"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Monday, March 5, 2012

AWP 2012: Women and Crime Fiction

Here begins a series of post-AWP posts, because I didn't have time or energy or internet to post during the conference itself. Truth be told, I still don't have energy (the train got into Lincoln at 12:15 last night and I teach this morning), but I still have that post-AWP glow of inspiration and energy that I hope will hang around for a while. It's also beneficial to let things simmer for a while and see what bubbles to the top.

I went to "Women in Jeopardy: Crime Fiction" on Thursday and I don't know what I wanted the panel to be, but I didn't get it. It was fine and I didn't know what I wanted out of it, but it left me strangely disappointed. But the basic ideas about men vs. women being represented in crime fiction were interesting and I learned terms about the genre that I didn't know before. But I would have liked to talk about the actual fiction, rather than the business of it.

On the train ride back to Lincoln from Chicago yesterday, we sat next to a woman who teaches in the MFA program at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. My friend Danielle, a first-year MA in fiction, is very interested in social justice, particularly in human and sex trafficking and we were talking about the panel and violence against women used for entertainment. This Rhetoric of Women Writers class I'm taking has been huge in giving me the vocabulary to talk about things I already feel like I know. But so much of crime fiction, so much of the thriller-type movie genre involves violence against women as the precipitating event of the plot, women needing to be saved. The panel did discuss writing strong women characters, women who have agency, where women and men come together eye-to-eye, on equal footing.

But my larger question--and this is what the three of us discussed on the train yesterday--how do you get away from that? She mentioned absolutely hating the Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (she hadn't seen the American version, and wouldn't) its adherence to this plot; Danielle and I mentioned the movie Taken (which I hated and started me on this kick). I like to read mysteries and thrillers. Someday, I'd like to write one. So how do you write the anti-version of "violence against women as entertainment." And my short answer to the woman from UNO was "I don't know." And I don't know. Part of it, yes, is giving women characters agency and the ability and tools to solve her own problems. But there's a larger issue here and I don't know what to do about it. It's definitely worth continuing the discussion, because I certainly don't have any answers.

But it's like I told the woman from UNO: things that bother me, things that enrage me, things I can't quite figure out, well, that sounds like a class I should teach.

Anybody want to weigh in?

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