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Writing & Reading Animal Cruelty

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I was at a reading for a feminist writing series a couple weeks ago where a writer was reading from her book about a female matador.  In the Q&A period that followed the writers were asked about their worst reactions to their books.  The woman who had written the matador book said an editor refused to read/work on her book because of the animal cruelty.  It was at that point that the whole room gasped in shock.  They were appalled!  They rolled their eyes!  How could that editor be so silly? was the general question that hung in the air.  It’s an editor’s job to read books, so it shouldn’t matter what’s in it…should it?

I was taken aback.  I frankly expected more from a bunch of feminists.  If feminists expect people to respect their cause and concerns, shouldn’t they respect the causes and concerns of others?

I wanted to put my hand up and say I understood the editor’s perspective and shame on them for being so rude about someone’s preferences, but I didn’t.  It’s not that I have a problem piping up, it’s just that it’s a complex topic and I didn’t want to derail the conversation and take the spotlight off the writers.  So instead of speaking up then, I’m doing it now.

I’m a vegetarian.  I was a vegetarian for about ten years before I started eating meat again around the age of twenty-five or six, now I’m happily back to my vegetarian ways.  Every time I ate meat for the six or seven years I was back at it, I felt guilty.  I really hated it because I really love (and respect) animals and because I love animals so much I tend to get easily turned off when someone is abusing them.

But in a fictional story does it really matter?  To me it does.

Once when I wanted to write a horrible character, like a really horrible character, I made her kill a dog.  When I finished writing the scene I was horrified, but to me it drove home the impact of her horribleness.  Sure the character was manipulative and a rapist and was responsible for a couple of human deaths too, but to me none of that compared to the evil that was killing an animal.  After all is said and done I still have a residual feeling of guilt for using violence against animals to enhance the negativity of a character.  Why?  Treating animals well is just something I feel strongly about, even in my fiction.  So whenever I see a character in any circumstance be mindless or cruel to animals, I automatically hate them and hold it against them…usually forever.

Overall I believe animal cruelty does have a place in fiction, but if it’s sustained and pointless I tend to shy away from it because it’s just not fun for me to read something that makes me feel horrible for whatever animal is being harmed.

I think in some cases animal cruelty can have a point though.  For example I just wrote a story about an aquarium (which I think are disgusting, cruel prisons for fish) where the main character learned to feel empathy for the fish and ultimately sad about their enslavement.  But a lot of the time I feel that animal cruelty is either used because it’s an easy emotional trigger (like the way I used it to make my character evil) or it goes unaddressed as a problem.  People eat animals all the time, so why should hurting them be a problem?

Ultimately I wouldn’t want to read a book about a matador because the violence against animals isn’t being addressed (as far as I know), it’s just a backdrop for the story of the main character and I don’t find that interesting enough to endure animals being tortured.  Clearly the editor who was being mocked at the event felt the same way as me and I’m here to say I agree with her.  I feel what she’s feeling.  Everyone has their sensitive issues, or things they don’t want to see/read because it bothers them and I don’t think anyone should be put down for that.

For me, I deal with animal cruelty in fiction very selectively and frankly I think that’s perfectly okay.

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Afraid to Speak

ImageI am currently writing a book that is a mix of both fiction and non-fiction.  In the book both Ben and I discuss gender and sexuality and offer our opinions on defining men and women and our own sexuality.

This scares me.

  Everywhere you look there are writers getting in deep shit for writing something contentious, for writing their true feelings or even for tweeting the ‘wrong thing’.  It’s a big bad world out there full of millions of people ready to leap on you for the smallest ‘misstep’.

This clearly isn’t new.  Before the legions of internet trolls and angry groups of activists there were people with pitchforks and torches and before that there were beheadings and scallopings and all manner of painful torment for people who just wanted to express themselves.

I certainly wouldn’t go so far to compare myself with great philosophers who have been murdered for speaking up, but I do know some of my opinions and feelings will be contentious and that worries me.

I’m not one to stay quiet, I never have been.  It’s caused me no shortage of stress of course and on many occasions I’ve been verbally assaulted for my views.  But I just can’t shut up.  I feel the need to say how I feel, say it loud and write it in books and try to get them published so everyone can read them.  It’s kind of a little self destructive I guess.  I mean I could pick something nice and safe to write about, couldn’t I?  But no.  I have to be interested in the things people get riled up about.  I choose to write about sex, gender, abuse, psychopathy, drugs, death.  I choose to write about topics that scare me or make me uncomfortable.

When I’ve really piped up and shared my feelings and thoughts I’ve been called many horrible names and had people go off on me, cease listening and just overwhelm me with their anger.  I’ve even been called a murderer because of some of my views.  But still I go back for more.

I don’t want to be afraid to speak but I am sometimes.  I’m only human, I care about what other people think of me and I don’t want to offend.  But I also want to be true to myself, I want to be honest in my writing and I don’t want to shut up just because the trolls might come banging on my door.

So what’s a girl to do?

Write.  Just keep saying what I want to say.  Because what other choice do I have?  I clearly want to venture onto contentious ground and if I didn’t I wouldn’t be me.

So here are my rules for self expression for those who want to speak up and are afraid to do so:

1) It’s alright to express yourself no matter what.
2) It’s alright to change your mind.  The things you have said in the past might not apply in the future.
3) Feelings are subjective and oftentimes neither right or wrong.
4) Try not to fret over people who refuse to listen or understand your perspective and feelings.
5) Philosophy and practicality are two different things.  It’s alright to discuss things from a top down view.
6) Just say it.
7) If you’ve changed your mind don’t be afraid to admit it.
8) Write, write, write!

How do you get past the barriers of being afraid to speak?