Thursday, July 20, 2017

Does Every Story Have to Make a Social Statement?

Getting My Feathers Ruffled

I'll go ahead and be completely honest. This blog post is in reaction to a new review for Primogénito that came rolling in this week. The reviewer praised me for my realistic and sensitive depiction of PTSD, but went on to suggest that Damian's drive to overcome his victim status by trying to be the strong one and the protector in his marriage perpetuates long-held stereotypes of what men are supposed to be in our society. Hmm...more on that later.

An Opinionated Blogger

I've read over some of the other posts on that particular website, and the reviewer seems to be highly sensitive to gender stereotypes, kindly--and sometimes not so kindly--pointing them out wherever they can be found. Okay. Fair enough. Everyone's entitled to their opinion, and everyone has certain things they want to see in a story. But does every story have to live up to that standard? Let's talk for a minute.

How My Background Colors My Stories

I admit, my first two books were written from the perspective of the traditional nuclear family. It's natural that I would write them this way. After all, it's what I've lived. I grew up in a stable home with two parents who never got divorced. My husband grew up in a stable home with two parents who never got divorced. Now, with our own kids, we are that stable home with two parents who have been married for 18 years and have no intention of getting divorced. So that model features prominently in a lot of what I write. Not that I'm trying to make that into a social statement. It's just the world I know, and we're all supposed to write what we know, right?

At the same time, though, I'm not married (pun intended) to the idea of writing about happy nuclear families. After all, Road to Yesterday is a story of four siblings whose parents have a long history of adultery and drug addiction, to the point that the two younger children end up being raised by their oldest brother. And of the four siblings, only one really has any goals involving a wife and kids and a cute house in the suburbs. So I am capable of stepping outside my own bubble and writing about something else. And since Road to Yesterday has gotten some nice reviews, I can conclude that I did an okay job writing outside the realm of my own personal experience.

Back to Primogénito to the idea that Damian's character perpetuates gender stereotypes. I have several thoughts on this.

First, I don't believe the reviewer's assessment was entirely accurate. One statement in the review was, "While I understood that he was trying to overcome his victim status and not let that define him, I wish these ideas could’ve been pushed further to avoid the typical stereotypes of what a man must be." The thing is, Damian does work through those emotions. At the beginning of the book, the biggest issue in his and Jenn's relationship is that he's never opened up to her about what happened to him. He's always suppressed his feelings on the subject around her, which has left her feeling excluded from a huge portion of his life. Then, half-way through the book, he finally opens up and tells her everything. And at the end we see him crying in her arms, allowing her to comfort him while he reveals his vulnerable side. If that isn't him learning to shed his preconceived notions of what a man should be, I don't know what is. This is just my own opinion, but it seems that "pushing further", as the reviewer suggested, would take these scenes from poignant to sappy, and no one wants to see that.

At the same time, though, I'm tempted to ask: So what if Damian carries around stereotypical notions of what it means to be a man? Can't that just be an aspect of who he is? After all, a lot of men go through life believing they are supposed to be the providers and the protectors. That they are supposed to be in control of their emotions. Some take it to an unhealthy extreme, but they are nevertheless a very real part of the world we live in. And maybe they do need to learn to let go of some of those preconceived notions, but the question I'm posing today is this: Does a story have to address those issues? After all, stories imitate life, and there are a lot of people in real life who never work through their issues. And a lot of people are happy just the way they are, whether they be stereotypical or atypical. Can't those things sometimes be presented in a story, even if the deeper issues involved are never probed?

Yes, if the main purpose of the story is to shake our worldview and make us look at things in a different way, then all issues must be explored. But I write paranormal fiction. My stories are about the mystery, the action, and the hint (or sometimes more than a hint) of creep factor. I'm not trying to change the world. I just want to provide entertainment.

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