It’s International Women’s Day today.
That makes me a little sad. If we have to have a day celebrating the accomplishments of women and their general value in the world, it must mean that we need to be reminded that women have accomplishments worthy of celebration and that have great value.
I grew up in the 1970’s, during the age of Women’s Lib and the ERA. My mother was the strongest person I knew — an ER nurse, with a fierce mama-bear streak; a woman who taught me principles of social justice, of taking care of your family, and not to back down from a fight. I watched Charlie’s Angels and Wonder Woman on TV, and I didn’t see sex symbols. I saw women solving crimes and saving the day. In Star Wars, Princess Leia may have needed Luke Skywalker to spring her from The Death Star’s prison block, but once she was out, she was in charge. (“Someone has to save our skins. Into the garbage chute, fly boy.”)
In my adult life, I married another, fierce, strong, intelligent woman, and I have two daughters on their way to growing into the same role. I have female colleagues I greatly respect and admire.
And I don’t write all this to claim some sort of superiority, or hold myself up as a symbol of enlightenment others should follow. Rather, I want to suggest that women are equal to men.
Even though we’re very different — our bodies are distinct, both physically and chemically — we are both equally capable, equally competent. Sex is no indicator of potential.
I’ve incorporated this view into my fiction. I people my worlds with strong women, who are judged on their characters, not on their gender.
In the Wolf Dasher series, May Honeyflower is captain of Alfar’s Elite Guard, the highest military unit in the country. She’s strong and capable. She’s good at her job. She’s respected.
Aurora Spellbinder is Alfar’s president. Like every politician, she’s loved and hated, depending on which side of the political aisle you’re on. She’s criticized frequently by her enemies but always over her policy, never her sex.
In The Usurper’s Saga, Vicia Morrigan is one of the principal villains. She’s clever, cunning, smart, and dangerous. A powerful magician, the heroes are afraid of her. They respect her as a foe.
And in Little Red Riding Hoodie, the protagonist is a 12-year-old girl, who has to take care of her family, because her mother left and her father’s a drunk. Sally discovers strength and courage she didn’t know she had, enabling her to be the protector of her family, and to grow for herself.
These are all fantasy books, of course. In real life, women struggle against societal prejudice and glass ceilings and unequal pay. They are worshiped as sex objects and condemned as sluts in the same breath. The battle for their dignity in a world that hasn’t yet escaped the ancient notion that women are property, just like cattle and sheep and goats whose, purpose is to enrich the men that own them. They fight for control of their own destinies while men restrict their medical care in the name of protecting them and blame the woman if she is raped.
But if real life is to change, if we are to actually treat women equally, to eliminate the need for International Women’s Day, we must imagine it. We must visualize a society where women are judged on the merits of their character and the accomplishments of their careers.
So I write books with gender equality. In my novels, the hero and the villain is as likely to be a woman as a man. There is no glass ceiling. There are no positions women can’t hold. And women are not judged as inferior solely because they hold a job that traditionally belongs to a man.
These are imaginary worlds, fantasies. But I hope someday they might better reflect our culture. I would like to see a day where the only differences between men and women are the shapes of our bodies and the biochemical functions within them.
My mother raised me to believe in such things. I want it now for my wife and in the future for my daughters.
They all deserve it.