Recently, my publisher and I had a discussion about Rachel Farraday, the heroine of my upcoming novel, Trompe l’Oeil. She wondered if my character needed to be more assertive to satisfy the modern view of women. Where, she wondered, was the grittiness of Victorine Ellsworth, the scheming vixen of my first novel, Gothic Spring.
I might have answered that the characters were from different books with different themes; but instead, I challenged my publisher to look deeper into the condition of “modern” women. Most of them work in the agricultural, garment and hospitality industries where they are poorly paid. Woman in the military or female students routinely endure sexual assaults, their charges only occasionally taken seriously. What’s more, too many women are exploited to work in strip clubs or as prostitutes and more of them than we realize are enslaved.
If women are liberated, why do they endure rants about legitimate and illegitimate rape? Why do they tolerate laws that force women to submit to unnecessary vaginal probes? Why is it acceptable for an all male legislative panel to set policy for women’s contraception? Why haven’t liberated females stormed Washington to demand that the Violence Against Women Act be renewed or that the Paycheck Fairness Act be passed?
For hundreds of years women have been taught that they are little more than children in need of protection, a protection that was often predatory. Yes, some women have broken a glass ceiling here and there, but not enough. Too many live in fear of their spouses or in numbing, economic despair. What has the “modern” woman done to save them?
Sometimes I fear the “modern” woman flirts with liberation but prefers the old paradigm of dependence. As Nicole Kidman recently admitted about her new boyfriend, she appreciated his “bigger, stronger personality: that’s what I’ve been drawn to. I need protection.“ (The Week, 10/16/12, pg. 8) Or perhaps I’ve grown cynical with age. Perhaps the “modern” woman simply does not yet know how to wield power. Either way, the standalone female of independence is largely the fiction of Hollywood and Madison Avenue. My fiction is truer.