Thursday, 17 July 2014

Is Crime Writing Misogynistic? asks Jake Kerridge in the Telegraph

Well, this is a strange sentiment to come across in a serious article: "those writers who have their female characters raped, gutted or flayed may be the ones who care about women the most."  It came as no surprise to me that these words were written by a man. So all I have to say to Jake Kerridge is - really? Do you honestly believe that? I mean, really?

As authors we are repeatedly told that fans of crime fiction enjoy reading about women in jeopardy. Well, the jeopardy wouldn't be very serious if the threat of violence or death was never followed through. So yes, women do have to be stalked, terrified, and killed. But "raped, gutted or flayed" to show how much the author cares about women? 

The increase in violence towards women in crime fiction probably has nothing whatever to do with caring about women. What is more likely is that authors are, understandably, pursuing what they believe readers want to read. It's a fair enough tack to adopt, given the difficulty of achieving decent book sales these days. After the phenomenon of 50 Shades, my publisher asked me, somewhat wistfully, if I fancied writing erotic crime. I declined. Each to his own. I have great respect for those who can write erotic fiction but I'm a crime girl, read it, write it, speculate about it, research it, that's my bag. 

Back to the female characters who are being "raped, gutted and flayed".  There was a trend in crime fiction not so long ago for the genre to move increasingly over the boundary into horror, with authors going all out to shock readers. Yes, I like to startle my readers. I love it when I scare myself.  

But, like the eroticism which would probably increase sales of my books, there are lines I prefer not to cross. I don't write cosies, but I do have certain parameters. There are some extremely nasty characters in my books who are seriously vicious. They kill people. Some of them enjoy it. Even they might draw the line at " gutting and flaying" because that goes beyond my own boundaries. Usually it's included simply to be sensational. And that's what it is. Not caring, but exploitative.

This is something I feel quite strongly about so I try to be even handed in my books. They feature a female detective inspector, and a spin off series for her male sergeant. Like my detectives, my killers are both male and female, as are my victims. This is deliberate, as my readers have fewer clues to the identity of a potential victim, or indeed a killer. Women can kill. Men can be killed. And vice versa. Why not? 

So is crime fiction misogynistic as Jake Kerridge suggests? Well, not in my books, it's not. Writers who care about women - and men - create strong, sympathetic characters who command respect - feisty, sassy, engaging characters we can admire. They don't objectify women as victims.   

But I can't help suspecting I've risen to the bait in writing this post, because Jake Kerridge's claim that "those writers who have their female characters raped, gutted or flayed may be the ones who care about women the most" is probably another clever ploy to shock us into responding to his article. It worked for me. 


gpangel said...

Leigh ,
I love crime fiction but I have felt many tines that the stories were misogynistic. I think good crime stories needs can be dark, gritty and scary without being brutalizing women. In fact, relying on the shock factor alone will only work for awhile. You need strong characters people like and relate to. Great article.

Leigh Russell said...

I quite agree, gpangel - what's wrong with strong plots and engaging characters instead of shock tactics.

Val Ewing said...

I do like to be kept on edge in a crime novel, but don't always go for the worst of horrid things.
I can't say that an author loves women who does all that to his female characters.
What about the authors that flay, gut, and do horrid things to male characters?
Just asking.
Good mystery = good book.

Leigh Russell said...

Quite right , Val. Perhaps I ought to flay a few men, just for the sake of equality... Not sure my husband would approve though...

Guillaume said...

I do not think crime fiction is a misogynistic genre. What it is, however, is a genre that often does not idealizes: their heroes are flawed, their victims not always blameless, there are femmes fatales of course, but also cowardly men and exploiters. Actually, showing a female prostitute, and/or drug addict, and/or druglord's babe is not misogynistic: it is acknowledging that in reality, women are flawed too, not bleeding Virgin Mary. And it's not like there are so many knights in shining armour in crime fiction.

Oh and this sort of reminds of the Série Noire manifesto: