DAMIEN SEAMAN: Why is ‘What Burns Within’ full of unpleasant female characters?Read the full interview.
SANDRA RUTTAN: I didn’t really think about it to that extreme. Maybe you picked up on that because you’re a man. Part of it could be that I have a lot more friends who are guys than women. When I was assaulted as a teenager it was by a group of girls around my age.
There is this image of the fairer sex touted around, with the implied question ‘how can girls commit such vicious crimes?’ In Nova Scotia recently one girl was beaten by a couple of others so badly she had to run for help. With apparently no provocation. In British Columbia a girl was beaten to death by other girls. Women can be nasty!
I don’t find the character of Ashlyn unpleasant, though. In reality I think she’s very balanced and a strong, likable character. When it comes to Lori, I also think that there are some women in male-dominated professions who feel they are going to be discriminated against and so take things into their own hands.
Women feel that pressure. We’re charged more than men for products like shampoos, and even in Canada women are still paid less for doing the same job. On the other side, how many men do you see working in daycare, or even as teachers? We like to think we don’t have a sexist bone in our bodies but we all do.
And then as a woman I’m not pro affirmative action for the fire department. I don’t care if it’s a man or a woman. I care that they – and my (now) ex-husband – have the very best person backing them up. If that means it’s a man then so be it.
DS: The book’s characters discuss issues such as rape and affirmative action. Did you use this as a way of working through some of your beliefs in your fiction?
SR: Your own perspectives are going to colour what you write. A lot of women have it emblazoned on the brain that they’re not good enough to do something. I wanted to take karate lessons as a kid but my mother said that was something for boys. If I had gone on to join the fire department or police force then you could have thrown the blame right onto my mother.
Society pressures us in ways we often don’t realise; people are constantly told that they can’t do things. I’m not saying it’s right, but the seed gets sown early. When I was a teacher working with young children parents asked me the most amazing things. In one case, the parents asked if they should force their left-handed child to learn to write right-handed by breaking his arm and putting it in a cast. Makes you realise most people still believe it’s better to fit in than challenge the norm.
I also think people in the police and fire departments are well aware of the issues they have to deal with; naturally they’re going to talk about them a lot. Many women fire fighters who are exceptionally skilled at the job put pressure on themselves to be better, to keep on proving themselves all the time.
The Page 69 Test: What Burns Within.