanctioned rape, murder, war, genocide, enslavement and the murder of children, and this was met with the usual talking point referencing the fact that God was driving wicked people away from the Israelites rather than moving the Israelites away from wicked people. The Israelites invaded nations, killing, raping, and pillaging as they desired and this was all to keep Israelite morals from being tarnished and to teach morals to future sinners.

LOL. And then LOL again at the thought of my work ever influencing human depravity on the same scale as that of religious teachings. But I expect this argument from a person who is incapable of personal accountability for the fucking sake of it as opposed to morality being controlled by a supernatural force of evil that tempts one to commit heinous crimes, or worse, a divine and pure being who advocates atrocious acts and human depravity under the guise of attaining genetic perfection for one race. Religious beliefs aside, at the core of this argument, is accountability. Am I or the work of art I create accountable for the actions of others?

The response of readers and viewers who hated and bashed Bella Swan perfectly illustrates the victim blame mentality in society with regard to rape and domestic violence.

There’s a good bit of debate as to whether Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series can be considered horror or whether E. L. James conveys an actual BDSM relationship in FSoG. The female backlash against Edward Cullen was resounding, and in my opinion, an over-reaction to a fictional story. Some women were suddenly concerned that female teens would get the wrong idea of love and relationships.

If you’re telling readers that they are supporting domestic violence by reading and liking Twilight or FSoG then I have to ask if you’ve been making the rounds on social media, decrying all forms of creative works that depict domestic violence, rape, murder, abuse, torture, etc. in all your wondrous all-capped fury?

Interestingly, the hate expressed wasn’t so much directed at Edward Cullen as it was directed at Bella, which in and of itself should be named for what it is and that is most certainly not a worry that female teens would romanticize domestic violence. The anger and hatred of Bella Swan from those who decried Twilight better resembles victim blame (if we’re going to argue DV in Twilight). Everyone hated Bella for being weak and whiny. If the series truly depicted domestic violence then why so much hatred for the victim? The response of readers and viewers who hated and bashed Bella Swan perfectly illustrates the victim blame mentality in society with regard to rape and domestic violence. Readers and viewers acknowledged that what Edward Cullen did was wrong but bash Bella for staying in the relationship. People bash women for staying in domestic violence and place responsibility for the violence square on the victim’s shoulders simply because the victim was present. Not a very sound feminist argument if you ask me.

FSoG is fan fiction based on Twilight so it came as no surprise that the same women engaged in Bella bashing leveled the same amount of animosity toward Anastasia, a woman exploring her own sexuality in what may or may not be a consensual BDSM relationship depending on who you ask. From my understanding, the relationship was consensual or rather, contractual.

Reading erotica for its literary value makes as much sense as ordering Diet Coke with a greasy burger combo.

I admit that I’ve not read FSoG and I have no intention of doing so as I prefer to watch my porn rather than read it (and the argument that women are not visual is sexist and oh, bullshit). Meyer and James wrote true to their genres though some will argue (wrongfully) that Twilight is not horror even on a basic level. Though it’s considered paranormal romance, Twilight does contain aspects of the horror genre. I can’t stand for someone to criticize the literary value of James’s erotica arguing that it’s poor literature. It’s not literature. It’s porn in word form and its readers expect it to perform a certain, er, purpose in much the same way film porn does for its viewers. Reading erotica for its literary value makes as much sense as ordering Diet Coke with a greasy burger combo. Here’s an idea, if you want literature don’t read erotica. It really is that easy.

There are those who feel that readers are responsible for dumbing down society. They shame readers for purchasing works of fiction that don’t meet their Literati standards of perfection and say these purchases make the Big Five think that’s what consumers want and these corporations then flood the market with dumb shit that makes us all stupider.

If, however, these individuals purchased only smart, perfect, high-brow literature, we’d all be fucking Einsteins and society would be one step closer to Utopia. Another talking point of the reader shame argument is the idea that if readers only bought high brow literature, it would give writers with perfect manuscripts a chance for publication. BAM! We finally reached the true heart of the argument for reader shame and that is author entitlement. The control over submissions and publications lies with readers? Not the publishing house with a team of marketers skilled at determining buyer trends? You crazy heads.

At the end of the day, Meyer and James wrote stories with characters that appealed to readers. Characters with flaws because human beings (I’m not talking to you pedantic narcissists here) have flaws and how we overcome those flaws (you know, character arc) is what makes a good story that readers can connect with.

It’s not James’ fault or Meyer’s fault that your manuscript keeps getting rejected. It’s not a reader’s fault either. It’s not anyone’s fault. Perfect manuscripts are awesome and not easy to achieve. These days editors focus less on perfection. I don’t know why, but it seems to be the current trend. Maybe they believe this is the writer’s responsibility. It is. Language is ever evolving. There are books being published whose writing consists completely of emojis. If you don’t like emoji books, don’t shame their buyers for liking them. It’s rude and arrogant and makes you look like a jerk. Don’t be a jerk.

If  your advocacy of DV consists solely of condemning these two fictional works then I would say you don’t know much about domestic violence or its victims and are doing nothing to help this human rights crisis.

If you’re telling readers that they are supporting domestic violence by reading and liking Twilight or FSoG then I have to ask if you’ve been making the rounds on social media, decrying all forms of creative works that depict domestic violence, rape, murder, abuse, torture, etc. in all your wondrous all-capped fury? Or did you just single out these two ladies caught up in hive mentality? What exactly are you doing to raise awareness for DV? What are you doing to help victims of abuse?

The bottom line is that we reader and writer shame because of our own internalized issues.  It’s not a reader’s responsibility to only buy high-brow literature so that writers who create a perfect manuscript have a chance to get published. It isn’t the writer’s responsibility to create fiction that appeals to your religious or social views. It’s not an artist’s responsibility to create artwork that teaches people how to be good moral beings. No two people read the same book or view the same painting. Stop judging, stop shaming, and stop putting people and art in little, stereotyped packages wrapped up in judgmental bows.

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7 thoughts on “The Real Reasons Behind Reader And Author Shame”

  1. Good to see you blogging again K. S.! Welcome back to the blogosphere.

    You are as poignant as ever. Your posts are always so thorough and well written I feel my only comment can ever be but to entirely agree.

    (Sorry if I ramped up your page views, I got a little lost.)

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    1. Trick! Thank you for your thoughts on my writing and for reading. I took a break from the blogosphere to deal with a personal illness. I’m feeling much better now. I think the static page throws people off. Good to hear from you. 🙂

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        1. That is interesting, but I’m not surprised. I noticed the blogosphere seems changed. Quieter. 2015 got off to a bumpy start, but it’s leveling out now. Clan Bowers is much better now, thank you. =)

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  2. There are so many comments, I could make in relation to this post because you’ve brought up, some very valid issues, but I think what affected me most was; how we woman denigrate each other…….it’s taken centuries for us to be accepted as; talented, intelligent, capable people, and what do we do; we project our own insecurities onto others…..I live with a similar situation in my own life, and I find it; abhorrent; that ‘we’ as humans, no matter our gender, or race, can’t just give credit where it’s due, or take responsibility when necessary.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading. I breastfed all of my children and never once did any man make me feel awkward nor did they ever bash me for my decision. There were many women, on the other hand, who cast scornful looks in my direction (and I covered with a blanket for public feedings). Internalized misogyny is the worst. We just have to keep breaking down those barriers, bringing awareness, and educating others. I was once a right-wing conservative raised in a patriarchal cult and full of internalized misogyny. Hard to believe now. Patriarchal and misogynistic beliefs are ingrained in us all from birth, no matter our gender. I have to remind my daughters daily that their value does not lie in their sexuality nor in their ability to give life. I’m sorry for whatever situation it is in which you find yourself and send positive thoughts your way. Yes, it has taken centuries, but in these last few years I’ve seen remarkable progress that leaves me hopeful for a future free of racism, bigotry, hate, stereotypes, and gender roles. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m sorry; other women made things difficult for you…….I can only hope that; as we’re becoming more spiritual, each one of us; is healing each other & the world.
        I love this quote: “Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean” by Ryunosuke Satoro.
        Let’s hope we as humans, live up to it. 🙂

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