Following a certain campaign gaffe in the run-up to the US presidential election last year (I know, that doesn’t exactly narrow it down), the epithet “nasty woman” – aimed at Hillary Clinton – became something of a rallying cry for feminists and anyone who rejected the sexist status quo promoted by #45.
In keeping with that spirit, Shooter’s “Bad Girls” issue celebrates women who buck convention, reject patriarchal norms, choose fulfilment over conformity, and occupy traditionally male environments. Hitherto, narrative norms have required certain outcomes for female characters, too – and so we also have stories that see antiheroines getting away with things they might not, in earlier eras, have been allowed to do without moralistic retribution on the page.
In our strongest issue yet for non-fiction, several writers focus on striking out to pursue their passions in typically male domains. Emily Wildash follows in the footsteps of solo adventurers in her essay “Women Who Walk Alone”, while Eileen Sutton – an aspiring poker pro – reveals how the chips are stacked against female players in “Poker Girl”. Traveling around the world to Korea, Paola Trimarco explores very different cultural stereotypes of gender in “The Mighty Oak”. Two pieces delve into sexual politics, with Elledee’s lyrical response to her midlife Tinder adventures in “Swipe Right Poetry” and John-Ivan Palmer’s memoir about providing questionable protection to San Franciscan strippers in “Superstition”.
Equally engrossing are the issue’s fictional offerings. Andrea Eaker’s “How Aphrodite Fell in Love and Then Her Husband Ruined Everything” opens the issue with a provocative re-imagining of Greek myth. Elsewhere, authors revel in their bad girls: Jane Dotchin’s schoolgirl reprobate in “Charlotte’s Stockings”; Alex Clark’s snooty aspiring screenwriter (and her politically incorrect tenant) in “An Acquisition”; Tom Tolnay’s nocturnal Ophelia, who takes centre stage in “Ophelia of My Dreams”; Joseph Pierson’s drug addict coming clean in his innovative story “Siege”. In “Respectable”, though Irette Y Patterson’s protagonist caves to pressure to tame her afro hair, she then takes things to righteously defiant lengths.
Even the titles of some of the poems indicate the ways in which Bad Girls exercise their power. “Miranda Chooses” and “Lilith Speaks” suggest that women exercising their basic rights to decide and speak for themselves contradict patriarchal convention. (To be fair, the witches of the latter go to some emasculating lengths that we would advocate only in the realm of fantasy.) Supernatural horror crops up rarely in the submissions, so we were especially happy to award the 2017 Short Story Competition prize to Emma Parfitt for “Baby’s Day Out”, an unexpectedly creepy take on London’s brutal housing market. Literary horror in the vein of Shirley Jackson, Bret Easton Ellis and the best of Stephen King crops up rarely but works so well as metaphor for social ills. We’d love to see more of it.
In the film world, the Bechdel test is well known as a measure for cinematic sexism. It asks whether there are named female characters discussing subjects other than men. There are numerous derivations of this test examining how fictional women are portrayed, such as the “sexy lamp test”, which asks whether female characters could be replaced by sexy lamps without much affecting the story.
In fiction as in life, women should have agency to act, speak and decide their own terms, not solely exist in relation to others: women as individuals in their own right, not just wives, girlfriends, mothers and daughters. Of course, sometimes the story is about relationships or sex or parenting, and so revolves around these roles. The point is that in these situations women still need to be depicted as complex characters with a mind, will, personality and life beyond their relation to somebody else.
In this and every issue of Shooter, women will always be accorded the same rights as men. As long as it’s in the context of a compelling piece of writing.
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