Sometime during the few days it took me to read Jennifer Weiner’s new novel That Summer, I woke up in the middle of the night with a simple but powerful thought: I’m done. I am DONE reading about sexual assault. I’m tired of the trope of a woman struggling to deal with this specific type of horrible event in her past and I want to move on.
To be clear, I’m not criticizing the book. I thought it was well written and the difficult topics were sensitively addressed. I understand that fiction helps people process tragic life events and unfortunately, there are a lot of people who can relate to the subject matter.
Neither am I a stranger to “MeToo” behavior. Nearly every woman I know, myself included, has experienced a man crossing a line to varying degrees. And it is helpful for other women to come forward and send the message “You are not alone.”
But reading and watching this type of story over and over and over (Law and Order: SVU is on its 22nd season!) is disempowering. It feels like womanhood=trauma. And the stories we tell ourselves have a way of becoming the truth, or at least what feels like the true historical record.
I recently watched The Queen’s Gambit. I really enjoyed it and looked for online commentary to see if other people did, too. What were people saying? “I was afraid that the main character was going to be assaulted, I kept waiting for it to happen.” Why is the expectation that any story about a young woman is going to include sexual assault? Stories about men don’t bear this baggage.
What if we diverted a small portion of the energy used to write sad stories of terrible things that happen to women into tales of women doing badass shit? As a writer, this is my pledge: Women who read my work are going to walk away feeling empowered. As an avid reader, I hope other writers do the same.