When I started writing the Children of Nostradamus Series, I knew my cast would be dominated by women. My goal, do justice to my female characters on behalf of my female readers. I’ve learned exactly one thing: What I know about the female gender means nothing.
I grew up in a in a matriarchy. My father was a Marine, and for my formative years, he served the greater good overseas. My mother and grandmother were the heads of the household. From role models, to neighbors to peers, I was surrounded with feminine energy. Few if any of these women upheld the mystical and misguided definition of what a “true” woman is. This eventually became the the archetypes for the women in my writing.
The first error had been made before I even wrote the title of the book.
Jasmine was the first female I started to write. She’s the Ellen Ripley of my book, a hard as nails (literally and figuratively) woman who plays a boys game and does it better than any of them. I wanted to empower the character and make her better than the boys, stronger, smarter, faster, and really let it be shown that a woman can be at the top of the food chain. This is what it meant to give women their just dues, they could play the boys game and be a champion. Right?
Twenty-Seven (Samantha) was late to the story, a character who was written into the plot on the last draft. Her back story is tragic. Emotionally and physically abused by her spouse of two decades, she wrangles control when she finally kills the scum. A woman takes back her destiny by destroying the evil in her life. Female empowerment, right?
My error started when I gave powerful as the singular definition the female gender as powerful. I made them powerful, but not by empowering them. They competed in a man’s game, and by making them win in a man’s game, I neutered their complexity and multiple dimensions. This realization had me rethink all my characters and how I allowed a singular element define their existence. On the surface, we may observe this in people, but the truth is, nobody hosts a single dimension.
I had to take a breather and ask myself a series of questions. These women might play in a world dominated by men, but they wouldn’t win by being “the bigger man.” Even Ripley had a moment where, despite being strong and able to hold her own in a do or die situation, it’s the tender moments with Newt that aid in our understanding of her identity. When the final confrontation comes about, her power isn’t from being the biggest badass, it’s from her motherly role with Newt. If Ripley can be brave, scared, determined, persistent, angry I had to examine my own definitions. Is empowering women allowing them to be women?
No. Not allowing, respecting them so they can define their own definitions.
Jasmine lives in a world where she’s expected to bottle her emotions and show no weakness. Her teammates question her humanity and after snapping the neck of her usurper, she finds herself crumbling. My love for the character is in the moments when she questions her own identity and through her, I started a journey. Meanwhile, Samantha whose identity is that of the victim, puts cuts off her past and emerges as Twenty-Seven, a survivor, a soldier, and eventually a leader. While she grows confident in her new identity, only then does she open the door to her past. For me, these two fictional women have been a guide as I try to empower my female characters.
In the second season of Jessica Jones (really, any reason to discuss this show) we have 13 episodes directed by 13 different female directors. Critics of the show complained of the wandering plots of wish-washy character actions. The eloquence of the characters in this season are the transitions of women from one role to the next and back again. I believe what people misconstrued as “wish washy” is a more accurate portrayal of women (of mankind in general.) A decision does not need to be absolute, and the path to a destination is not a straight line. While serial storytelling does require singular traits to stand above others, the mixture, swirling, and whirlwind of traits was wonderfully displayed.
I thought being a gay man gave me a leg up, a better understanding for the female characters in my books, but a dear friend once said, “You can empathize, but you will never understand.” That phrase has forced me to drop my preconceived notions and start fresh. Then drop them again. Start again. So on, and so forth. Because there is no rule book to follow. The most I can do now is stop, listen, and set aside my ego to ask uncomfortable questions (uncomfortable for me that is.) And when I’m given information that contradicts what I think I know, I admit I know nothing.
As I wrap up Night Covenants, I am excited to start plotting out a new trilogy. There will be no team to hide behind, a single female character will take center stage. Eleanor, a woman we watched demonstrate elegance and grace with the resolve to meet an untimely fate will be the main character. Once again, I will throw out all my expectations and investigate the layers of identity as they build into a complex woman, one of many I plan to write in the future.
During March and beyond, celebrate women, all women.