I want to touch on something that I never thought I would touch on, but since it was brought up to me recently (oh, I don’t know, maybe as recently as this morning), I think it’s something that needs to be thought about. The question was simple:
Why is it that folks freak out anytime a woman in a story is beaten or killed, but when it’s a man…no one really cares?
That’s a good question. Can anyone answer that objectively?
I thought about it for a few minutes before responding.
I’ts reality. Bottom line. Reality hurts, especially when it is women and children.
The truth is it’s the nature of the beast. But, it’s wrong. A life is a life, no matter race, sex, sexual orientation or age. All life should be honored and respected.
Is a man being brutally beaten any different than a woman? Honestly, yes. Why? Before I answer this, let me preface anything else that I write here. This is solely my opinion on the matter. What I say may anger some women’s rights advocates. If so, I’m sorry. What I say may anger some child rights advocates. Again, I’m sorry. What I say may anger some men’s rights… oh, wait, there are no real men’s rights advocates. I find that, in and of itself, interesting. If you find what I am about to write controversial… well, it is what it is. I don’t believe it is, but I have been known to be wrong.
So, why do folks take offense when a woman is beaten (or a child for that matter) in fiction, but not really bat an eye when a man has the same things done to them?
Growing up in the seventies and eighties and in the south, I was taught that you don’t raise a hand to a woman. Not everyone was taught this values. In all honestly, not many kids are taught these values. But, for me, striking a woman isn’t an option… unless they are trying to hurt you. Then, you must protect yourself. However, there is protecting yourself and there is the use of excessive force. Yeah, we hear that term when referring to police, but all too often men use excessive force on women and children to either show their superiority or to discipline them. Some men are obsessive and controlling. They are dangerous to women and children and even other men they deem weaker to them. We see this all the time when we read the papers or turn on any news channel.
Give those same men alcohol or let them have a bad day and that frustration tends to be taken out on… you guessed it, the women and the children.
Like I said, we see this all the time in reality. Why put it in our fiction? Because it’s real and as writers we have a responsibility to the readers to make our characters and their situations as believable as possible. But, let’s do it with some tact, okay? We don’t have to go into all the gory details. The implied deeds are often so much worse on the imagination than the shown deeds.
Wait, I just mentioned a man beating a woman or child. It happens in real life and you better believe we get up in arms about it. Rightfully so. I’ve been in more than a couple of fights with big bad bully men in my days, mostly because they were either hurting a woman or someone weaker than them. I put another man in the hospital because he beat up a kid. No, I don’t put up with it in real life. You want to anger me? Hurt a woman. Hurt a child.
In fiction, if I’m going to tell the truth about life, then life has to be depicted… truthfully. If that means there is a woman who gets beaten by an unruly boyfriend because he’s a drunk prick, then so be it. If that means a kid suffers at the hand of his father (or mother as we’ve seen in real life) then I write it. Again, I don’t write the full-blown details unless I absolutely have to.
There’s a scene in an unpublished novel I wrote about six years or so ago. In it a teenager dies brutally at the hands of other kids in the neighborhood. When I was done with the scene I felt sick to my stomach. It was–and may still be–the most brutal thing I have ever written. I almost deleted the entire book after writing it. After going back and reading it, I realized it was the only way that I could have written the scene—violently enough to make a reader cringe, but also give the character enough reason to come back as a ghost later on and do all the damage he does in the book. Any other way and the impact would have been lost on the reader.
That scene was a bunch of boys killing another boy, one clearly weaker than them. Sound familiar? The dominant member of the species killing off the less dominant one. Kind of like a pecking order. I’m not condoning it, just saying this is the way life is.
If you’ve read anything by Jack Ketchum then you are familiar with someone who writes some very disturbing and often brutal stories. In his book, The Lost, Ketchum’s main character kills two women because he believes them to be lesbians. He doesn’t kill them because they are women, but because he thinks they are gay women. That ratchets things up a notch. They’re not just women, but lesbians. That makes it worse.
Why does that make it worse? Does being a lesbian make them any weaker than being straight? I would think not. However, this takes the murders more into the realm of hate crimes, which is viewed, by and large, as worse than someone killing a straight woman. Murder is murder no matter how you slice it. The black and white of the matter is that there really is no difference between killing a man or a woman or someone who is white, black or Asian. Murder is murder. Brutality is brutality, regardless of who it is done to.
The truth is the strong prey on the weak and only when the weak fight back does the strong back down.
Okay, enough on that. Let me see if I can get to the point now. Men are viewed as the dominant sex. Biblically, men are supposed to protect the women and the children and the women and the children are to submit to man. Don’t throw the rotten tomatoes just yet. However, men are supposed to be nurturing and slow to anger the women and the children. It’s a two way street. Sure, men can be the dominant ones in most relationships, but they are also supposed to be the protective ones.
This could very well play into the psyche of many people, depending on how they were raised. Maybe that’s where some of this comes from. Men are supposed to be dominant andprotective. If they are not protecting then they are hurting. And no man should hurt a woman or a child… or a weaker person. As I told that fellow I put in the hospital all those years ago, ‘Come pick on someone who can fight back.’
Back to the original question and I’m going to switch it around a little:
Why don’t people get as upset about men getting beaten and killed as they do women and children?
All life should be treated equally. If a man gets stabbed 47 times it should be treated with the same disgust and sadness as if it were a woman being stabbed 47 times. There should be no difference.
However, a child is considered helpless and the hurting of children strikes a nerve with most people. And it should. If it doesn’t then I venture to say something is wrong with people these days. The thought of a child being hurt by an adult makes me hurt on the inside. It angers me and I want to just break that person over my knee. I may not be a big guy, but I was raised in the south in a little section of South Carolina known to the locals as Broadacres. I was a Broadacres boy growing up and if you couldn’t fight, you got your butt kicked on a regular basis. So, let me hear about someone hurting a child…
I think—keyword here, think—that part of the reason people freak out when a woman or child is hurt or killed in a story is that we see this stuff all the time, as I mentioned before, in the news, on television, on the computer feeds. Readers want to escape reality and reading about a man hurting a woman or child or, maybe not even a man doing it, but any type of event where a woman or child gets hurt is just putting them right back into the real world. I understand that. I get that. I respect that.
But (yes, there is always a but) as a writer, I want to put you into my world. I want you to feel what my characters are feeling. I want you to experience their pain, sorrow, happiness, triumphs and revenge. I can’t do that if I don’t bring the reality into the story. It’s the nature of the beast that we call writing.
Still, in real life, a man’s life is viewed somewhat less than a woman’s or a child’s. I find that somewhat sad. Maybe it’s the helplessness we attribute to women and children that polarizes their deaths more so than a man’s. Maybe it’s the way we were raised. Maybe it’s that sense of taboo, that feeling that killing a man is one thing but hurting or killing a woman or a child is crossing the line. That last one I don’t understand. All life should be treated the same. Man. Woman. Child. The elderly. Black. White. Tanned. Straight. Gay. And, in my opinion, the unborn.
I think I may have raised more questions than answers, but I tried to be objective, tried to have an unbiased eye on this. I’m not sure I succeeded.
If you’re willing, feel free to discuss the question. Give your opinions (thoughtful opinions) on the subject. Help me answer my friend’s question. I think it’s one that begs to be discussed and, hopefully, answered.
As always, thank you for taking the time out of your day to read this.
Until we meet again…