A few months ago a reader told me I write like a man. When I asked for clarification, the person said, “You know, the violence. Your killer is so twisted.”
It’s true, Eating Bull has short scenes of graphic violence. The novel has a serial killer, after all. It also contains profanity, particularly the scenes where my overweight teenager gets bullied. Something tells me a 17-year-old, inner-city Cleveland bully would not call his victim a “chubby poo-poo head.”
But while I expected people who knew me to widen their eyes at my words and cluck, I didn’t expect to be compared to a man for writing them.
So that got me thinking:
Do male writers enjoy more leeway when it comes to violence and profanity? Are female authors held to a different standard?
I remember reading the criticism J.K. Rowling received for her use of profanity in both A Casual Vacancy and her new detective series (published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith). Reviews for the latter also mentioned its violence.
In an article on DailyMail.com about A Casual Vacancy (“We Know You’re Grown Up Now, J.K. Rowling. So Stop Swearing), a writer laments:
“But wading through the torrent of abusive terms in a book by Ms Rowling – of all people! – made me wince with embarrassment.”
“She’s perfectly within her rights to cuss like a trooper – but the fact that she has actively chosen to do it when she could have found ways around it . . . is just disappointing.”
After reading the article I wondered why reviewers don’t say the same about Stephen King. Some of his books have enough twisted violence and profanity to make Quentin Tarantino blush. But I don’t recall seeing reviews take him to task for it, at least not like J.K. Rowling’s have.
Of course, this may be because King is King and has always written that way, whereas Rowling is the mother of Harry Potter, a series for children and teens. One doesn’t expect f-bombs and severed body parts to fly from her fingertips.
But after having readers mention my own use of violence and language, I wondered if some of the bias is gender-related.
Yeah, But What About …
To be fair, plenty of books written by men have been called out for their violence. For example, Simon & Schuster canceled American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis on “grounds of taste,” after having paid him a $300,000 advance. The novel was subsequently published by Vintage Books.
I suppose as with most things it’s a combination of factors, gender included. As for how much violence and profanity is too much, well, that’s a topic for another day and not one I’m addressing here, other than to say I wouldn’t be opposed to a content advisory for books. Why shouldn’t readers know what they’re getting?
But in the meantime, I’ll just keep writing. Not as a man. Not as a woman. Only as me.
Do you think readers expect less violence and profanity from female authors? Are you for a book rating system, similar to movies and TV shows?
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