Writing Characters Through the Lens of the #MeToo Movement

I’ve said it before, but I’m going to say it again – connecting with fellow lovers of the written word is the best part of writing! Luna Saint Claire, author of The Sleeping Serpent, is back again to share her insight and knowledge of abusive relationships, and this time she’s applying it to the #MeToo movement. There’s some rich information exploring the ways that these types of relationships can develop,  whilst giving you a structured way to think about how this could relate to their own story world and characters. Over to you, Luna!

What is wrong with these men? I am pretty sure I am correct in assuming that we have all met people who behave badly—men and women alike—who bully, intimidate, manipulate and start fights to get their way. When children act out, have tantrums, bully other kids at school, and generally behave badly we usually associate their erratic behavior with frustration and inner turmoil that often accompanies feelings and emotions that have not been met and dealt with. Intellectually, we know that everyone has inner wounds, and some have serious afflictions. So, why are we stunned when successful adults who we admire and respect for their accomplishments behave deplorably, hurt people, and ultimately destroy their own lives? When writing abusive characters, we naturally explore what drives the character’s behavior. What is their inner wound that propels them to abandon self-control? But, it is equally essential to delve into the behavior and characteristics of their victims and the dynamic between the abuser and the abused.

Let’s explore sexual misconduct, violence, intimidation, and harassment through the lens of the #MeToo movement and the women who have recently come forward to call out the men who have behaved despicably and abused them in one way or another. By examining these famous perpetrators and their victims, we can extrapolate personality traits and behavior with which to imbue the characters we are writing into our novel.

The #MeToo movement has raised awareness of just how prevalent misconduct has been. There have been more than one-hundred accused, and the names we mostly hear in the news are famous, Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, to name just a few, but the abuse of power has been going on for centuries. In my youth it was professors and employers and you did your best to avoid them or quit. When I heard Anita Hill testify in 1991 during the nomination of Clarence Thomas, I knew she was telling the truth, but she was discredited. One factor to consider when writing is the reliability of the accused and the accuser. I would recommend reading Gone Girl as an example of a well portrayed unreliable narrator.

My last guest post here on PsychWriter was about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Co-Dependency. My book, The Sleeping Serpent, is fiction based on a co-dependent relationship with an abusive celebrity yoga teacher. Both my character and the men named in the #MeToo movement manipulated, coerced, gaslighted, intimidated and threatened women. The yoga teacher of my book wasn’t a household name, and the women he abused verbally and physically never charged him for fear of retribution.

When I view the various cases of the #Metoo movement I don’t see them as all the same personality type, nor the same degree of egregious behavior.

The Weaponized Predator

The charges against Bill Cosby are frightening. He allegedly committed over thirty sexual assaults that involved first drugging then raping his victims. He had been a respected and trusted household name for decades. I can only base my thoughts on writing this type of character from several articles I read which stated Cosby offered to help aspiring actresses by primarily inviting them to his home where he drugged them and raped them while they were incapacitated. While writing this type of character, who does not have to be famous person, we would show him as someone trusted and influential, who appears charming and nurturing. If the character is much older, as Cosby is now, you could include writing them as disarming and even feeble. They might behave needy and even display a loss of mojo to more easily manipulate his victims. In the case of Bill Cosby, the victims were unconscious when he raped them which gave him complete control over his victim, possibly alleviating performance anxiety. Cosby’s victims trusted him enough to go to his home, hoping for career advice and advancement. Consider writing your victim with a trusting, naïve personality that puts them in harm’s way.

The Bully

The stand-out is the vile abuse of power by Harvey Weinstein that has existed since the beginning of the movie industry with actors like Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe along with hundreds of others who have suffered with its iconic ‘casting couch’ while executives and agents looked away. This case is all too classic. Weinstein was a very powerful man of influence, protected by his corporation who apparently knew of his abusive behavior. He is the kingmaker and if you didn’t abide by his coercion your career was ruined. More than a dozen women have accused Weinstein of sexually harassing, assaulting or raping them. What’s interesting about writing the Weinstein type character can be drawn from real life. Why not write them as unattractive, grossly overweight, and appearing sloppy or disheveled? There is also an anecdote about him pleasuring himself into a potted plant. I remember a college roommate of mine telling us the story of when she hitchhiked in Greece. The trucker who picked her up began masturbating and saying, it’s good, it’s good. She burst out laughing—a combination of shock and fear—but he pulled over and told her to get out. I can almost picture an actress laughing at Weinstein as he ejaculates into a potted plant, except for the small fact she was there to impress him hoping to become the next Uma Thurman. If we take some scenes from the Weinstein playbook, your character would massage the woman’s shoulders, and if the scene is in his hotel room, he would appear in an open bathrobe. He might first ask for a massage, or to shower with them then demand oral sex. The women were frightened and horrified. They felt trapped and at a loss for what to do because they knew their career was in the balance. Several women described him chasing them around the room as they attempted to flee. If they ultimately thwarted his advances, the women claimed Weinstein bad mouthed them and damaged their career.

The Manipulator

The case of Charlie Rose broke my heart because his stature and intellect seemed to rise above his celebrity, but alas, he terrorized the young women interns who unwittingly showed up to his house to work and were greeted with Charlie either in his bathrobe (what’s with the bathrobe?) or strutting naked making unwelcome sexual advances. This character would prey upon his young women interns who would be unsuspecting, insecure, afraid to tell on him, and eager to please. Rose made lewd phone calls to at least one employee describing his fantasy about her swimming naked in the pool. While working at his home or private office he would sit next to them and place his hand on their thigh to test how willing they might be. His intellect is the foil that shielded him, almost making it seem that they were leading him on, rather than him preying upon them. His style seems innocent rather than the crass demonstrative behavior of Weinstein. Grabbing a kiss pretending it was welcomed and if they got upset and cried, he would say, oh baby, why are you crying? As if it was all a misunderstanding.

The Gross Groper

The celebrity chef Mario Batali made sexually charged comments and unwanted advances to women in his kitchens and was forced to step down from his restaurant empire. I too cringe when I think about the owners of the restaurants I worked in during high school ogling and groping me. In writing the character of a celebrity chef like Batali I would write him as licentious, brazen, audacious and as someone who wouldn’t even bother to conceal his behavior. Taking a page from the accusations, you would have this character rub against a female and wipe a stain from her chest with his bare hands and lots of grabbing and groping from behind. If the time stamp in your novel takes place several decades ago, women in kitchens with a chef who behaved like Batali might roll their eyes and try and dodge him. Some may even respond disarmingly with a coy smile and say, cut it out, to at least try and keep their valuable job.

The Clueless Geek

Then there is Al Franken, the senator from Minnesota, who had been a comedian and made a childish high-school type gesture in a photo without physically touching the woman. All the women in the senate went ballistic and he resigned. This is the character who is the geeky guy who didn’t have a girlfriend in high school and who never learned to read the signs and mistakes your smile as an invitation to kiss you. Yuck! But, is that assault, or only if he’s famous?

The Intellectual Nerd

There are also two well-known and highly acclaimed authors accused in the movement—Sherman Alexie and Junot Diaz. Both taught writing and both helped young writers. But it seems that both may have overstepped. Women writers sought their help on their manuscripts with the hope of winning their favor, an endorsement, an agent, a publishing deal. At book events some sought them out, and willingly had sex with them. When no publishing deal materialized, the women joined #Metoo. OK, so these guys did parlay their stature in the publishing world in return for sex. I wonder, if these aspiring women writers had gotten that endorsement or that deal, a quid pro quo, would they have complained? I would take a page from these authors’ own published works that are autobiographical. Both were never players, didn’t have girlfriends as young men, they were awkward and nerdy. Diaz recently wrote an article for the New Yorker about being raped when he was eight years old, which doesn’t excuse him, but may explain some of his behavior. Like rock stars, this character type would easily be excited by the interest of groupies. One woman accused Diaz of an unwelcome kiss. In Alexie’s case, the young women authors presenting their manuscripts to him were hopeful and eager for his attention even though he is married. But when they were subsequently ignored they became disillusioned and angry. I would write these characters as more clueless about their behavior. Possibly they think the flirtations or hook-ups are reciprocal and without strings.

The Charming Narcissist

A man with narcissistic personality disorder has some classic characteristics. Just like Nico in my book, The Sleeping Serpent, they are frequently intelligent and in the power position to begin with. They will make you feel needed and promise you something you want. They are charming, manipulative and controlling. You want that acting role? You want your manuscript published? You want to move up the ladder? They have the power to give you what you desire. But nothing is free. You enter this bargain with eyes wide shut, as they say. It becomes unwittingly a co-dependent relationship. You know better, but your desires have gotten the best of you. Some men, have become consumed with their power. They require power to compensate for their suffering. In truth, they are painfully insecure regardless of the wealth, celebrity and power they possess. They achieved their position to compensate for feelings of loss, abandonment, and a desperate need to feel real love—a love of themselves. They are wounded and over time, regardless of their achievements, they have never found that self-love. They can only try to claim it by wielding power over others, taking what they can from others, like a vampire, trying to fill the echoing emptiness they feel inside.

 

Writing the events in an abuse story can range from the elite society to the mundane and there are commonplace situations where miscommunication or outright predatory behavior can exist. The way our society was structured it was generally assumed and therefore acceptable that men make the first advance. If a woman was available, it may be welcomed. Though it is considered inappropriate and inadvisable to date work colleagues, it is still common to form a relationship in the workplace if one is discreet. Women and men are accustomed to advances in a bar or at a party and a classic hook-up may even lead to a long-term relationship. Sometimes that hook-up is what we call a hit and run—a one-night stand that may leave you feeling taken advantage of. You may go home with someone, hoping it means more to them, but when it proves not to meet your expectations, you feel used. But when a sexual advance is unwelcome and inappropriate, when you are threatened, it becomes harassment or assault. It is rape if you are drugged and/or forcibly taken. If you gave yourself freely and regret it afterwards, then do you have the right to call foul? These are some situations you can construct in your story.

Although we have analyzed the actions and wounds of the abuser, it doesn’t absolve them from wrong-doing. There will always be those in power who prey upon others. If the workplace is toxic, call them out. If you choose to pay to play, and you are willing to quid pro quo, know the devil before you make a deal. We should never lose sight of our rights and self-worth.

What’s your thoughts? Is there valuable information in here you could mine for your story? Can you recognize any of these personalities in a book you’ve read? Comments and feedback are always appreciated. Connecting with others is why I write. You can comment below, or connect with me on FacebookTwitter or Instagram.

Have a wonderful week,

Tamar

FINAL-HI-RES-SLEEPING SERPENT COVER-EBOOKLuna Saint Claire is a costume designer and author residing between New York and Los Angeles with her husband, a philosophy professor. She loves blues rock and Indie music and is a fan of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. Her personal style can best be described as eclectic bohemian. Though she now enjoys running and yoga, she spent years of her youth in the ballet studio. Her part Native American heritage informs her work as a designer and influences her storytelling.

Her novel, The Sleeping Serpent – a woman’s struggle to break an obsessive bond with her yoga master, can be found at all booksellers in eBook and paperback.

Check it out HERE

Amazon Author.to/LunaSaintClaire

You can follow Luna on social media – links are on her web site: http://www.compelledbooks.com/

23 comments

  1. “…while executives and agents looked away.”
    So true of so many crimes! Apart from the assailant and victim, how many third parties can be rightly accused of being accessories after the fact, aiders and abetters by their silence and inaction?

    “At book events some sought them out, and willingly had sex with them. When no publishing deal materialized, the women joined #Metoo.”
    Another side of the multi-faceted story. Lumping their ‘stories’ in with those of rape victims etc. belittles the ghastly experiences of the real victims. Trying to borrow the righteous outrage that people feel about rape and assault and applying it to misunderstandings and rejections dilutes the outrage and trivializes rape.

    Thanks to Luna Saint Claire and Tamar for this piece!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you johntshea for your comment. Writing this piece wasn’t easy! Today, a great relevant article from a pastor. I will post a quote, and the link to the article here for you and others who stop by. “Refraining from troubling behaviors is not enough; abusive narcissism must be unraveled through a transformation of heart and mind. A shift in the larger culture depends on putting the stories of women front and center. We must create space for them to be heard, not only by women but also by men, who are steeped in a culture that valorizes those behaviors. Seeing women as the rightful owners of their own bodies depends, first, on encountering women as fellow humans.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/16/opinion/sunday/women-the-bible-metoo.html

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Outstanding post, Luna and Tamar. I especially like the characterizations. So many men are clueless, and so many others wield their power simply because they can. Makes you wonder how deeply buried their moral fiber is, or if they’re completely devoid of it. Well done! Sharing ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Tina, it’s fascinating how individuals can reach the same outcome coming from very different places, and Luna has captured this beautifully 🙂 And I love your point about what is says about their values (and ultimately egocentrism or self-centeredness). Have a great week!

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Tina, thank you so much for reblogging. I have been wondering myself and one thing I found consistent is a deficit in seeing “the other” and recognizing their humanity. This applies to misogyny and I believe racism as well.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. This is so clear. Thanks. My protagonist is the naive trusting type. She trusts the Weaponised predator. I looked at your book Luna, ‘The Sleeping Serpent’, but because my book is heavily based on a true story – I don’t want it to influence me. It sounds so similar. And to be honest I’m a little wary of it being ‘triggering’ as well. Researching narcissism & covert hypnosis is quite enough at the moment!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great post.

    Let’s have another one that analyzes why BYSTANDERS and ENABLERS (wives, friends, secretaries, agents, assistants, husbands, children, siblings, party hosts, caterers, housekeepers, colleagues, etc.) don’t step up, support, report, stop what they know is going on that is horrible and could prevent/end, but do not?

    Those pivotal and, arguably, culpable accomplice characters (IRL and in books) are under-written but crucial, don’t you think?

    Best to you all,

    Sally Ember, Ed.D.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great point, Sally! These behaviours certainly don’t happen in a vacuum, and the individual choices of the people around them (and the social and cultural context we live in) all play an important factor. You’ve got me thinking of a follow up blog post… Tamar 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The “Bystander” role in encouraging or preventing bad behavior is well-documented, particularly when the bystander has high status: this knowledge is the basis for school bullying prevention/reduction programs, such as Safe School Ambassadors, which do work.

        Please tag me when you publish the new post!

        Sally Ember, Ed.D.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Great points made here! I’m not sure if the bystanders are the same as the people called “flying monkeys” — the supporters of narcissists who do his bidding. They help the perpetrator get away with his misconduct, lie for him, defend and cover up his abuses out of fear of losing their connection to him and their own positions of power as well.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. I would call those sycophants, collaborators, those suffering from delusions of grandeur by being close to the flames of power, or those afraid of being “next” or retribution if they don’t collude/cover up/aid and abet. Sometimes they are also victims; more often, they benefit from the perps’ actions.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Great answer and I agree with everything you just wrote. Your explanation is most accurate. I learned the term flying monkeys from the narcissistic abuse research I did for my book. It is the catch-all term used in the abuse forums, taken from the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz.

              Liked by 2 people

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