Senseless Beta Readers

“Your prose is flawless, but this is some seriously sexist shit.” 

Betty felt a little bad about the lie that she used to start her critique of Mark’s story, but it was necessary. Mark’s expression went from smug to irate during the course of Betty’s single sentence evaluation.

“What are you talking about? The protagonist is female! It can’t be sexist! It’s about a girl!”

Betty looked her beta reading partner deep in the eyes and sighed. It looked like she had another one to add to her collection. The local writer’s online discussion board never seemed to provide her a talented beta reader, but it excelled at delivering new specimens. Before the fun, though, she was going to continue her critique.

“Your protagonist is the victim of a some sort of mind control wizard-dude. She struggles to mentally free herself from his magic, but she only escapes his enthrallment when a knight comes to rescue her. How is that not sexist?”

Mark’s nostrils flared and he breathed fast. 

“You skipped the part where Erotia struck the blow that killed the evil wizard! Her knight was down, wounded, and Erotia took that moment to stab the villain with the magical dagger! She’s the hero of her own story!”

“Look, I’m going to ignore her name altogether. My bigger issue is that she’s a victim of one man, and then she waits to be saved by another man. Other than fighting with thoughts and feelings inside her own head that were put there by the first man, her only part in the action is to help the second man save her from the first man. Plus, all we know about her is that,” Betty rummaged through her marked up copy of the story to find the quote, “she is ‘a maiden most fair, with heaving bosoms and golden hair.’” She slammed her hands on her kitchen table and met Mark’s angry eyes again. “It’s sexist as shit.”

“Look, there are certain tropes that have to be respected in high fantasy. As a woman, you probably didn’t read much fantasy literature growing up, so you probably don’t realize-”

“I realize plenty, buddy.” Betty’s eyes bored into his. Mark began to squirm. Betty felt the tingle begin.

“Look, it’s really my fault for thinking you would understand the story. I was just so excited when you invited me to your house to discuss it, I thought that you really got it. You see, in high fantasy, there are certain tropes that must be observed.” Mark’s cadence had begun to slow.

Betty smiled at him as he wilted. “What really puzzles me,” she asked as she leaned across the table to get closer to him, “is why must the villain always be male? Why not have the mind control wizard be a woman? Women are capable of such things, too.”

Mark laughed, but it came out as a half yawn.

“Men are scarier than women. We’re bigger, stronger . . .” He blinked and struggled to gather his thoughts. “Plus, it’s too easy for a reader to feel sorry for a woman. I I didn’t want a reader to feel bad when Erotia-”

Mark’s eyes glassed over as he stopped in mid-sentence. Betty waved a hand in front of his face a few times, but there was no response from him. Then she flicked him on the forehead with a finger in a rapid rhythm. He sat unmoving. She spoke in cadence with her finger striking him.

“I. Guess. Women. Can. Be. Mind. Control. Wizards. Too.”

A strand of drool dribbled down his chin. 

“Well, we can’t have you slobbering up my kitchen like that. Go down to the basement with the others.”

Mark stood stiffly and marched to the basement door. His slow steps echoed through the small house as he descended. 

Betty opened her laptop and mumbled to herself. 

“Looks like I need another beta reading partner. When will these men come to their senses?”

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