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Monday, November 14, 2011

How Female-Friendly Is Your Cozy Mystery?

Cozies. I love them for a number of reasons, hate them for others. But what I find increasingly hard to ignore is the feeling that in reading some of these books, primarily written by females and read by females, I'm committing an act of anti-feminism.

Before I get ahead of myself let me give the uninitiated a quick break down of the Cozy Mystery genre. If you've seen Murder She Wrote you know exactly what they are. An amateur sleuth-  usually female, single and moderately wealthy, gets tangled up in the sleuthing of a murder (generally bloodless or at least fairly sedate) and solves the case when the police can't. She often has some kind of connection with the police officer on the case, and usually the first book in the series introduces a love interest (these may or not be the same person). There are a few other pretty firmly honored hallmarks of the genre. If you are interested, I recommend Cozy-Mystery.Com which covers all the bases and then some.

Cozies have a pretty tight formula, and they're meant to be...well, cozy. Things like politics and religion rarely gain more than a token mention. They take place in small towns where people are fairly traditional. The gender roles that play out in the stories tend to be very traditional (and heterosexual, but that's a whole different blog). Being a pretty non-traditional lady myself, I don't exactly see myself and my values reflected in the Cozies I compulsively read. Generally, this does not bother me.

What has been bugging me is the treatment of rape in two cozies I read. Rape is certainly not a cozy crime (and it's nice to be able to read a book where I generally know I don't have to read about sexual assault, abuse etc.) So in both cases I was surprised to even see the word pop up. The first mention was glancing: an elderly female character, upon finding out that someone broke into her house and stole books says, "Now I know how it must feel to be raped." Really? A door opened with a credit card and a few books stolen is akin to violent sexual assault? No, probably not.  But in this case I can see the argument that it's just an unfortunate bit of overdramatic writing on the author's part.

The other example is downright sickening to me. The pre-murder setup (which is as far in the book as I got) concerns the main character's friend. The woman calls her sleuthy friend and confesses that she was raped the night before. The sleuth encourages her friend to go to the police (+1 for pro-female behavior!!). The friend says she can't go to the police because the rapist is a man she accepted a drink from at the bar, in front of witnesses. The sleuth insists. The friend refuses. She is positive everyone will just think she was asking for it.  (As you may have guessed, I was already getting a weird feeling about where all of this was going) So the sleuth completely abandons the plan to get her friend medical or police attention.

 The sleuth also happens to be on her way out to the woods to lead a retreat of battered and sexually abused women (how convenient!) and she invites her friend to come along.  When the two ladies and their friends arrive at the retreat they find that the land is owned by none other than...the rapist.

Now stop reading for a moment and think about this scenario. What do you do? Call the cops? Rush the guy and beat the crap out of him? Point and scream "that guy's a rapist!"? I guarantee whatever your answer was, it does not match the sleuth's.

She tells the rapist that he should stay inside his house on the property and stay away from the group of females (those would be the battered and sexually abused women, to recap). The sleuth advises her friend to take long, refreshing walks on the land and generally try to avoid the rapist. She also has a touching scene where she begs her friend not to "run away" from the retreat weekend.

The book was in the trashcan before I found out what happened next.

Cozies aren't generally written to make grand statements on society, and I don't think it is the author's job to do so. Cozies are escapist and I enjoy that aspect of the genre. At the same time, I am horrified that a female author would write a situation so utterly unrealistic and painting females as such push-overs. (for the record, the rapist is the victim of the book so someone is not a pushover).

I wish I could end my blog with a conclusive statement of some kind. I enjoy this author's work in general, I will continue to read her books. I feel like not reading the rest of that book satisfied my personal need to act.  At the same time it's made me pay more attention to the messages on womanhood in my beloved cozies, and as always, I look forward to your comments on this.

Coming up in the next few posts: reviews on a few fantastic cozies I picked up in my Thanksgiving travels and notes on some LOVELY Indie bookstores I visited in Vermont and New York as well!

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