Fictional Misogyny

For the past few years, I’ve done freelance proofreading and editing work. Manuscripts, doctoral thesis papers, business proposals, you name it. My favorite things to edit, though, have always been fiction.

A long time ago in a galaxy far away I first fell in love with words writing fiction. It became a way to deal with problems without having to deal with them. Identity crisis? Depression and self-harm? Abusive relationship? That sounds like something to write a character into and see how they handle it! No harm no foul.

One of my first (and longest-running) clients was an older man who had been writing for some time. He never did anything with any of it; he just had this massive collection of short stories he had written over the years, and now he wanted someone to help him polish them up and strengthen them. Hell yessssssss, Katie thinks. This is my jam!

He warns me in our initial conversations that he had spoken to other editors who had ultimately not taken him on as a client. I become worried. Not that we’re an outrightly whorish bunch, us freelancers, but really, what could be so bad that I won’t take your money to read it and provide feedback?

He confesses to me, rather embarrassed, that some of his stories have some adult overtones (read: some real dirty graphic shit).

Not. A. Problem. I assure him. We begin working together.

In an effort to not offend my delicate sensibilities too much, he sprinkles in the dirty ones here and there. For every 4-5 stories of his that I edit, maybe one of them is balls-to-the-wall word porn. The consummate professional that I am, I don’t really comment too much on the dirtiness of it. I’m looking at all of this like I would any other fiction. “You know Mark, the way she makes him look at her while she’s swallowing his load… it just doesn’t seem consistent with the character you had developed up until that point.”

After a while he sends me a few that he warns me are a little more rough than usual. I’m not all that nervous. We’ve been at this for a while, I know largely what I’m getting into. Or so I think.

I think wrong, by the way.

I proceed to read the most graphically misogynistic rape fiction I’ve ever come across. I’m not talking consentual non-consent either, by the way. I’m talking straight-up rape. Now, I’m not one to begrudge anyone a rape fantasy (it would be hypocritical as fuck), but it was quite honestly a little tough for me to get through. I had to put it down a few times and go back to it.

It was one of the first times I had actually been made uncomfortable. I was left wondering how to handle it. Do I ignore that element of it completely? Do I attempt to talk to him about it? Am I just being too sensitive? If I just go with it and edit it anyway, am I somehow condoning this as a person? As a woman? Am I sending a message that rape is ok?

It ended up sparking a lot of pondering in me about healthy channels for thoughts or inclinations that don’t really have a real-life outlet (barring going out and finding someone with the same inclination and working it out that way). There isn’t too much we can do about the things that cross our minds. The only thing we can control is how we handle them, what we do about them. I might not be able to stop myself from wanting to punch you in the face, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have control over whether or not I do it.

Ultimately I resolve that I’m not getting paid enough to delve into the depths of it with this guy. I don’t know where he was coming from when he wrote it. It may be that he had something he needed to work through, like I used to write to do. You can’t ever really be sure what someone’s history is, right? On the other hand, it may be that he was using his writing as an outlet for an otherwise unacceptable thing.
I’ll probably never know for sure. And that’s ok with me.

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