W. P. Johnson

Archive for September, 2016|Monthly archive page

The Theme of Misogyny II

In Uncategorized on September 2, 2016 at 1:10 pm

I listen to my wife.

Watching HBO’s newest offering of crime noir, The Night Of, we found ourselves paying attention for different reasons. Like most people, I was sucked into the story because the plot mechanics were so, as many have said, addictive. Who could look away as Naz painted himself into one corner after another through unfortunate circumstances and mistakes that prompted your average audience member to scream at their TV, ‘Seriously, put the fucking knife down! Why are you getting your knuckles tattooed!?’.

I’ll admit: this is a man’s worst nightmare, to be falsely accused of a sex crime. In this way, the story is manipulative of your average male viewer who finds himself compelled to comment “not all men” in whatever feminist social media flareup there is on a given week. I, for one, tend to stay the fuck out of those things, especially if it’s a friend’s page and she is holding her own. Besides, if I have to admit my true feelings, it’s that these arguments are complicated and I rarely find myself completely siding with either view. Any commentary would be playing devil’s advocate and, justifiably so, be accused as suggesting I side with the potential rapist. Besides, there’s simply too much anger to have your actual thoughts heard. In recent stories demonizing comedy writer Kurt Metzger and the UCB rape scandal, I started to feel as if all the points became lost in vitriol, both sides so unwilling to listen to anything but their own voices, unforgiving and too furious to let the dust settle and consider even one iota of an opposing view.

I’ll admit that The Night Of and the UCB scandal stoked my shitty male gaze fears of being falsely accused of sexual assault. In the age of social media where mob mentality is the norm, it’s scary to think how easily a person’s name can be tarnished, and the story line of The Night Of is nothing short of that idea played out in very real terms. When all is said and done, it becomes more an indictment of our justice system, demonstrating how flawed it is that an institution that is supposed to rehabilitate people usually leaves them worse off than when they started. And who can say this isn’t the case even when they are guilty? Convicted rapist Brock Turner, being the current poster boy for white male privilege and rape culture (both very real things, in case you were wondering my stance), went from a potential sixteen years to just six months, and managed to serve only three. The outrage is justified. But then I wonder: what do we do about someone like Brock? And what punishment will satisfy us while, simultaneously, rehabilitating him?

My wife, to all this, would say: what about the victim?

And this is where I start to ask myself: why is it that I fear more for my own imagined reputation than the very real fact that nearly every woman I’ve ever been close to has told me about an incident where they were sexually assaulted?

To answer honestly? Like every person, I have flaws. Who can say why a person fears heights any more than they fear being falsely accused? And how do I deny those feelings in face of these stories? I try to be objective, to listen, and in circumstances where I do actually voice my opinion and make attempts at being an ally of women, trans, or people of color, I leave behind the irrational fears as best I can, discarding any notion of playing devil’s advocate. Over the course of watching The Night Of, I started to leave behind these same fears and I began asking myself the question posed by my wife: what about the victim? And do we really need another story about men whose sole conflict is the misery they face in having to deal with the rape and murder of the women they care about? As opposed, say, to the misery women face when they are sexually assaulted or the reality that they will likely be, at some point, sexually assaulted?

In my previous entry on misogyny in fiction, I talked about True Detective and the self awareness it had to its own male gaze. I stand by the stance and still feel it did a great job with Rust and Marty, demonstrating the consequences of their flaws. Over time Rust became so cynical to his own desires and the sexual violence of men, it drove him into drinking and severe depression. Likewise, Marty lost everything because of his male gaze, indulging again and again with women (and let’s not forget the obvious shift in the way he perceived his daughter, from protective to outright judgmental). Rape culture has a way of making the lives of womanizing men seem appealing, treating women like disposable fuck toys. True Detective, in my opinion, showed you the full outcome of such behavior and the visceral reality of what it means when a man treats a woman as a disposable object. In short: it didn’t make any of the men, or their behavior, look good.

As for The Night Of, it felt like a failure to me in trying to acknowledge the victim or show any kind of self-awareness in the ways men treat women. The victim’s lifestyle was prodded, as if somehow justifying what happened to her. Aside from the prosecutor, there wasn’t a single female character one would characterize as being strong or admirable. Consider Naz’s lawyer, whose flawed behavior makes so little sense, it does nothing more than suggest women are incapable of doing their job without becoming emotional, using this flaw as a flimsy way of resolving the plot’s main conflict. What could have potentially been a brilliant indictment of our justice system became, in my opinion, overshadowed by the way it burdened us with the tragic problems of a man who can’t get an erection. Perhaps, if they had shown a self awareness to these flaws, I’d forgive them, but it’s hard to ignore.

Especially if you listen to women. Or people of color. Or trans people. Or any other perspective that isn’t your own.

So my take away is this: listen. You don’t have to agree. And if you like, you can even respond. But once in awhile, just shut the fuck up and listen.

As for my work? Two agents are still reading the full manuscript of the novel (and I have this weird spidey sense that a third is about to request a full, but I’ve been wrong about that before). One in particular followed up with promises that I’d have an answer soon, which is always helpful in lighting the fire under the other agent’s ass as far as getting an actual response. My novella Dream Dress is in the midst of edits and will likely be self published sometime next year. Also I will hopefully be announcing details about a collection of stories to be released next year, tentatively titled The Eight Eyes That Watch You Die. Fall is coming soon, which means it’ll be September-ween and all things spooky.

Until then, here’s to being scary.