First, where do I stand?
I believe that women and men should be treated equally. We are different from each other biologically and studies have shown that we have broadly different aptitudes, strengths and approaches dating back well beyond the Stone Age to when we were evolving from the primates. But there’s no doubt that women’s roles and lives through history have been defined by their gender, and by the power and control exerted over them by men, particularly in harsher times.
And women have been, and often still are, lumped together as ‘the women’, e.g. who will the women vote for, and what do the women think of X? I deal with people as individuals, irrespective of their gender. And being a feminist doesn’t mean you are a man-hater. I like men and have been married to the same one for 30 years!
I actually wish that there were no need for feminism, i.e. lobbying for true equality – it shouldn’t be necessary. In an ideal world, women would be treated as people, full stop. But until that day arrives, and there is no ‘male gaze’ or ‘female gaze’, we soldier on.
How did my time in the male-dominated armed forces affect my outlook?
My family has always served in the military; both grandfathers (Army), my father (Royal Army Medical Corps), three aunts (two in the WRNS, one WRAF), uncles (RAF and Army). I had the great good luck to have a feminist for a mother who brought us up gender-blind. It never occurred to me that a girl couldn’t be a soldier. I had a brilliant time doing exciting things all over the NATO area. It was more important to carry out your task irrespective of whether you were a man or woman. Of course, there was sexism and sexist language, but you learnt to give it back. Serving in a mixed unit gave each gender an appreciation of what the other could do.
How does my version of a feminist military in Roma Nova differ from a traditional one?
The core value of my imaginary Roma Nova is based on service to the state being the highest virtue. Putting the collectivity before the individual has been a survival strategy in Roma Nova since earliest times when daughters and sisters had to step up to fight alongside their menfolk to protect their new home and way of life. In the 21st century, the Roma Nova military continues to be a mixed one with promotion on merit and capability; gender is not an issue. Although there are probably equal numbers in the Roma Nova military leadership with a possible bias towards men, in civilian life women head families, the senate and commercial organisations; the ruler is female and inheritance is through the female line. After all, we can usually be sure who a child’s mother is…
Alternative words and timelines
Writing fiction means you can invent your own world – a great privilege. This means, of course, you can tilt and slant to your heart’s content within ‘da rulz’ of your genre. Like most forms of speculative fiction, alternative history is particularly generous in that you can explore any theme or possibility you can think of. And putting the female members of a society on completely equal terms with the men is such a tempting one…
The ‘feisty’ heroine issue
A kick-ass female protagonist does not a feminist heroine make. Some feminist heroines are the quietest and most thoughtful characters around, e.g. Jane Eyre. Some tough action heroines do their stuff and then melt into the hero’s arms and transform into the wimpiest beings ever. This is not a feminist narrative. Of course, feminists need love and relationships – they wouldn’t be human otherwise – but they don’t sacrifice their personal integrity and sense of individuality, nor their beliefs.
However, the key to writing fiction that readers will want to buy is to give them a cracking story with characters so attractive and a plot so full of heart-breaking crunches that they’ll be captivated up to the last page. What they don’t need is an ‘in your face’ academic treatise on social and gender politics. Like world-building and description, social themes such as feminism should seep into the narrative, not clobber it like a wrecking ball; it’s so much more effective. Roma Nova is an idealised egalitarian society with a feminist bias, but one that seems natural to the characters who live in it. And it seems to resonate with readers of both/all genders.
Are you happy to use the ‘fem-word’ if writing a book? And when reading, do you like to see feminism as a theme?
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