I like to think of myself as someone very aware of culture, society’s influences on myself and my worldview, privilege, and place. I like to think that this caution and self-awareness reaches deep into my psyche and affects my word choices, too, and the way I write stories. I’ve called people out on Twitter for using language such as a rape victim “admitting” to being raped because ‘admitting’ is attached so strongly to guilt.
I like to think that I’ve taught myself to think and write differently than I’ve been taught by the world. I like to think that I’ve successfully reprogrammed my default modes.
Then I wrote a scene over the weekend that changed that. I was on a writing roll. I barely stopped to blink. And then I went to write a line, and my fingers slowed, and then they came to hover above the keys. I stared at my screen. I deleted the words I had just written, and then I stared at my screen a little longer.
In the book (magicballoonbook aka The Girl with the Red Balloon), there’s a kid–she just turned thirteen prior to her story beginning–who is, though I do not diagnose her on the page (because that would be anachronistic: girls didn’t have Asperger’s in 1988 East Germany), on the spectrum. Without her older brother knowing–though all the signs are there and he ignored them–her guardian mentally abuses her, threatens her, and uses drugs to keep the girl pliable and controllable to her own ends.
When the girl apologizes to her brother, he almost said to her–he did say, and then I deleted it–, “You should have said something.”
In those five words, he put the burden of reporting abuse, for which the signs run all over the book, on his younger sister. He put the burden and responsibility of what happened to her on the victim.
And even though, that might have been that character’s truest gut reaction in that moment, I had him swallow it. I had him say, “No, I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I should have known.”
Because I should have known. Because I don’t want my victims blamed for their abuse in a story by one of the heroes. Because it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t his fault either, but the signs were there for him to see. The responsibility was in the adults around her, not in her, to recognize what was happening and to protect her. He failed to protect her. So did the guardian who abused her, and another guardian. They all failed her.
She did not fail.
That’s all for now, folks. This has just been spinning around in my head for a few days. I was shocked by my own writing, by my own willingness to say, Yes. It was her fault. Why didn’t she say something to him? I wanted to put it in the open as something to think about and be aware of as we all tackle difficult subjects.