Why I Write Strong Women
Why I Write Strong Women
I make no bones about it—I write strong women. The genre may range from a mystery series—like the Sidra Smart mysteries, to the recently released historical fiction called A WAR OF HER OWN. (or my work in progress about Boo Murphy, an old woman folks call the Swamp Whisperer. My main characters are either strong women when they start out, or they get there by the time I’m finished with them.
Sidra Smart is a 50-year-old, recently divorced ministers wife trying to figure out what she’d do with the rest of her life when she inherits a detective agency and she has to figure out how to run the business and stay alive—with the cases she attracts. She’s finding her voice and learning to stand up for herself.
And then there’s A WAR OF HER OWN. Any number of people asks me why I decided to write a book that takes place during WWII. Why a book about wartime? Well, as I said, I write strong women,
As ironic as it is—war has had a liberating effect on women in this country.
Of course women were present in the birthing of our nation—and their tasks most often were running the farms the soldiers left behind—largely thankless jobs—so that the men could go off and fight the wars. Women battled sickness and death, violence, the roar of cannons. The days of fear and excitement were few, and the days of hard work, high prices, drudgery, boredom and loneliness were many.
Revolutionary War: The Revolution had little emancipating effect on women who, of course, protected hearth and home and participated in the fight just as much as did the men, yet they even lost some rights in the passage from colonialism to statehood. Such as education and household help. Single women kept a certain amount of identity, but when they married, their sense of self was sucked up into the status of the men they married.
Of course there were women “ahead of their times,” like Abigail Adams, who begged for her husband to remember the women at the Continental Congress—but her voice was ignored to gain other issues deemed more important.
85 years later there was a second and even deadlier war. Women entered the battlefields to care for the sick and dying—women like Clara Barton. This was an age, however, when many people preferred to allow men to die rather than subject the innocence of womanhood to the sight of male bodies. The right to be a nurse was likely the only gain that women obtained from the Civil War despite the tremendous contribution they made to support their side of the war. Tremendous sacrifices were made. They, too suffered the atrocities of war—defending their property and their families—often with little support from others.
The Fifteenth Amendment (Amendment XV) to the United States Constitution prohibits each government in the United States from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” It was ratified on February 3, 1870.
The right for all citizens to vote, but women were not yet considered citizens.
WWI saw the first timid steps taken during the last months of the Great war to make women a part of the U.S. military itself. Almost 13,000 women enlisted in the Navy and Marine Corps to the same status as men. War had finally accomplished for women what peace and reason had not. People were beginning to relax in 20s. Dresses were shortened and lightened, heavy hair was bobbed. Then the depression hit and women were sent to the end of the employment line where they were told their place was in the home.
Then, the next decade brought another war WWII, and women were coaxed out of the home again. President Roosevelt called for an impossible number of planes and ships and weapons—and women—the last labor reserve—would have to make them.
Of course, at the beginning of the war, the U.S. was still plagued by Depression unemployment: The first defense jobs went to them (men). Then, the next group hired was unemployed and underemployed women—those who had been denied jobs in the 30s and who wanted and needed to work.
By the end of 1942—all of those workers had been absorbed into the work force—still Roosevelt sent out a cry of a new type—for homemakers/housewives—who either didn’t need a job, or didn’t want one.
And by 1944, the U.S. produced an astounding 120,000.
The government ran a huge campaign to push women into doing jobs previously open only to men. Many of those women answered the call—while carrying on their home duties as well. This was the times when –for example—it took one whole day to do laundry. And folks had to stand in long lines for food.
Shipbuilding is an ancient craft and the men were more reluctant to take on women despite government encouragement to do so. But as they were forced to hire women to do the jobs, production numbers jumped 15 times during those years:
Shipbuilders and their proprietary attitudes gave way to women who were accustomed to multi-tasking.
Of course, after the war was over, women were sent back home in order to make jobs available for the men, returning from the war. But women had gained a glimpse of what they could do, and times began to change at a huge rate as the baby’s born during that period grew into adults. Young women began to ask questions and demand equality at a new rate.
I am a strong woman myself, but I didn’t start out that way. Being born a couple years before the start of WWII, women at that time—women like my mother—were caught between the worlds of a dependent, subservient, passive role of wife and mother. They had finally gained the right to vote twelve years or so before that. But women like my mother voted all right—but she didn’t think for herself. Rather she voted the same as Dad, choosing to not ‘kill his vote.’
WWII allowed—even encouraged—American women to do things that were closed to them before that time. And yes, in the 50s many women resumed their pre-war roles, but the world and people’s thinking had changed.
A WAR OF HER OWN is such a story, told through the eyes of one young woman who signifies the lives of many women during those years. It is set in the summer of 1943 in Orange, Texas, a sleepy little town overrun with tens of thousands of new workers. With jobs galore at the wartime shipyards, the workers are rich with cash, eager for excitement, and looking for a good time.
People now had money to burn but with nothing to spend it on.
Bea Meade starts with a strike against her even before she’s born. Now twenty, married and the mother of a four-month old baby, instead of a good night’s sleep, Bea spends her nights feeling alone in a half-empty womb, a womb both a graveyard and a birthing chamber.
I hope you’ll read my books, and if you do, I hope the women in them will mean something to you, and lead you to be a stronger woman—or man.