Sometimes, my work environment forces me as a writer to look at a lot of the things that make us who we are. A person, just like a character in a novel or story, isn’t just hatched. We’re built by thousands of tiny details created through the course of our entire lives, most of which we’re probably not even aware exist.
I came in to work and two men were discussing their children, which is normal for just about any work environment. I was a bit tired and cranky, and I only came in at what appeared to be the last part of their conversation. They both have young children under the ages of 7 and both have at least one son and one daughter. They discussed how they wanted their children to participate in other activities, which I applaud, but one of them made the comment about how he would probably put his daughter into gymnastics and his son into martial arts. Being tired and cranky, I mentioned to him that he was being remarkably sexist. He replied with a comment about how it’s his choice what his kids do and I snapped back that maybe it ought to be their choice.
The whole conversation got me thinking about the little attitudes that we as a society perpetuate that only increase our behavior, and how you would have to take every small nuance of what makes us who we are into account when creating characters for stories. Character is in the details, the sense that you can build something major with a bunch of little parts. If you go to the ice rink in Minnesota, you’ll see most of the little boys wearing hockey skates and most of the little girls wearing figure skates. You walk down the toy isles in any retail stores and you find each aisle is themed, especially the dreaded “pink” aisle. Sometimes, there’s more than one pink isle, but these are the aisles I avoid because I’ve never been a fan of pink and also because it’s filled with society’s unrealistic expectations of the behavior we want our young daughters to emulate. But then there’s more of a “dark blue” isle where you’ll find the action figures, which are really just dolls designed for boys.
It’s probably a good idea for me to mention at this time that I don’t have any children, nor do I ever intend on having children. I brought up the conversation with the two guys I work with to another woman at work and I expressed my thoughts that it would probably be beneficial for young children, regardless of gender, to participate in both gymnastics and martial arts. Her response was that if you let your daughter do martial arts when she is little, that she’ll be more butch and she wanted her daughters to be princesses. I would think, given all that I know about the world around me, that you would want to prepare any and all of your children to actually deal with the real world as they grow up, not just be a victim of someone else’s whims.
It seems to me that by teaching our daughters to be princesses, we’re really just teaching them how to be attractive to other people, and how to be spoiled and entitled. The historic role of a princess is to look beautiful to attract the eye of a handsome, charming, dashing, and courageous prince so that the princess and prince can get married so she could bear him male heirs. And this is what we as a society are still instilling in our next generations. Instead of wanting our daughters to not wind up in a human trafficking ring, we are encouraging them to believe that if they are pretty enough, a nice man will come along, marry them, and they’ll never have to do anything again.
I write horror. The real world and the world of my stories is not a very nice place. I sometimes describe my job by saying that I have seen the best and worst that humanity has to offer – usually at the same time. I have seen men who treat everyone in their family as property and abuse them all, physically, emotionally, and mentally. I have seen true families in the same land with the same hardships love each other dearly and sacrifice everything, including their lives, to save their spouses and children. I would think that any advantage you could give to your children to provide them the physical skills, mental discipline, and moral courage would be sought after to give your children the best advantages.
I have to admit that I don’t really understand this behavior at all. I guess I was just remarkably lucky that my parents raised me to be me and have always been supportive of me no matter what kind of crazy stuff captured my interest. I think my parents worked hard to make sure that my brothers and I were allowed to follow our hearts instead of attempting to make us into a mold decided by them.
When creating characters for novels or other stories, we as writers must know every detail about how our characters were raised and how the unspoken details would affect their ability to function inside the society in the worlds we create. Most of the heroes and heroines in the stories I tend to read for enjoyment do not function well within the boundaries of societies such as ours, which is perhaps what makes them into the heroes of the story. Behavioral and societal disagreements are part of what creates interesting conflict in a story, but is frustrating when presented in our actual world. I would have hoped we would be beyond these perpetual behaviors by now, but that’s just not how the world really works. I guess that’s just another reason I’m a writer so that I can create different societies and then prove the faults of those as well, because no system is perfect.