Another Pain of Reading Old Work I’ve discovered is that a shockingly large number of my protagonists are unhappy, verbally and emotionally abused housewives whose reality is melting around them. No one believes them. Everyone (especially the husband) thinks they’re crazy.
On Sunday night’s Mad Men, Don Draper was trying to control his new wife, picking at her, making her feel like garbage, insinuating she was the crazy one. Exactly how he treated Betty when they were married. Remember Don’s late-night phone calls to her psychiatrist to discuss her progress (or lack thereof)? Betty Draper, the crazy housewife.
I was a child in 1960, but old enough to notice, observe, and study. I lived through it, and I learned the wrong lessons. I liked the clothes. They were restrictive and artificial, but very cool. The panache, the glamour, even the relative rigidity of the social rules, the Eisenhower placidity of the time, didn’t strike me as artificial. I didn’t think a lot about artificiality vs. authenticity in those days. I looked upon it instead as a dance one needed to learn, and if one learned the steps well, one would be happy.
By a mere half-dozen years later, everything had changed. I don’t know what will happen between Don and Meghan, but I suspect he won’t be dialing up her psychiatrist to consult on her progress. He might want to, but he will no longer be allowed to.
This highlights an important difference between my protagonists and Don’s wives; his “act up,” but mine are shockingly passive. Victims. I read them and want to scream. Worse, I read them, and am bored with them.
I’m not certain why I fixated on this sort of situation. In real life, I went through and benefitted from the sexual revolution like everyone else. I have not shared the situation of these characters. I have certainly listened to other women talk of their situations, and have been outraged. I am aware that even a highly intelligent, outwardly successful woman can be shockingly passive when it comes to protecting herself from abuse from a loved one. I consider the very real lives of women today in countries where a abuse is codified into law and custom, and am horrified. Because I write SF & F, I crafted housewive’s stories into dark fantasy short stories. The horror of them comes as much from within as from without. I avoided depicting physical abuse; none of my characters’ husbands would hit them or kill them, but oh, could they be mean-mouthed and stupid as turnips!
My short stories of mad and unhappy housewives are well-written and authentic, if a bit repetitive. I could have written half as many and done the job. I acknowledge them, but to remain any longer with them would be to wallow. I have lost sympathy with them. I must move on.
I will not reprint these stories. Nor will I be writing an unhappy, reality-is-melting-and-my-husband-doesn’t-believe-me housewife protagonist in any future work. I say goodbye to all those poor, sorry, fictional women, and leave with some advice: Get out of the house once in a while. Do something. Stop isolating. Ask for help. Call Dr. Phil if necessary. Or Ghosthunters. Whatever. This is not the Middle Ages. As your author, I hereby set you free!