Sunday, July 20, 2014

Talking Down

Zoë Sharp

I’ve always hated the phrase ‘the battle of the sexes’. Not quite one of my pet hates, but close to it. By some quirk of fate I grew up with a total lack of acceptance for the normal stereotypes. I don’t recall my parents ever telling me there were things I couldn’t do based solely on my gender rather than my aptitude. Besides, I never had much of an interest in the more girly dolls, preferring the family Meccano set in its lovely wooden box. If only I still had it now. <sigh>



This week has brought home the gender divide in a number of ways, however. Some good and some bad.

First off, I was the guest speaker at a local Rotary Club in York — there are three to choose from, and the York Vikings is a male-only preserve. I have to confess that I wasn’t aware of this until after I’d agreed to do my talk, and I don’t think it would have made any difference even if I had known. The very fact they had invited me to speak to them said more, to me, than being invited to join their number. And if one or two of them attempted to unsettle me with pre-dinner banter, I’ve spent too many years being heckled as a motoring photographer not to take that kind of thing in my stride. In the end they were a charming audience who laughed in all the right places and asked intelligent questions afterwards. What more could I ask?

Contrast this with my experiences looking to buy a new motorcycle. I thought I’d found the right machine at a main dealership, but when I went to collect my purchase — cadging a lift there on the back of my brother-in-law’s Kawasaki — the salesman insisted on including him in the discussion as if I might not understand the longer words if left to handle the paperwork on my own. As it was, I discovered that the price was 20% higher than I’d been promised, and they had made a serious ‘error’ when it came to the bike’s history. With much regret, I told them to forget it. The bike is already back advertised for sale and no doubt they will tell any new prospective purchasers this is because I was a time waster.

But just being back in that kind of world made me feel like an outsider again. It reminded me very strongly of how my main protagonist, Charlie Fox, would feel every day she turns up for work as a bodyguard, where people tend to look past your shoulder for the person they were expecting. And it also reminded me why I started writing about Charlie in the first place — in part to express the inequality of those stale attitudes. Getting back onto a bike will be very good for both of us, methinks.

At the same time, it’s a shame that I have to describe both Charlie and the main protag of THE BLOOD WHISPERER, Kelly Jacks, as ‘strong females’. If they were male, the ‘strong’ part would be pleonastic. Of course readers would expect them to be strong. And yet if I’m writing about a heroine rather than a hero I still have to make that point. To me they’re just interesting characters put into high-stress situations, which they cope with according to their skills and experiences. If that means they have a certain underlying strength then that’s because I don’t want to see them fold and fail, just as I have no desire to do so myself.

They say you should write what you know.

I do it all the time.

Meanwhile, these words from Felony & Mayhem Press and I thank them heartily for their recommendation.

And finally, this week's Word of the Week is amphibology meaning a sentence or phrase that is grammatically ambiguous, such as "I'm sorry it took me so long to answer the door. I was just playing Tomb Raider in my underpants." (One I heard recently  honest!)

19 comments:

  1. Zoe, What a great post. I love Charlie. Many action heroines, even some written by women, seem more like men in drag who have then dressed in fatigues. Until the sex scenes that is, when they turn into male fantasies of frilly undies and moaning. Charlie seems like a real female person. That said, I particularly like it when some buffoon thinks the "girl" will be an easy target, and she punches them in the Adam's apple, takes away their weapon, and threatens to shoot them in the knee cap. I believe Charlie can and will do that. Bad guys, beware of the woman in the little black dress!

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    1. Thanks, Annamaria. I've always tried very hard not to make Charlie 'a guy in nylons' as someone once wonderfully put it. And yes, she would act as you describe, although I suspect she would not be aiming the gun at their kneecap ...

      I once described Charlie owning an all-purpose little black dress for formal occasions, that had been chosen because it was stretchy enough to move in if she needed to, the colour wouldn't show the blood, and was also 'the most expensive thing in my wardrobe that didn't contain kevlar ...'

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    2. Yup, that was the dress I remembered from the book!

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    3. Oh, and by the way, a woman--Stephanie Kwolek--invented Kevlar:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/21/business/stephanie-l-kwolek-inventor-of-kevlar-is-dead-at-90.html?_r=0

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    4. Wow, thanks for that Annamaria -- what a fascinating fact. I shall follow the link and read up about her. Thank you!

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    5. Just read the piece -- how sad that she worked for 15 years in the lab without promotion before making her breakthrough.

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  2. Women come in many different forms, as do men. Biology guarantees that the sexes will 'skew' differently when looked at statistically. But that's never an excuse to deal with individuals statistically. At best it's ignorant and lazy to do so, and at worst it's hateful and destructive.

    And how did you know about my amphibology???

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    1. I feared for a moment you were going to ask how Zoe knew about your Tomb Raider getup.

      I'm glad to see you followed the advice of Prophet Jim Croce as expressed in his immortal lyric: "Don't tug on Superwoman's cape." Or something like that.

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    2. Ah. Another Croce disciple, that explains a LOT. Just be sure not to spend all of your time in a bottle...

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    3. Amphibology? I'm a collector of strange and interesting words, Everett. And I love the often unusual derivations of everyday words.

      Although I recognise men and women are biologically different -- you only have to look at the way a woman's arm bends when she's carrying a heavy bag compared to the way a man's arm bends -- preconceptions have always annoyed me. I like to play with people's preconceptions in my books all the time.

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    4. There was a great line in a Brad Paisley song 'Whiskey Lullaby' that goes, "He put the bottle to his head and pulled the trigger."

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  3. Have remonstrated Everett, I now congratulate you on passing on the Kawasaki. Go for the Ducati, Zoe. It suits you.

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  4. Thanks, Jeff. It was a Triumph I passed on, although yesterday I managed to find another one that looks an altogether better deal ...

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    1. A Triumph is precisely the right bike for you! Perfect. Though I must say every time I see the logo I can't help but think of Jack Nickolson and that scene in "Five Easy Pieces." Congratulations.

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    2. Thanks, Jeff, but I'm going to have to look that one up ...

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    3. In the next scene, Bobby (A young Jack Nicholson wearing a "TRIUMPH" motorcycle T-shirt) is in Betty's (Sally Struthers) apartment, and they are in the throes of making violent and wild love to each other. Her nude body grabs onto him as he carries her and spins around the room, and she screeches and gasps. They fall exhausted onto the bed as Betty climaxes, and her screams subside.

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    4. Ah, thanks Anon. Now then, Jeff, why does this not surprise me At All ... ?

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    5. Hey, you're the one who bought the motorcycle, Zoe, not me. :)

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