I’ve been wondering lately how much of an anachronism some of the events in my new book Like Two Opposite Things actually are.
The story, about a teen girl figuring out how love and sex and relationships work, takes place in the mid-90s just a few years after the Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas which, as a teen in the 90s my own self, had an profound effect on my psyche. Among other things (*cough* unapologetically sexist children’s media *cough*), it made some pretty solid implications about the value of my body and my voice in the world at large, how I could expect to be treated by men in general and those in power specifically, and what my word was worth when speaking out against mistreatment. Moreover, it made me question whether perceived mistreatment actually was mistreatment or if it was just the result of some negative or inappropriate behavior on my part or the part of the women I might try to identify with.
Hill being publicly dragged through the mud for suggesting that her boss was less than respectable towards her, in my young mind, meant that either homegirl was lying to get attention (which she was accused of) or she was telling the truth and no one was ever going to believe her.
And there’s a little of that in my book. There’s a boy who makes some unwelcome advances toward my protagonist. It’s not his first time doing so but no one believed it the first time around because the behavior was directed toward a younger girl, of color, and reported by her cousin who had a reputation for being something of a trouble-maker. But my protag–who is a white girl–makes the accusation while recruiting a respectable family to legitimize her and that’s when things start to change for the better.
But is that just wishful thinking on my part?
I hate that trope of the white man stepping in to defeat the forces of evil and save a population of people he doesn’t resemble because they can’t do it for themselves. But I do want to believe that whatever privilege I have can be used to redirect attention to anyone whose voice has been silenced, either by racism, sexism, ageism or homophobia (however naive that may be). It’s why I’m so interested in the She Should Run Incubator and the movement to get more women into politics. Because I want us all to have a voice. Because I want those of us who won’t let our voices be silenced speak for those who have no choice. I desperately want to believe that there is hope for us all!
While my novel is not a true story, I have seen accusations of sexual assault and rape go unexamined because of whatever prejudice existed about the accuser. And most of my experiences happened as a teen in the 90s, long before there was a rape culture hashtag or a public conversation to uncover the previously justified treatment of women as sex objects and pleasure bots for men.
It’s becoming clear to me that my novel is a fantasy. It’s what I wanted to be able to do for all the girls I knew who were mistreated not only by men but by the institutions that claimed to protect them. It’s a fairy tale.
It’s also a lot fluffier and sweeter than this post makes it out to be. A teen in love for the first time, trying to figure out what exactly love is and how it measures up to her expectations? Adorable. The sexual assault scene and aftermath? A nasty little reality check. But I can’t deny that the attitudes of the teens and some of the adults in my book are hardly what I experienced as reality in the 90s.
But maybe that’s why I needed to write it.
I’m telling you, this whole place could fall apart like that,” she says, snapping her fingers.
“Jeez, and it’s all my fault.”
Heather sits up straight and stares down at me. “Um, no. Not at all. That perv attacked you. How is any of this your fault?”
“Because I wasn’t… like, polite about it. I could have made the situation less like, antagonistic if I had just been more understanding and compassionate.”
“Chica, no. No, no, no. This has nothing at all to do with you not being nice about some jerk trying to touch you after you said no. You’re allowed to say no however you want, whenever you want and nothing that person does afterward is your responsibility. Not at all. Think about it for a second. Do you honestly think Todd would have acted much differently if you had been nice to him? Do you know how often I am super nice to him and he continues to be super rude and awful to me? Would it have changed anything if you did things differently?”
“I don’t know. Maybe?” I’m starting to think back to the timeline of events. What would have happened if I had just said something like I’m sorry, but I’m not interested. Or told him I understand how disappointing it is to like someone who doesn’t like you back. I imagine him laughing at me, telling me I was wrong, insisting that if I just kissed him I’d see how much I really did like him. Maybe I wouldn’t have fallen down. Maybe I wouldn’t have scraped up my hands and face, but there was no way he was just gonna say OK and let me walk away. He already proved that. Twice.
“Maybe not,” I say.
“Definitely not. Now get your butt up and let’s go have some breakfast. Or brunch, actually, because that’s about what time it is, lazy bum.”
Excerpt from Like Two Opposite Things, available for pre-order on Amazon.com