I don’t write message fiction. As a wiser man than I once said, if you want to write a message, send a telegram. This has been attributed to Mark Twain, but every single smart thing ever said has been attributed, at one time or another, to Mark Twain. Him or Abraham Lincoln. Pick one.
That said, every writer’s core values find a way into their work. That’s because – if you’re a good writer – you gravitate toward themes that are important to you. They shouldn’t be front and center, whacking the reader over the head or preaching, not if the writer is any good, but they still exist. Quietly nesting in the background, making their presence known with a confident whisper.
Today is International Women’s Day. There’s a perception in some quarters that the battle for equality is over, that it’s been won, that there’s nothing to talk about. But legal equality doesn’t change the fact that this game is rigged. It doesn’t change the fact that an assertive man is called an alpha-male go-getter, someone to be praised and emulated, while an assertive woman is called a bitch. Male entrepreneurs are interviewed about their achievements; female entrepreneurs are asked how they can possibly juggle their work with raising a family (because raising a family, of course, isn't a man’s job).
Little girls are still told that when a boy hits them, it’s because he likes her. We normalize that shit. And for a man, little is considered more degrading than insinuating he does anything “like a girl.” These are signs of a toxic undercurrent, a set of cultural assumptions ingrained in men and women from childhood and designed to keep women in their place.
And here’s some evidence: want to know why I hesitated to write this today? You’re on the internet. Go to the comments section anywhere a woman asserts herself or stands up for feminism, and check out the torrent of bile flung her way by anonymous cretins. Actually, you probably don’t have to look, because you’ve probably seen it before. Maybe it’s even happened to you. Just by writing these words, I’m taking the risk of putting a target on my back. But that’s okay, see, because I’m a man. The worst thing that can happen, when I speak my mind, is that I draw verbal abuse from assholes. I won’t be raped or killed for typing words on the page.
And as long as any woman does face that threat, silence would make me complicit. I’m a writer. Words are all I’ve got.
Without women, I wouldn’t be here. And I don’t mean that in the obvious biological sense. Women taught me to read and fostered my early love of books. Women guided my exploration of the world, steered me towards great art and great storytellers and great ideas, helping to create the man I am today. When I despaired in my early days as a writer, thinking I’d never get anywhere, it was a woman who told me: keep going. I believe in you.
So thank you, thank you all, you who have been so instrumental in my life and you who have shaped the world for the better. Thank you for your strength, and your insight, and your patience (god, most of all your patience).
Keep going. I believe in you.