I have been intending to write this blog post for a while. It just takes some time getting used to being a blogger in addition to being a writer, I suppose…it’s difficult for me to sit down and write a blog post when I could be doing, well, more “writerly” things. Like working on the edits to Book Four of the Fae War Chronicles, or writing the new series of Fae War Chronicles origin stories, which are turning out to be quite fun little novellas. But there has been a word that has been in the news quite a lot lately, right at the forefront. It’s the “f word.” And, of course, I mean feminism.
Feminism, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” In those simple terms, it seems like it’s a “no-brainer.” I read that and I think, “Well, of course women want to fight for their equality. Of. Course.” Yet I’ve long resisted calling myself a feminist. In certain places, it’s considered the worst kind of insult. In a warrior profession, calling oneself a feminist seems tantamount to admitting that you are not enough, as a woman–it feels like maybe you’re saying that you need help or you want to be treated differently because you’re not a man.
But I’ve grown older and experienced the world, traveling to places where I am told what I will do and who I will interact with, how many magazines of ammunition to carry and what uniform to wear, what mission is my priority and what tools I have to accomplish that mission. I have seen other parts of the world through the lens of this warrior profession; and all politics aside, it is an incredibly eye-opening view. Once, my team participated in a training exercise with a warship of another nationality during a training exercise. We demonstrated our mission capability by “boarding” their ship, forty pounds of gear pressing down on my shoulders as I gripped the plastic rungs of the caving ladder and climbed, the ladder swaying with the movement of the ship in the ocean. I climbed over the side onto the deck of the ship, my eyes taking in the scene rapidly as we established our security like we’d practiced countless times. And as the foreign crew watched my team and I, their interest became sharply focused on me in particular. They were not leering or disrespectful–after all, it took a second or third look to discern that I was indeed a woman, wearing body armor, dark sunglasses and tan camouflage. Their looks contained sparks of amazement and a bemusement that I compared in my head to seeing a walking, talking bear escaped from the zoo. As we continued our training, I realized that it was the first time many of these men had ever seen a woman in the military, much less a woman who held authority over a team of men. It was something so commonplace to me, so accepted, that I didn’t think twice about seeing another woman in uniform. I didn’t think twice about my right to vote, or my ability to pursue the profession of my choice. It was a moment that punched me in the gut, because I thought to myself: what if I had never seen a woman who looked like what I wanted to be, or did what I wanted to do? Would I have had the courage to pursue my dreams?
I like to think that I would have fought for my dreams no matter if I had encountered any strong women or not. Yet, looking back, some of my earliest heroes were the female characters in the fantasy novels I devoured as a girl. What is fantasy if not weaving our dreams and our hopes and desires into a tangible story? What is fantasy if not the imagining of a world that we wish to exist? The world in those novels will not be perfect, just as our world is not perfect, or we will not, as readers, believe in it. We know that just as there is love there is hate. Just as there is freedom there is oppression. Just as there are hopes there are also fears. But in those fantasy books, I found women who fought to achieve their goals. Some of them were warriors and some of them were writers, some of them were schoolgirls and some of them were sailors. It didn’t much matter to me, because they reminded me….of me. They looked at me through the pages of those books and said, “See? You are important enough that someone imagined a character like you. You are brave enough to do as I have done and be the heroine of your own story.”
I’ve listened to the dialogue in the public hemisphere for a while now. There have been arguments on the reaches of the interwebs ignited by this film or that comic book, this remake and that comment on a female athlete’s looks rather than her incredible abilities. And now I think to myself…saying that I’m a feminist doesn’t mean that I need help or I expect special treatment. It just means, in part, that I’m writing books that I would have wanted to read as a kid. I look at Tess, Vell, Calliea, Althea, Farin, and the Fae Queens, and I see characters that represent the full spectrum of what it is to be a woman and what it is to be human. (Even though, to be fair, none of those characters are exactly human.) Life is difficult and bloody, even in an imagined world of magic; but in this world, scars don’t take away from the heroine’s beauty. They just show that she’s faced some monsters and won. I have a few scars of my own, and just as someday I’ll probably tell stories of how I got those scars to girls in the next generation, I want Tess and the other women of the Fae War Chronicles to tell the readers of every generation that strength does not take away from femininity. Scars do not take away from beauty. You can be the heroine of your own story, because someone thought you were important enough to write a character just like you.