Women’s Words: Art Changes Lives

I remember the first book I read where I actively realized the author was a woman. Subsequently, this was the day I also realized that made her different than men. I remember cleaving to her words like they could sustain me. I devoured her books, and went searching for more.

As a child, I read Beverly Cleary‘s Ramona series over and over again, but though I loved the books, I never really got that lightning strike to the forehead. I also read a few books by Judy Blume, but it was Patricia Wrede (pronounced REE-dee, as Ms. Ginger Clark — her agent — told me) who made me think something was up in literature.

I picked up Dealing With Dragons as a young girl wandering the children’s section at Powell’s Bookstore in downtown Portland, Oregon. The cover shows (or it did in that printing) a young woman in a maroon dress facing down a dragon. When I started reading, this initial image did not disappoint. Princess Cimorene is not a typical princess. She doesn’t want to embroider cushions or learn twenty-seven different acceptable responses to being insulted by a diplomat. She wants to learn to sword fight and make cherries jubilee. She wants to have an adventure, and she certainly couldn’t care less about finding a prince to marry — which is, unfortunately, her parents’ primary concern.

Princess Power.

So what does she do? She goes looking for dragons and volunteers to be a dragon’s princess. Like ya do.

I remember the light bulb going off in my head. I thought, “Now THAT is a princess!” I had my princess fantasies like most young girls — hard not to when you factor in all of us being force-fed Disney till we could recite the movies by heart and competed over who could “be” Ariel better. The princesses I liked most in those movies were Belle and Ariel — Ariel because she did her own thing and fought for what she wanted and Belle because she loved books. The scene where the Beast gives her the library still gives me chills. But ultimately, there is a bad guy trying to hurt these women, and it’s a man who saves them.

Not so with Cimorene. She manages to save the dragons. With her intelligence. Her wit. And occasionally her sword and the magic she taught herself.

From Patricia Wrede, I jumped to urban fantasy with L.J. Smith. As much as I dislike The Vampire Diaries books, the Night World series made me cheer for its strong young women — young women who climbed mountains, slayed vampires, aspired to be paleontologists and astronomers, and found love on their own terms. I read Lois Lowry’s The Giver. I read Lynn Beach’s Phantom Valley series. O.R. Melling. S.E. Hinton.

As I grew older, I read Charlotte and Emily Bronte. Joyce Carol Oates. Katherine Kerr. The words of women shaped me. In high school, I discovered Jane Austen — a woman truly writing in a man’s world. She wrote with wit and fervor for story as well as mirth and humor. She wrote one of the best opening lines I’ve ever seen: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife.” If women in the early 19th century could write strong female characters, then

It was also in high school that I took an independent study creative writing course with my best friend. We spent most of our time writing our own novels, but we did have one major project. We had to choose either a genre or a particular author and read as much as we could of it and write an analysis of the differences between books, the evolution of the genre, and look in depth at the themes. I chose fantasy. I read David Eddings and Tolkein, Lloyd Alexander and Terry Goodkind, and I remember that the only female fantasy author in my school library at the time was Katherine Kerr. The only one.

Perhaps you noticed in my litany of author’s names that several had initials. L.J. Smith. S.E. Hinton. O.R. Melling. Let me add another: J.K. Rowling.

It’s no secret that they are women, not with trusty Google, but the fact remains that these remarkable women may not have achieved the same scope and reach if their names had been less generic. When I first heard of Jo Rowling, I thought she was a man. Same with L.J. Smith. Same with S.E. Hinton. Same with O.R. Melling. Now when I see an author who uses initials, I assume she is a woman writing in a male-dominated genre — and often, I’m right.

I won’t argue about it. I think it’s anyone’s choice, and I might one day do it myself. (M.E. Mears has a nice ring to it, no?) But if you scratch the surface of modern literature, you will find women. Hundreds of them.

When I think of the words of women, I think of voices like Maya Angelou and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” and how her drive and immense ability to overcome the trauma of her past made her into a woman sought out by Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X to help them in the Civil Rights movement. Her words are all the more powerful because of the life she lived. I think of The Color Purple.  I think of the simple dignity of a woman named Rosa Parks who said, “The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

I think of the words of Libby Roderick, who sang, “Women’s arms hold up half the sky, and women’s voices sing out half the songs, and if this world is ever going to ring with hope we must make a right to more than half the wrongs.”

I think of the words of Eve Ensler who wrote: “I think of the security of cages. How violence, cruelty, oppression, become a kind of home, a familiar pattern, a cage, in which we know how to operate and define ourselves…”

Women’s words have power. They have the power to shape young girls and boys into women and men who refuse to tolerate abuse and violence toward one another. They have the power to heal, to shine light into the dank recesses of a soul and renew. They have the power to move people, to teach people, to show people the worth of women.

All it takes is to make up your mind. To make a choice. To join your voice to theirs whether you’re a woman or a man. To decide not to give in. To say something when you see men harassing a woman when she walks alone. To speak up when someone puts women down. To validate women’s boundaries, women’s bodies, and women’s vaginas.

Yes. I said vagina. You should say it too. Men feel pride for their penises, and vaginas should never be a thing of shame. Too often they are. It’s why when vaginas are invaded, humiliated, and taken by force, women are afraid to speak up. We fear judgment for saying the v-word. We fear the disbelief of others. Their censure. We fear being thought a whore, because deep down I think every woman fears that word and the endless striving to survive the cutting blades of the dichotomy.

Fear kills love. Fear kills us all.

I am a woman raised by hundreds of women. Their words buttress every aspect of my being. Their voices send fear scuttling into the abyss.

Words have power. How will you use yours?

I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear. – Rosa Parks

About Emmie Mears

Saving the world from brooding, one self-actualized vampire at a time.

Posted on February 12, 2012, in V-Day 2012 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Have you read any Ursula K. LeGuin? I think you might find her a fantastic addition to your lists. She writes mostly science fiction and some epic fantasy.

    • I have definitely heard of her and would like to check her out — I know there are heaps of women making inroads in fantasy, but in 2003, there was only one of them represented in my school’s library.

  2. When I wrote my YA story I decided there would be no big romance. I wanted to write about a girl who was focused on her future and had way more to deal with than finding a boy to love. I wanted girls to remember that boys are not the end all. My main character has a guy as her sidekick though.

  3. Interesting post, I decided to commemorate Edith Wharton for her 150 years this year, to balance up the focus on Dicken’s 200th.

  1. Pingback: V-Day: Until the Violence Stops « Emmie Mears

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