Violence Against Women: Lazy Storytelling Tropes

Or: Why Writers Must Do A Better Job

I stumbled across this article at video gaming site Kotaku, and it highlights some issues I’ve often had with not just issues of depicting violence against women, but of lazy storytelling in general. The video (attached), by scholar and critic Anita Sarkeesian, spends considerable time highlighting the many ways in which videos games often use grotesque depictions of violence against women as a shorthand for saying “This is the bad guy. Kill him!”

The problem with these kinds of depictions isn’t so much in that these kinds of acts are depicted at all, of course. It’s that when they’re depicted, it’s usually against some “fluff” character whom the player never sees again, or for whom the depiction is really there for no other reason than to set mood or highlight how “bad” the bad guy is. Drawn differently, these depictions of violence against women could be used to a much more positive effect.

Take, for example, a woman caught in a bad relationship, perhaps she’s abused by her husband. Rather than have her die gruesomely just to demonstrate his badness, or to save her only to never see her again, what if she had a story arc that continued on, in which the protagonist played a role in helping her break free and become a stronger character? Maybe she could become a partner, or a hero in her own right, whose path sometimes crosses with that of the protagonist. Or maybe she could, herself, become a player character with an entirely different kind of mission that thematically ties in with that of the main protagonist? What if her character were developed to a significant enough degree that she could become the protagonist of the game’s inevitable sequel, or a spinoff at least?

As Sarkeesian comments in her critique, it isn’t enough to simply show a female character being abused, one has to critique it in a meaningful way. Doing this in a narratively meaningful way is certainly not an easy task, but it’s one to which writers of any kind of media, games or film and television, really ought to devote some of their time and energy.

Film, television and video games are stuffed with clichéd writing that takes a lazy approach to depictions of women, and it’s high time we all take a breather and realize that each time we write something that falls into this “trope trap”, we’re betraying our own art and letting our skills go soft.

We can do better, and part of that means honoring the experience of women, and celebrating the heroes they can be.

Check out Ms. Sarkeesian’s video for a more in-depth discussion of this significant problem. Then think about ways you can make a difference.

Out of Respect for the Pump

So, this one needs some explanation. In my creative writing class we occasionally do various in-class exercises, and this story grew from one of these in about an hour. In this case, the exercise was to write scene with a character with “the opposite gender, as different from yourself as possible.” As I think you’ll see, this character’s gender is about as different from a typical male human as you’re likely to find here on Earth. As to the quality of the story, well…I guess that’s up to you to decide. I’ve given up judging my own work worthy, I just can’t see it objectively :P.


Out of Respect for the Pump

I tug upward on the collar of my blouse, my cheeks flushed and red with a strangely embarrassed discomfort at the long, salacious glances of the man seated across from me. I close the catch on my purse and press it down, nestled safely in my lap, and hope the mechanic will finish my oil change soon. The man watches every motion, and his hands, stained by some kind of black grease, leave black-smudge fingerprints on the cover of the Car and Driver magazine over which his eyes, furrowed with grey and black smattered caterpillars above, undress me over and again. On most days I’m proud of the body I have, an accomplishment I earn with countless hours sacrificed at the gym, but not today.

I shift in my seat and reach for a magazine, Popular Science, my blouse slipping down again as I do so. His eyes are down my shirt, reveling in the smooth flesh I work so hard to keep clean and smooth and healthy. I think of the dollars spent on moisturizers and personal trainers and form-adoring undergarments, of sweat and tears and aching muscles, and my heart sinks as his tongue slides across chapped lips and chipped teeth. I tug upward on the collar of my blouse again and wince as his gravelly voice catches in my ears: “Nice tat. Know whatcha want, right?”

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