Publisher’s note: Abusive men get a well-deserved but bizarre comeuppance in Heather Fowler’s short story “A Big Girl Has a Good Time with Small Men.” Here the author describes what inspired her to write it and discusses the advantages of using dystopic fiction to analyze very pressing real-world issues. The story, originally published in Fowler’s collection This Time, While We’re Awake, is reprinted in our anthology The Female Complaint.
I wrote “A Big Girl Has a Good Time with Small Men” as a response to news stories about repeat abusers, often malignant narcissists, who go unpunished by mainstream society and U.S. courts for their crimes. These perpetrators, particularly wealthy men, are often exonerated or given light sentences for violence against women.
Even in America, it seems, there is a blind quality to democratic justice, or an active blind-eye turned, in a society where rapists and child molesters are still lauded for athletic or cinematic feats in the same articles that gloss over criminal charges. Why are women in this day and age still second-class citizens when it comes to equal civil rights?
“A Big Girl” struck me as a perfect sort of feminist commentary to engage, via sci-fi dystopia. If I made the women larger, I thought, would they be safer? What was a viable solution to the problem of abusive narcissists/sociopaths, cerebral or somatic, who so often evade punishments doled out to others for equivalent crimes?
“Welcome to biological warfare of the largesse variety.”
The story’s protagonist, Melinda, is a genetically modified woman, more than eight feet tall, who works at a rehabilitation island where men with wealth but abusive histories are sent for behavior modification therapy. After some time, Melinda loses faith in the possibility of rehabilitation and develops a strategy of debilitation. Some could call this murder.
I wanted to write something where the gross inequities were balanced, something that said, in no uncertain terms, I am a woman/author who understands: Abusers have no reason to change when coddled by a system that privileges their protection.
I wanted my story to play with reversing the power dynamic, which is why Melinda is capable, for example, of juggling men on her feet and kicking them up thirty feet in the air while they “squeal like pigs.”
In my story, there’s a new court system: a Man Throw court, where the women aren’t small and weak, where the women are in control—and where the women make the call whether an offender lives or dies. In “A Big Girl,” Melinda is punished with light exile for making the “dies” call too often. But light exile is already a place powerful women in this society inhabit daily, already their space of other in a world that does not accept female power as natural or self-evident.
So many things related to power, money, and privilege came to mind as I wrote this piece—how it was necessary for me to create women capable of physically overcoming abusive men to even begin to conceive that cruel men’s behavior could be corrected; how the double-standard still exists that unfairly burdens the victim (What was she wearing before, or any time, in her life? What was her sexual history? etc.); and how my awareness that pathological abuse is serial comes to light in so many cases but is often a story with a short shelf-life before the media moves on. Gross abuse, in my view, is never isolated to one woman or one event, as we see so abundantly in the Cosby case (and almost every case where an offender is identified for rape and other violations).
It could be said I wrote this story to soothe a heartsick soul, to forget, for just one moment, how many offenders receive no punishment at all—and maybe I wrote it mostly for the women who have seen lapsed justice in our courtrooms and endured abuse both during their maltreatment and later in courtrooms, wrote this piece as if to say: I could not protect you there, but here is one story, one narrative in the world, in which you are vindicated. Here is a place where your abuser is punished for being a vile criminal, where crimes against you will never be silenced or erased.
I am so pleased this piece found a home in The Female Complaint, because that is exactly what it is: a complaint. It was first published in a feminist dystopia collection called This Time, While We’re Awake.
It’s hard to reconcile we are often living a dystopia, even now. Exaggeration in fiction only serves to magnify the truths that are already extant in real life.
Heather Fowler is a novelist, a poet, a fiction writer, a librettist, and a playwright. She is the author of the novel Beautiful Ape Girl Baby (2016) and the story collections Suspended Heart (2010), People with Holes (2012), This Time, While We’re Awake (2013), and Elegantly Naked In My Sexy Mental Illness (2014). She is also co-author of a collaborative book of poems called Bare Bulbs Swinging with Meg Tuite and Michelle Reale. Her work has appeared in such venues as PANK, Night Train, storyglossia, Necessary Fiction, Feminist Studies, and more.