Monday, March 10, 2014

In Pursuit of Feminism

If feminism and I were in a relationship on Facebook, our status would read, “It’s Complicated”. In college, a few of my good friends began to explore feminism, and I wasn't sure I was on board. To me, feminism meant pantsuits and shouting “Down with men!” And I liked men. Pantsuits, not so much. So I listened to them talk about it, but never moved forward with what I learned in a conversation.

Years later, I unexpectedly found myself writing for two women’s magazines. I hadn't been trying to market myself to women’s magazines, I just happened to be a woman who was happy to be one. Both magazines applauded feminism, however, and I entered the conversation once more through articles published about the topic. One article on Lydia Magazine really stuck with me, and I’ll share the link with you all here. Kassidy Brown and Alison Rapson’s goals appealed to me because they were inclusive and celebrated humanity, instead of simply seeking to trample down men.

One day I looked at my bookshelf and realized just how many of my books were written by men. In fact, I’m looking at my bookshelf now, and not counting anthologies, three of my books were written by women. And I love to read, and saved many of my books from college (though the majority of them were lost moving across the country), so you can bet I have more than four books. The lack of women writers on my bookshelf astonished me. Where were all the women role models?

I found myself championing women who were not afraid to be themselves: women writers, actresses, and activists. It seemed important to me to celebrate womanhood and the women who felt free to express themselves in a manner that attempted to bring healing to those who felt afraid to be themselves.

I don’t mean to condemn male writers; two of my favorites are Hemingway and Steinbeck, writers oft condemned as misogynists. Too bad, I think they’re brilliant writers, and I don’t think it diminishes my womanhood at all to appreciate them. However, I did want a wider representation of the sexes on my reading list.

Back in Santa Barbara, a friend let me borrow some of her books, and one of them was Tatterhood and Other Tales. I fell in love with these stories of compelling, ardent women who were not afraid to be themselves. I decided that if I ever have daughters, I wanted to read this book to them, and thinking about it now, I don’t see why I wouldn't read it to sons, either. They are great stories.

Maybe it’s not so complicated between feminism and I after all. Feminism becomes complicated when people vary on their definitions of the movement, and how they act upon their beliefs. To me, it means I’ll work to create a better world for my children, in which women and men are respected equally and feel free to be themselves, whoever they are.

So in honor of Women’s History Month, I’ll officially declare myself a feminist, and here’s my first book recommendation: In Thunder Forged by Ari Marmell.

In Thunder Forged is the first book released by Privateer Press, based on the world of their tabletop wargaming system, a game system that both Aaron and I play. For those of you who aren't as nerdy as we are, I usually describe tabletop wargaming as a game akin to chess, except that each model has a variety of moves and attacks in the midst of varied terrain (trees, rivers, etc.) on a table. Although women play tabletop wargames, most of the players are men. In fact, at my first tournament, a man came over and started attempting to rap about how he wanted to spend time with me after I’d played my game. I was annoyed because it was my turn, and I was on the clock and didn't have time to give the guy the time of day, even if I hadn't been there with my husband! Luckily I was playing against a friend of mine, who told the guy to get lost.

Wargaming companies are often criticized for objectifying women in their models (many female models have large breasts and wear armor that would be more practical in a bedroom than in a battle). Some companies are worse offenders than others; Privateer Press actually has a number of women warcasters (the main piece, think a powerful combination of the king and queen in chess), and one of their factions is a matriarchal society.

Now that you've had a glimpse into the world of wargaming, you can see why I was delighted to realize that the main characters in the novel were women. My dad bought the book for Aaron last summer, who read it in a day and said I should read it. It wasn't until I dove into it about a week ago, however, that I realized that women played the game changers in the novel. The three main characters are a spy, a sergeant, and a knight – all women who kick some serious booty. I enjoyed reading a book where women commanded situations and manipulated events to work for the good of their country. Don’t worry, men are very much present in the book as well; what I really loved was that the book treated men and women as equals.

Although there are many incredible women in our armed forces today, I don’t read much about them in novels. I loved that in In Thunder Forged, women were included as part of the makeup of battalions and armies. For example, enjoy this quote from the second chapter of the book: “‘All right, ladies and gentlemen! Let’s give them some cover!’ Hefting her carbine, Sergeant Bracewell broke from her position and opened fire, her escort following behind” (Marmell 32). Women were game players, in a natural and expected way for that world, rather than a way that felt forced, as if the company was just trying to stick some women into their novel to appeal to lesser represented demographics.

The world has a long way to go on many issues: feminism, economic development, peace, equality. Yet instead of complaining that we have such a long way to go, I’d rather focus on the good that is being done, and applaud the women and men who work for a beautiful future.

Works Cited:
Marmell, Ari. In Thunder Forged. Amherst: Pyr, 2013.

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