If we’re paying attention, what we write tells us a great deal about ourselves.
This little dialogue exchange and I went back and forth for two days:
“Besides,” Luke said, “I’d hate to tell the Old Man I let you leave town without even getting a little sparring in.”
“Nothing manipulative about that statement,” she muttered, and narrowed her eyes when he gave a guilty shrug. “First of all, you don’t let me do anything, Sensei Luke. Second, don’t call him the Old Man anymore. I don’t like it. Respect matters.”
She expected him to give the eye-roll of irritation or the cocky grin of indulgence most men would have responded with. Instead, he offered her a solemn nod and met her gaze.
“Text me the address,” Jack said. “If I’m still in town, I’ll drop by.”
Why was it so troublesome?
I was worried the main character, the woman who goes by Jack, would sound too bitchy.
That’s a problem, really. My problem. I don’t much like discovering how deeply certain biases sit in me. It isn’t comfortable. But it is real, so there ya go.
There isn’t a thing Jack says to Luke that isn’t true. Luke is being manipulative, he has no right to imply he has authority over her despite their relative rank in martial arts, and calling a past teacher the “Old Man” does strike Jack as disrespectful. But she isn’t asking Luke to change, nor is she offering him the chance to realize he ought to change. She tells him—point blank—what’s wrong with what he is saying. There is nothing “bitchy” about it.
I say many things like that in real life, but I realized I say them with the notion, “And if you think I’m a bitch for saying so, I don’t care,” in the back of my mind. That’s a problem as well, but a realistic one. People–and more often than not, the “people” refers to women–who draw lines and limits without couching them as optional deeds or giving the other person “credit” for acquiescing are often named pushy, humorless, angry, bitchy.
My decision to self-publish was and is driven by many reasons. But at the core, the decision comes from wanting to tell my stories my way, as professionally as possible, and connect with readers who like them.
Jack is a woman who has decided she will no longer put up with the little falsehoods expected of a woman who gets along by getting along. She doesn’t want to play nice anymore by couching honest criticism in sweet diplomacy. She still has plenty of insecurities, faults, and demons from the past, but she’s going to call bullshit when she hears it, and she expects the other person to be adult enough to handle candor.
I’m sure I’ve come across these writerly decisions before, but I can’t remember being quite so aware of it.