Help! My novel’s narrator is a sexist jerk!
Contributor
Written by
Kathleen Kern
June 2013
Contributor
Written by
Kathleen Kern
June 2013

Help! My novel’s narrator is a sexist jerk!

June 12, 2013 in Human Rights, Kathleen Kern Author

If you have read my previous postings, you know that my novel switches the gender roles in the biblical narrative about the prophet Hosea and his wife, Gomer the prostitute. Instead of having three children by other men, my main first person POV character, Islam Goldberg-Jones (Iz) has three increasingly heart-breaking affairs. (Actually, upon rereading, I realized that only the first child is by another man. The paternity of the other two isn’t specified. So I’m saying, let’s cut Gomer some slack, people, and assume they were Hosea’s, and let’s wag our finger at Hosea for giving them names that probably got them teased on the playground.)

A google image search of

A google image search of “sexist jerk” got me Mad Men’s Don Draper. “Sexist creep” got me Rep. Louie Gohmert.


The novel never tunes into a jocular “boys will be boys” vibe. I have been on the receiving end of infidelity and it brought life as I knew it to a crashing halt. Literally decades passed before I felt stable in a relationship again. I knew from the beginning that Shea, the prophetic character in my novel, was not going to tolerate Iz’s behavior. She was going to be stronger than I had been when she responded to Iz’s infidelities, although the political circumstances of bringing down the fascist regime ruling the United States and the fact that she had adopted his daughter as her own child would get in the way of her writing him out of her life.

And yet…I kind of love Iz. Of course, I knew at the beginning he was going to undergo a transformation, and perform a major sacrifice that would redeem some of his skeeviness. That redemption, of course, is a major theme in Hosea: he said Israel could still turn away from its idol worship and save itself, just as Gomer chose to leave the man she ran off with and return with Hosea when he came to fetch her (As it happens Israel fell to the Assyrian Empire in 722, but never mind.)

The problem is, will people be willing to wait for the transformation to happen? The head of the first literary agency I sent a query for my current novel manuscript to, praised the query and asked me to send the manuscript to one of her underlings. The underling, after Iz had his second affair, decided she just couldn’t stomach him.

I’ve been following with interest commentary by agent Sarah LaPolla and writer Seanan McGuire on sexism in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genres (see esp. McGuire’s blogs on cover art and rape.) I had to set Shea in a dystopian future, because I needed a theocratic government to make it work (I’m a little afraid of Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale comparisons, actually. For my Christian Republic setting in the U.S. 2065-2087, think Atwood’s Republic of Gilead with more empowered women like Michele Bachmann running things.) I work for a human rights organization, Christian Peacemaker Teams, that takes Undoing Oppressions seriously, and my colleague, Tim, who has been one of the greatest encouragers of my fiction writing told me that he also finds Iz’s whoring around distressing, and wonders whether I am not promoting sexism by allowing Iz to do it for as long as he does.

On the other hand my very feminist friend in Jerusalem feels strongly that Iz needs to stay the way he is for his redemption to be meaningful at the end.

My writer friend, Sara Selznick has another suggestion. Between chapters, I have inserted little fictional nonfiction news items, e.g., this:

LCC HOMES REPORT HUNDREDS OF CHILDREN FINDING SALVATION

U.S. Christian News Service

January 15, 2053 YOL
Washington, DC-A recently released study by Christian sociologists shows that children placed in Let the Children Come (LCC) homes outperform their peers in all areas, including sports, academics and mental health. LCC children are also twice as likely to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior as the average American child.

LCC began three years ago as an initiative developed by the U.S. Department of Christian Affairs (DCA) to provide a safe haven for children suffering abuse from deviant parents—usually Muslims, atheists, sexual perverts and anti-U.S. terrorists.

While the parents spend time in rehabilitation, their children receive superior education, nutrition, and recreation. The ultimate goal of the LCC program is to reunite families and give adults the psychological and spiritual tools they need to raise healthy, patriotic, Christian children.

“Before I came to LCC,” fourteen-year-old Alice Christian (formerly Alia Tamimi) said at a press conference held to announce the release of the report, “my parents would beat me if I did not worship their false god. At LCC I finally felt safe and loved. I’ve made so many good friends in my home.” Smiling broadly, she concluded, “But the best friend I’ve made is Jesus.

Sara is suggesting I put in more of these, from the viewpoint of other people that know Iz, who is writing a jailhouse memoir as an old man, riddled with guilt about what a sexist jerk he was (although he doesn’t use those words.) She thinks that if I share other POVs that show what people found lovable about him, it might break up the long narrative of his philandering and insensitive fathering. Trouble is, the novel is already over 100,000 words. Since, as I reported earlier, Sara’s is over 200,000, she doesn’t think this presents an obstacle!

Thoughts?

Oh, and for Christian friends who might have been offended by the above news item, Shea, the prophetic figure in the novel is a devout Christian, but I believe, with her, that when you mix religion with the state it pretty much messes up both.

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