Recently, I had a discussion with a friend that went something like this, “Well, then why didn’t she say anything sooner?” I’m sure you have all seen or heard something similar, right? But when we try to explain the fear that comes with speaking out, it’s dismissed as being stupid. Doesn’t matter if that’s speaking up about sexual harassment, rape, or just bad service. The reality is that most women get this, and a very small segment of men do not.
It’s called privilege. One of my friends is a comfortably middle class, white, Christian, conservative male. He ticks off every single checkbox. Now, he’s a great guy, and possibly one of the most giving people I know, but he can’t even begin to understand what it would be like to suffer at the mercy of society. To him, if there’s a problem, just speak up.
He can’t envision the fear of all the possible repercussions. No one has that much power over his life. If his boss does him wrong, he’ll just get a new job. There’s plenty of places he could work. The idea of having a black mark for being one of “those” types of people on his resume is unimaginable. As a pretty good sized fella, trying to understand the fear of being overpowered is even harder.
And yet, in my writing, sexism is a topic I address pretty often. Mostly because while we live in a world that is more equal than ever before, it’s still not EQUAL. My friend knows that no woman would ever come up and grab his dick and shove her tongue down his throat. In his mind, if something like that happened, she’d look like a supermodel so he wouldn’t mind. When I asked him how he’d feel about an obese old lady doing it, he basically said, “Well, I wouldn’t let her get that close.”
Because he COULD physically stop her.
He can’t understand. He’s never had to be afraid of the dark corners on the street. He’s never wondered if the person he’s meeting for that online date is going to abuse him. He’s never had to question whether his supervisor’s smile is leading up to a very complicated situation. He’s never been in a situation where didn’t have the power to change things.
In my stories, I like to flip things around. Make the damsel in distress become the hero, turn the villain into the savior, and things like that. In this case, I’m completely stumped. I have no idea how to take the powerful (especially when it comes to sexual harassment) and make them the powerless – at least not with any plausibility. Sure, I can chain a guy down (in a book, people!) and have some horrible person do horrible things, but those aren’t the types of stories I write.
This time, though, I’m stumped. I have no idea how to remove the privilege, and without it, my characters just aren’t believable. The saddest part is that I think that says more about society than my skill as an author.