The F-Word

I’d like to take a moment to talk about a dirty word. The F-word.

No, not that one.

Think for a moment. Look inside yourself for the answers

Do you believe that people should be hired and paid based on merit?

Do you believe people should be able to study whatever subject they want, regardless of their background?

Do you believe that a person should be able to pursue any career they choose, to gain the training they want and the education they need to achieve that position, regardless of their gender?

Do you believe a person should be able to choose to stay home and care for their family and NOT work outside the home, if that is where they want to be and what is best for their family?

Do you believe people should be treated equally when seeking medical care? That we should all have access to the same treatments and have our concerns taking seriously by doctors and nurses?

If you answered yes to these questions, then congratulations: You are a feminist.

Feminism is a simple belief that men and women have equal value, should have equal opportunities, and receive equal amounts of respect.

The word feminism comes with a lot of baggage. Many people I’ve spoken to associate it with bra-burning, “man-hating” women marching in the 1960s and 1970s. They think of lesbians and angry women.

Without going into the full history of the feminist movement (though that might crop up again at some point), the rebellion of women against the patriarchy goes back centuries. In the middle ages “uppity” or outcast women were accused and in many cases executed for “witchcraft”–a woman who stood up to her husband or didn’t blend in with the community might be accused of being possessed by the devil. Let me tell you, I don’t need a devil in my head to make me stand up for myself, especially if there is a threat of violence or abuse. But these women were punished for it.

These are just a few of the reasons women were admitted to an asylum in New York State.

In the Victorian era, there were over a hundred reasons a woman could be–and was–sent to an asylum by her father, brother, or husband, ranging from migraines (a common premenstrual symptom for many women), to reading novels, enjoying sex, refusing to have sex, talking back or being disruptive, and symptoms of what we now would associate with endometriosis, PCOS, or other reproductive health issues that at the time were completely unknown. The female body was considered “inferior,” so it was not studied to the same extent as the male body. In many cases, it wasn’t until the 17-1800s that female anatomy even received proper medical names.

As long as this disparity has existed, women have fought against it. Sometimes quietly, though the daily actions of survival, other times more violently or openly.

Though things have improved vastly for women in the 20th and 21st centuries, we still have a long way to go. This seems to be especially evident to me in literature. Below are a few criticisms readers, agents, and editors have had of my books and manuscripts written by friends and other authors.

  1. A book written for women, or with a female protagonist, should have a strong romantic subplot even if it’s not the main focus of the story.
    I was told flat out a book wouldn’t sell unless I added a romantic subplot.
  2. Female protagonists need to be “likeable.”
    I am seeing a push by many agents now for less “likeable” heroines, but from what I’ve heard from other authors their actions don’t always support their words. The main male character of a hard-boiled detective story can be a hard drinking, chain-smoking asshole who enjoys kicking puppies in his spare time, but if you turn him into a her, she needs to drink less, not smoke in public, and–most importantly–cuddle those puppies and preferably take one home as a pet. He can be a self-absorbed jerk, but if she doesn’t take care of others or try to please them, then her book will never see the light of day.
  3. Books with women need to have more character development.
    Men can have an adventure story that focuses mostly on actions, but the minute you put a woman in the lead, she has to question her every move and have some kind of emotional arc or realization at the end of the book.

I’m using broad strokes here, just for the sake of simplicity. All of these things were on my mind when I wrote ALL FOR ONE and OFF THE RAILS.

All For One smallALL FOR ONE is a gender-bent retelling of The Three Musketeers set in an alternate version of Montreal in 1863. Based on a 19th century adventure novel, it follows the same general plot arc, and includes women who, like their male counterparts, are ambitious, sometimes drink too much, pick fights, and brush of criticism with acerbic wit.

The Three Musketeers is one of my favorite pieces of classic literature. I adore Alexandre Dumas; he’s one of my favorite writers. But there aren’t a lot of books like The Three Musketeers with female protagonists, or aimed at women. What’s more, as soon as you bring up the “f-word” it makes you a target for all kinds of hate, from both women and men.

But what if there was a world that was egalitarian? What if, some slight quirk in history changed the world? What if it paved the way for a world where feminism wasn’t taboo, but simply accepted as par for the course?

That was one of the key ideas behind ALL FOR ONE: a world where one little change to the timeline meant things were drastically different. And in a world where women’s health and reproductive rights are taken into consideration, what would that mean for other groups, like the LGBTQIA community? What about immigrants? Native peoples? The disabled? The poor?

I wasn’t able to show all of those communities in the book, much as I wanted to. It’s meant to be a novel, not a sermon, and unlike Dumas, I’m not paid by the word.

The world in the book isn’t a utopia. There are still racists and sexists. The rich still take advantage of the poor. There’s tension between borders, and people who don’t want to allow refugees into their country.

The book is intended to raise questions, not have the answers. And really, that’s one of the main things feminists, both past and present fight for. Women don’t belong on a pedestal or in the kitchen; we belong at the table, with an equal place to discuss current events, politics, economics, healthcare, etc. We want a chance to voice our opinions and be heard.

OFF THE RAILS continues on this theme, though with a stronger historical basis it’s much more subtle. It’s not intended so much to raise questions, as to show that women of the past weren’t just shrinking violets. They were fierce–and they had to be, just to survive. Post-Civil War America had been turned upside down. and women who had previously relied on male relatives to take care of them suddenly found themselves without protectors, income, or even homes.

Whether you identify as a feminist or not, I hope that this has at least clarified a few things.

What are your thoughts? I will be leaving comments open for POLITE discourse. As always, comments are moderated (mostly to make sure I see them all and can respond), but posts that serve only to abuse me or others or to call names, will be deleted.

Like what you see? Check out ALL FOR ONE, now available in ebook and paperback.