In their book Beyond Heaving Bosoms, Smart Bitches Sarah and Candy pointed out that more often than not, the whore stereotype was portrayed as a foil to the virtuous heroine. On my blog, I’ve pointed out multiple times that women in the army who sleep around are remembered not for their job skills but for their reputation as whores. I can’t speak to how women in the civilian world who are promiscuous are treated in the workplace as I have zero experience with civilian work places.
Here’s my question: why is it that in fiction, women are not allowed to be promiscuous. They might have had sex before, but it is almost always off stage and before the book opened. I just read a fantastic Tami Hoag novel where the slutty sister is brutally murdered by serial killer (loved the book, mind you). The heroine and her sister caused me to do a lot of thinking.
The sister was not a bad person. She simply believed that since her step father began abusing her at 13 that she really was born a whore and would never be anything more than a whore. A man loved her despite this, but her self-destructive behavior ultimately led to her death.
I truly felt bad for the sister. Despite her jealousy and her self sacrifice (she drew the step father’s attention away from her little sister), she was nevertheless killed for more or less being a whore. Tami’s example of the whore with a heart of gold did not sugar coat the fact that she was still a slut but she made her sympathetic.
Another greatly troubled female heroine was Starbuck on the new BattleStar Galactica. Starbuck believed, because of her mother’s relentless demands and harsh punishments, that she was unworthy of love, to the point of running away screaming from the one man who could have loved her, despite it all. I love the character of Starbuck because she’s one of the few female characters out there portrayed as both hero and whore.
I recently read a chapter in a romance novel that I simply could not get past. The heroine was sleeping with a mark to gain knowledge for a man who was blackmailing her. Despite knowing the heroine was doing it because of blackmail, I could not get over the heroine in a romance novel having sex on the page with someone other than the hero.
So we’ve got a dichotomy out there. We want our heroines to be virtuous, even if they are not virgins. We struggle with our women who are promiscuous and who simply like sex. But at the heart of it, a woman in fiction is not allowed to like sex as much as a man. There are always consequences, regardless of there being a double standard or not.
We have the same challenge in the military. Women who sleep around are ridiculed, whereas men who are ignored, at least until they are caught. It’s not fair but it remains a fact of life. This is the same mentality that wants our women to be nurturers yet wants to punish them for getting pregnant. We can’t get ahead.
I’m not saying that we should embrace the whore mentality. South Park’s episode, Stupid Spoiled Whore was a great portrayal of the pendulum swinging too far in the opposite direction and celebrating being a whore, which is not what I’m advocating. The portrayal of women in the media as sexy bimbos is self destructive in and of itself and leads to even greater misogyny. And even as we move forward into the 21st Century, I doubt that women’s sexuality is going to be subject to any great changes. As a parent, I refuse to allow Bratz dolls into my home because the message that being a slut is empowering is not a message I want my daughters to grow up accepting. Easy women will continue to be mocked by the men who sleep with them and the whore will continued to be the foil for the virtuous heroine. What can we do to change this mentality and find a middle of the road position that does not celebrate the whore but neither does it lynch her.
Do you dare write a Starbuck? Can you write a heroine who is deeply troubled and uses sex as a method for seeking self worth in male attention, yet still have a hero who loves her despite it all? Can this heroine be redeemed? Would you even want to or be able to write such a heroine? Why or why not?