One of my beta readers brought up an interesting point the other day regarding her opinion of my female characters.
This reader is a young lady from the United States, who was giving me her thoughts on the first manuscript.
She told me that, in her opinion, my female characters were quite wooden; bland and typical, rather than vibrant and interesting.
As I had done a lot of revision since the manuscript she was talking about, I had already corrected a lot of this.
One thing has not changed, though.
She was rather put off by the fact that most of my female characters are quite, well, suburban. Submissive and mild, going about their duties as a housewife and filling their parts in a very 1950’s way.
From the perspective of a young American wife, this is as unrealistic as it gets.
Now, while it’s true that Therese (the lead female character) has undergone a major overhaul to make her far stronger than her previous incarnation, most of the other female characters are, indeed, mild by today’s standards.
The first book is set in 1969, an era of radical change in the world, women’s liberation and so on, so why are my female cast members so simple and downtrodden?
First things first, the setting is South East Queensland, not San Francisco.
It has been said repeatedly that at that time, Australia was a good ten years behind the United States in most regards and that Queensland was ten years behind the rest of Australia.
In a cultural sense, this was absolutely true. Here, the wife was expected to tend the home and many workplaces were off-limits to female workers.
Wage parity for women, for instance, is a good case in point. Equal pay for men and women, even as a principle, did not enter Queensland industrial legislation until 1974, five years after the books setting.
Queensland nurses could not remain employed at hospitals if they got married until the mid 1970’s.
Queensland women had only gained admittance to employment in the government sector in 1966.
Women were not allowed in the public bars of hotels until 1970, unless they were the publican’s wife.
Here, though, is the nub of the problem; a shift in societal philosophy happens very gradually. The innovators will be the first to make the shift across to a new way of thinking, but they are a small minority.
The general majority will wait to be shifted across gently and rely on public opinion and media to do the thinking for them.
Thus it was that movement towards a more liberated female society in Queensland was slow indeed.
The incumbent state government of the time, which was relatively young and just beginning to make its laborious way toward what is now commonly accepted as institutionalized corruption, was in no mood to speed things along.
Indeed, the then premier’s wife was famous for her pumpkin scones; wasn’t she a good little housewife, hmm?
As a matter of fact, during my teen years of the 1980’s, nearly all adult women that I knew were stay at home housewives.
So, I feel it is important to make my setting a typical, rather than a revolutionary one.
It has to be remembered that the opening book has as its focus the wrenching decision that our young family has to make, the cost of that decision, the psychological power play that was certainly common enough at the time between parents and their children and the acceptance of consequences, both unpredicted and terrible, that come with a big decision.
To lump in a raft of issues related to women’s role in this society would be to make the story cumbersome and lose its pace.
Having said that, I have put in plenty of tidbits to highlight the issues related to women’s rights in this relatively oppressive society throughout the book, sowing the seeds of story arcs that will reveal themselves in future volumes.
I can understand that people of today may be discomforted by the banal suburban tone of many of my female characters, but this is the first in a ten book series, and the ten years the series covers is a time of shifting philosophies.
The women in my book are true representations of people in a place in time, but as the series continues, those times, they are a changing.