Women's Empowerment

Cover photo by Blair Speed

Like all stories, themes emerge between the lines of my book, including the ambiguities within familial relationships, trauma, hope (and hopelessness), and many others. I didn’t always intend for a theme to become a driving force in the narrative. This is, once again, part of the mysterious ways fiction writing works.

I did, however, begin writing my novel with two primary themes in mind. The first is humans’ kinship with the wild. I’ve written about this theme before; (you can find these posts here and here).

The second primary theme I explore is women’s empowerment. Or rather, what it may mean to live as an empowered woman.  

Women’s empowerment is an active noun. We see it in the news with the Me Too movement, the historic number of women elected in the 2018 midterms, the fight for equal pay and greater job security, especially for mothers. We read it in headlines and see it in the fierce determination embodied by our friends, sisters, mothers, and daughters.

With a world as large and culturally diverse as our own, the oppression women experienced and may continue to experience wasn’t/isn’t universal. In some cultures women held positions of power. In some cultures women were slaves. Some women today sit on thrones. Some women fight for their lives in their pursuit of education. In America, some women disappear without any legal repercussions. Some women, including myself, are born into privilege.

Not to say I haven’t been subjected to sexism or live immune to the subtle ways women in American still experience violence and oppression. A man once tried to assault me—I luckily had speed and intuition working for me on this day, in the woods, under a full sun. As a ski instructor, I was routinely given the children to teach, even though I was as strong of a skier and as qualified as my male cohorts who received the better-paid adult lessons.  

While I understand gender dynamics sometimes involve such power plays, I’m not angry with men or seek to vilify a particular group of people, i.e. cis, straight, white men. Most advocates seeking to empower women and all people don’t want to point fingers. I view it as more about equalizing life’s opportunities by lifting up the disadvantaged, rather than tearing down the privileged.  

I recognize myself as on the privileged side of the spectrum, so when I write about women’s empowerment in my book, I do so as one seeking to ally with the larger human rights efforts. On a personal level, living as an empowered woman means owning the potential and responsibility my circumstances entail.

The book follows the intertwining story of thirteen female characters. Some of these women are gay. One identifies more as a man than a woman. A few are white; most are people of color or mixed heritage. Some are born into slavery, some into political power—most live somewhere between the two.

I sought to create nuance in the larger cast as well. Some of the men live with the view they are superior to all others; some of the women do the same. Most of the characters, like the people in our lives, have good intentions, though they act imperfectly at times.

The overall goal I had while crafting these characters was reflecting back the complexity and ambiguities of the human experience. And since characters are the primary drivers of theme, empowering the disadvantaged becomes as complicated and sticky as it often feels in real life.

I found the theme of empowerment started within each character. She needs to recognize her strength first before any external actions can unfold. Sometimes this means seeing her physical capabilities. Sometimes it means embracing her emotional intelligence. Yet other times it involves honing her mental acuity. In all the character arcs, it’s most likely a combination of the three.

As the 20th century fiction writer Jessamyn West wrote, “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” I’m discovering the verity in this quote in my own process of writing a magical realism novel. Empowerment does begin within one’s self, on the page and in our lives.