One might wonder why I decided to title this blog the way I did. Very well; I’ll explain.
Today I went to the post office to mail the thank-you notes from my bridal shower, return some books from the Science Fiction Book Club that were mistakenly sent to me, and get my Netflix rolling again. While buying my stamps, the woman helping me suddenly said, “I like your waist.”
My first impulse was to say, “I beg your pardon?” I didn’t think I’d heard her right. My waist? What does that have to do with…anything? She repeated herself, and I discovered that yes, she was indeed complimenting me on my waist. I don’t think anyone has ever specifically done such a thing before, at least in regards to me. I was torn between my fascination with the compliment and a slew of thoughts that flooded me right on its heels. What intrigued me so about her little declarative statement was that it was very specific, and that it’s not a body part many people would single out. Sort of like saying, “You have lovely kneecaps” or “I admire your shoulder blades.”
It also brought up something that was sparked a few days ago when I read an article regarding how we as a society talk to little girls. How often are the first words out of our mouths something about a little girl being pretty, cute, or beautiful? How often do we comment on her adorable little dress or her shiny shoes? Her perfect hair? How often would we say most of that to a little boy? I realized that it doesn’t really change. If a stranger speaks to me, nine times out of ten it’s to remark on my looks. I can’t remember the last time I was approached with a legitimate question about the time or directions or hell, to sign a petition.
I currently work as a cocktail server. Yes, server, not waitress. I serve drinks. I am a server. It’s gender-neutral, and I prefer it that way. I know I’m expected to look put together when I work, and though I find it a little degrading (especially because I have to dress up like a Pauli girl in two weeks), I’m more or less okay with it, because I recognize that my job right now is a means to an end. It’s a way to pay the bills while I concentrate my mental faculties on getting my novel published until the time comes that I can make my living that way. The way people treat me, however, is constantly a point to ponder. There are those who don’t even use basic niceties like “please” or “thank you.” There are plenty who ask me personal questions that they would never ask someone who they didn’t perceive to be a lower social status. I’ve been grabbed, harassed, and even bullied.
I rarely get questions about my life beyond work, even from tables who try to engage me in active conversation. Even then, it can feel very condescending. To an extent, the men I work with get it too, but the women have to put up with that and much, much more.
It all sort of ties in to how women are still viewed. I’m a writer. I’m an intellectual. I love to think, to analyze, to evaluate. Very few people bother to find out what is going on in my brain, or the brains of many women, if not most. I could read when I started kindergarten. If I can manage it, my children will too. I will make sure that male or female, my kids are intellectually stimulated at home and in the world. It saddens me that women are still viewed as being something pretty to look at. Women are beautiful; I’m not denying that or demeaning it. What I’m saying is that we’re even more beautiful on the inside. What’s in our minds, our personalities. How we try and how we learn.
My challenge to you is this, gentle viewers. Next time you meet a young girl, hold your tongue on the compliments. What’s on her head or those dimpled cheeks are just the wrapping. Instead, ask her questions. Does she like books? Which one is her favorite? Why? What makes those characters special? If nothing else, what’s her favorite movie? Why? Why is the bad guy bad? How are the good characters smart? Ask her if she wants to know what makes a rainbow. Most adults can tell a child that much science. Ask her if she noticed that her puppy grows up like she does. Ask her what she likes and why. Ask her what she likes to do, what sports she plays, what her favorite games are. She might be shy at first, but keep trying. Show her an adult who expects little girls to think, to use their insides as well as their outs.
It’s what’s inside that matters. Just like a good, well-written character has faults as well as strengths, the value of humanity isn’t in what we look like. It’s the whole picture.
I write urban fantasy. Many of my characters are vampires, shapeshifters, seers, witches. I purposely did not describe them all as inhumanly beautiful. They sometimes have big noses or awkward brow lines. Most of them age, even if it’s more slowly than those of the human persuasion. They’re not perfectly good or perfectly evil. Sometimes the good guys act awfully shitty. Sometimes the bad guys surprise you. All the ones in between act like people going through life and making choices. I wanted it gritty. I wanted it real. And I don’t want to flood the market with more perfect-looking characters none of us can really relate to.
Here’s to vampires after the glitter has worn off.
(Progress note: I am almost at the halfway mark of draft two. I will write a post about that tomorrow, I hope.)
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