Books that feature quirky, strong eleven year old girls are my favorites. They sit at the magical age, when they know who they are and are fiercely independent. Before the world interferes. I’ve written a middle grade fantasy with a funny strong ten year old girl as the protagonist and a YA fantasy with an angry powerful defiant young woman as the hero. Even at my age, somewhere those girls still exist within me. And I write those characters and love those characters because they reside in me and in all the women I know, all the young girls I know.
I’m a fifty-eight year old woman, who’s dealt with sexism every day of my life. At the age of five as I recited the pastor’s sermon on the way home from church, I was told that women weren’t allowed to be ministers in the church I grew up in. At twenty-eight I had a boss suggest I should strip for him for his birthday (it was a joke, why can’t women take a joke?). In my fifties I deal with being called a bitch by thirteen year old boys whenever I tell them not to spit on the library floor.
Some of sexism is subtle. The eye rolling when I mention equal pay for equal work. The smirks when I use the word patriarchy (because obviously it’s just a figment of my overactive female imagination). The sighs of dismissal when I take issue with “locker room banter.” Why can’t I just understand that boys will be boys?
I wanted to believe that young woman today wouldn’t face the things I’ve faced. Like when at the age of twenty-three, fresh-out of college and newly married, I went on a job interview. I had the right degree from a good college and was hopeful, until the interviewer asked “and what am I supposed to do if you get pregnant?” I stared at him for a full minute, unsure how to answer that question. For a minute, I couldn’t figure out what the job had to do with getting pregnant. And then, as it dawned on me he was saying he didn’t want to hire me because I was female and might have to go out on maternity leave, I was angry. I sat there, trying to decide between swallowing my anger because I needed the job, or telling him what I actually thought of him and his question. I replied, “You don’t need to concern yourself with that.” To which he answered, “no but you do.” Needless to say I didn’t get the job.
Since the election, I have felt tired. It would appear that those are the good old days many people want to go back to. The thought of having to continue to face sexism every day, of having to hear those comments and see those looks and somehow find the strength to continue to work and live and succeed in this world felt like too much. The realization that every day will continue to require either addressing or simply enduring sexism, felt like something I could no longer do. I had naïvely assumed things would get better in my lifetime. I’d see the day I wouldn’t have to deal with sexism anymore. I’d see the day young woman wouldn’t endure the insults and comments and demeaning remarks, I’ve endured.
Every ass-kicking fantasy with a fierce young female protagonist that I read, reminds me that young women today need me to fight for them more than ever. They need every book I can write, every protagonist I can create who doesn’t take crap from anyone. They deserve every effort I can muster to create a better world for them. Anger and passion can be good things. I’m not ashamed to be called an angry feminist. I am here to fight with every ounce of anger and strength I have for the young women of this world who deserve better. Here’s to fierce women. May they be your daughters, your sisters, your mothers, your aunts, your nieces, and your grandmothers.