#MeToo is an awesome thing, the zeitgeist of our times. It’s put everyone on notice: the old ways/jokes/behaviors/assumptions are over! Including how you approach fiction, especially (maybe) romantic comedy, which is more or less what I usually write.
Two days ago the Washington Post published an article that revisited some old rom-coms, analyzing how male rom-com behaviors that 10 or 20 years ago seemed cute and fun now look stalker-ish in light of #MeToo. And yesterday Jenny Crusie wrote a blog about that article and how her books appear in the glare of 20/20 #MeToo hindsight. (Spoiler alert: She thinks mostly her books hold up okay, in part because her heroes aren’t alpha males out to conquer. There’s a lot more to the discussion, so check it out.)
I’ve been working on a trilogy involving my heroine, Phoebe, and my hero, Chase (hmmm…. maybe I should change his name) for what feels like two hundred years. I’m chugging along in book 3 now. I don’t think I have any #MeToo plot problems, exactly, but I have been thinking about agency. Phoebe’s been trying to get her desk job back at the CIA, and in so doing, has been getting into a passel of trouble, including danger. In book 3, as I up the stakes, the Russian assassin tased her, even though she took reasonable precautions.
Did Chase blow a gasket? Yell? Tell her to stick to her knitting? No. He took her to the hospital and filled her prescription.
But when she spots the bad guy the next day and follows him, Chase does rather blow a fuse—unlike her friends, who are concerned by her actions, but not overly worried. My feeling as I wrote it was that she’s Chase’s sweetie, so he’s more emotionally invested in her positive health outcomes, he’s envisioning worst-case scenarios, and he’s an alpha male, so, nuff said.
But now I’m fretting about the extent or boundaries of agency. The trilogy is Phoebe’s story; she has to test her beliefs and her limits. And Chase has to be both worried for her and proud of her for doing so. But how much worry? How much agency? I reread the scene I wrote and it feels off: her best friend is saying, “Uh-oh,” and Chase is all, “WTF, you could die!”
Agency isn’t the same as #MeToo, but it’s related. I’ve been watching old episodes of the TV show Mod Squad (1968-1973) lately, and honestly, Peggy Lipton has nothing to do on that show, even though she plays a cop. In fact, the male cops tell her to wait in the car half the time. Gag. You have to wonder what she thought when she was filming that show: was she cranky that she didn’t have any action scenes, or did she laugh all the way to the bank? She did win a Golden Globe for it in 1970 (she was nominated four times and nominated for an Emmy four times) , so maybe I just didn’t catch the good episodes.
So that’s what I’m up to. Action/reaction in a #MeToo universe. It’s a fine line, and so far, I’m not finding it. What about you?
I think if we keep it real, it’s fine.
It’s like with MacGyver — we totally trust his crazy schemes because he’s pulled off some serious stuff before. If Phoebe has been wildly successful, then her friends being unsupportive does seem off. They could be worried, but they should trust her. However, she’s pulled some real boners that have gotten her fired, for starters. It seems natural that they feel like the new crazy scheme is a 50/50 proposition.
I think I’ll be OK with the #metoo stuff in my current story. Jack is a reformed man-whore (as the saying goes), but he never forces people to have sex (or do anything, really). And Olivia knows what she wants. There’s a struggle where they don’t understand each others’ goals (which is understandable, because in my WIP, they’ve only known each other for a few months).
Manners are evolving, but human nature is still pretty much what it is. Bad behavior, if shamed, goes underground. When it goes underground in a basically good guy (or gal), it can get really twisty and nasty. It’ll make for some interesting stories, I think.
Actually, I’m all for shaming bad behavior so it DOES go underground. 🙂 It’s either that or reeducation camps, and we all know where that leads. But yes—I do feel like we’re navigating new ground (and it’s about time, too). In twenty years, say, will we be looking at our books the way we look back at romance novels from the 1980s? I’m sure we will.
Oh, I don’t know. I feel like if it goes underground, it just pops up again in even weirder and more perverted ways. If people can say, “I have X problem with (women),” then they can get help.
It’s a spectrum, though. We can shame some bad behavior and get it tamped out until dementia or brain trauma lets it out again. I’m thinking of fat-shaming, for example. I think some fat-shaming is probably a good thing. But fat-shaming to the point where it becomes an overwhelming compass in one’s moral direction . . . such a waste of time and energy.
Slut-shaming goes the other direction. Mild “sluttiness” (I’m not quite sure what that means, either, and I’m reluctant to use it) is no big deal to me. No need for it to go underground, because it’s a natural behavior that doesn’t really harm consenting adults. But I also believe there’s such a thing as pathological sluttiness. Shaming isn’t the answer for that; therapy is. (And I think this could apply to both male and female “sluts”, whatever that means.)
Thank goodness it’s not up to me to decide these things for other people, though.
Maybe you could have her friends blow a gasket, too. If I had a friend who was putting herself in serious danger, I probably would. Of course, I’m a control freak from way back. So maybe the deal is just that Chase is naturally more protective/less laid back than her other friends.
It definitely feels like we romance writers are living in interesting times.
We are living in interesting times! I’m about to open this file again this morning and see where I left off. I’m hoping some kind of logical balance will occur to me.