Okay, so since it’s Women’s History Month. And since I’m a card-carrying feminist—okay, I used to have a card, but I lost it. And since I write YA fantasy with female heroes, I got some explaining to do. How did I build the world in my Lisen of Solsta series? A world that my women’s-rights soul can tolerate? Well, let me tell you.
I began with a promise to myself. I decided to create a world where men and women were absolutely equal. Where labor wasn’t divided up based on gender-specific roles. Some might see this as easy. Just make the women tough and badass.
Uh, no. That wasn’t going to work for me. You can’t simply morph women into men with breasts. Because generally that turns into a situation where these kick-butt women wear skimpy outfits with lots of cleavage. Believe me, I’ve checked these books out. This is what proponents of patriarchy do. They have female heroes trussed up in outfits that inspire a hard-on. And that, my friends, is the easy and misogynistic way out. Let’s try again.
Garla, where Lisen of Solsta unfolds, had to represent my vision of equality. No stereotypical male or female tasks. No teenage heroines climbing trees and running down stairs to the shock of their elders. No soft ladies waiting for their gentle men to save them. But in order to make this world exist in any believable manner, I had to figure out why. And how.
I began with the most basic of questions. Has it always been this way? Or did the world evolve into this? My decision was based on a personal theory that when one “-ism” dissolves (in this case, sexism), the rest (e.g., racism) will fall like dominoes in its wake. I don’t believe societies, on earth at least, can find a way to accept all people as equal at one locus of division without coming to realize rather quickly that other divides are abstract constructs that are equally as meaningless. Therefore, no misogyny → no hatred of people of a different color or religion → the next reason to hate. And on and on and on they’d fall. This would make for a relatively perfect world, leaving little room for conflict. And what is a story? A series of conflicts. So, women and men are equal and always have been in Garla, and all other “-isms” persist.
After I made that decision, the questions became more detailed, more complicated. Physically, the women had to be taller and carry more muscle mass with compensatory changes in the men, making them of equal stature and strength. You see, in my opinion, women are at the mercy of men for several reasons, one of them being physical. Evening up the playing field would give women a chance. So I did.
To that I added a more balanced emotional sensitivity between the two sexes. But what would teach men to carry a bit more of the emotional load? (I figured, because I’m a woman, that we female types would have no trouble with barebones logic and reason, but maybe that’s just my misandry showing.)
The answer was simple. The nurturing of children. Put a man in the position of nurturing a child, invite him to the cradle, and he’ll pick up the load. In our world, men now participate in the labor of the mothers of their children, but that’s a social thing that’s evolving into the norm. How was I to make it something that simply happened in this world from the “beginning of time”? How could I give my male characters the natural-born instincts of a mom?
In early times here on earth, men were the hunters. They focused their skills on two goals—seek out, find and kill food for dinner and stand between the group and predators. Women, on the other hand, gathered berries and nuts, cooked the meals, sewed hides together for clothes, all while balancing a baby on a hip and keeping a toddler out of trouble. They did the nurturing. They had to be soft.
So how would I translate that to Garla?
Teach men nurturing from the womb. And there I had it. In quick order I reconfigured the method of procreation in this world, gave men and women pouches like marsupials have on earth and allowed men to be the bearers of children before birth. It sounds odd if you haven’t read the books, but it’s a beautiful process, with sometimes the mother pouching the child as it emerges from the womb, and other times, the father.
All of this figuring out took years, each solution engendering yet another question along the way. I’ve only included the most basic back story here because it would take a book I don’t want to write to explain it all.
So happy Women’s History Month, both female and male friends! Let’s continue to fight to make all persons equal. And while we’re waiting for that, ___check out Lisen’s world here.
Coming next week: My current dilemma of creating a world that’s not free of sexism the way Garla was without losing my lunch. And the week after that, I am pleased to present an interview with the inimitable Wendy Steele, author of the Lizzie Martin witch lit series.