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Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Julie Ann Dawson - Daughter of Lilith

Our very first post on Daughters of Lilith, is by Julie Ann Dawson, of Bards & Sages.  Julie had written the below, in the same time frame that I'd written the first post on this subject. 

If you'd like to buy and read A Game of Blood before reading the post, you can find it here:

In future, I'll try and give a few days notice of the subject matter of the next post, so that reading up can be done, if that is your thing.  

Morgan (everything past this point written by Julie)

 Bio: Julie Ann Dawson’s love for the horror genre began at the age of thirteen, when she found a copy of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot in the Bridgeton High School library. She earned her B.A. degree in English, Liberal Arts from Rowan University in 1993. Her short stories, poems, and articles have appeared in a variety of both traditional and digital publications, including Gareth Blackmore’s Unusual Tales, Black Bough, The New Jersey Review of Literature, Lucidity, Happiness, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and others. Her other works include the dark fantasy The Doom Guardian and the horror short story collection September and Other Stories. When not writing her own stories, she operates micro press Bards and Sages Publishing.

Apparently, I’m a misogynist.

I got an email recently from a woman who took offense to the fact that there are no “strong female characters” in A Game of Blood. She was rather incensed by it, going so far as to claim she “couldn’t believe a woman wrote this!” This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this accusation. There’s even a review on that points this out. I didn’t set out to write a feminist manifesto when I wrote the story. I wasn’t setting out to tear down any archetypes. I set out to write a paranormal thriller.

As I begin work on the sequel, I look back over the cast of characters and ask myself if I did “slight” my own gender. I honestly think one would be hard pressed to call Jasmyne Sherman, Rodney’s wife, a weak female. She may not pull a gun or get into fist fights, but she’s a successful professional woman who freely shares her opinions. Assistant DA Madeline Carter isn’t meek either; working behind her boss’s back to push her own agenda. Even Ms. Rosalind, the elderly part time receptionist at the police station, commands respect from the officers. Sure, Darius takes advantage of a few teenage girls, but truth be told Darius takes advantage of just about everyone in one way or the other. Women aren’t the only victims in his bizarre schemes. If anything, I would say the presentation of women throughout the book is balanced and realistic for the setting and storyline.

Perhaps that is the problem. These are realistic women and not fantasy role models.

I doubt people would level these sort of accusations at a male author. Anyone familiar with the genre would in fact find far fewer realistic portrayals of women in most thrillers. But I think female readers may place an undue expectation on female writers to create these artificially strong female characters even at the expense of the story. I’m supposed to be offering role models in lieu of believable characters, I guess.

I’m often annoyed by what is presented as a “strong” female character, to be honest. The typical strong female character in modern fiction has become a composite caricature: she’s strong and sexy, tough as nails and softhearted, can kick the ass of a man twice her size but still falls madly in love with the hero. The word “sassy” is often bantered about as a compliment, implying that for a female character to really be a “strong” female, it isn’t enough for her to be able to do her job competently. She has to be fashionable and funny while doing it.

I look at the so-called strong female character in movies and cringe a bit. Selene in the Underworld franchise. Black Widow in the Avengers. Would they be celebrated as strong female characters if they didn’t look sexy in their catsuits while kicking ass? Would the characters even EXIST if they weren’t sexy and sassy?

Mitch, the hero in the book, isn’t fashionable. He usually shows up at the police station looking like he just rolled out of bed. Could a female detective as protagonist be considered “strong” and still looks completely disheveled and unkempt? Mitch is often socially awkward, has a gutter vocabulary, and is more inclined to resolve problems with his gun than words. Would a female detective be able to go through the book acting like Mitch does? Or would she need to be “sassy” in order to be acceptable to readers?

I go back and think about the character of Ms. Rosalind. She would not look good in a catsuit. She certainly is not going to do a spinning kick in a pair of heels. But her actions, though not sexy or sassy, are essential to the climax of the book. She’s a powerful woman who doesn’t flaunt her power or even let on that she has it. She doesn’t need to. Like the crone of myth, she possesses a quiet power that commands respect before you even know what she is capable of. 

So my female characters aren’t glamorous and powerful. They aren’t strong and sassy. Instead, they are wives juggling careers and family obligations, young women working toward getting into college, and old women working part-time jobs to supplement their social security. They are single moms looking for romance and distraught mothers who have lost their children under the most horrific of circumstances. They are teen girls struggling with identity issues and middle-aged women struggling to climb the corporate ladder. The hero moves through a world of real women, not caricatures. The hero and villain may be men engaged in a deadly game, but the women are not just sitting around waiting to be saved. They are moving on with their lives, making decisions independent and mostly unaware of what the main characters are doing. 

Ironically, one of the villains for the sequel is a female, a witch who plans to introduce a new era of Enlightenment. She is neither a seductress nor a hag, as is typical of female villains. In fact, she’s rather plain appearance-wise. She could walk by you and you wouldn’t look twice at her. Her methods aren’t sassy or flashy, but calculating. Her goals horrific yet oddly logical. It will be curious to see how readers respond to her, and if I get more emails telling my I hate my own gender.

Post script:
My reason for offering this to Daughters of Lilith was to point out that sometimes we women are our own worst enemies in terms of forcing definitions on women. For example, I have been involved in discussions where the men in the group understand my point perfectly, while the women will make comments diminishing my contributions as “mean” or “cruel” because of my “tone.” My demonstration of strength didn’t fit with how they believed women should demonstrate strength. It isn’t enough to demonstrate my knowledge on a topic. I have to do it in a way that is also sweet and kind: requirements not placed on males making the same points and in some cases using almost the same words. So it is my hope that my contribution will encourage women to think not just in terms of how to liberate their own “inner Lilith,” but to be wary about how they may be actually reinforcing the gender roles Lilith sought to cast off.

Book Blurb

What would you do if a 300 year old vampire decided that you would make the perfect Van Helsing for his own twisted game?A series of bizzare kidnappings leads detective Mitch Grogan to the home of the wealthy and eccentric Darius Hawthorne. What he discovers there unleashes a chain of events that not only threatens his life, but also his sanity. Grogan finds himself caught up in a deadly game with a three hundred year old vampire looking for a worthy adversary. But how can a burnt-out cop with a crumbling marriage compete against a centuries' old immortal with unlimited resources and supernatural powers?

More than boredom drives the cunning Hawthorne, however. His attempts to push Grogan to the breaking point are more than cruel entertainment. They also serve as a test to see whether or not the mortal is ready to help him hunt an even more deadly foe:  one that  would see the whole world burn to remove the vampiric corruption from it.

Next Posting will be by Sarah Barnard on her Portal women.


  1. I completely agree - women are their own worst enemy. It seems like we either have to choose to be hard or soft. There's no room for the in-between. And once you choose, you're expected to stand up for your choice til death, apparently, else risk the backlash of those in your club. It would be nice if we could accept each other first, before we go on about the opposite sex accepting us as well.

  2. That's why do many women writers adopt ambiguous Initialed names, or manly sounding pseudonyms - to avoid the gender bias. And I don't mean the women-can't-write-horror ones, I'm thinking more subtle, like Julie's above comments.

    Readers of my newest novel have commented on the main (female) character's open-minded approach to sex and relationships. If she'd been a guy (or I pretended to be one) they wouldn't think twice about her opinions.

    Just knowing the book was written by a woman has the reader looking a little closer than they would if a guy wrote it. They go into it with a preconceived idea, which is not fair to the author or the book.

    No idea how to even begin to overcome that, short of becoming an androgynous hermit with no online presence whatsoever.

  3. Oh, Strong Female Character. You are the bugbear of modern lit AND comics. Stories that reflect reality are castigated for not including you, you unrealistic Strong Female Character, you. Why female characters aren't good enough unless they're Mary Sues is beyond me.

    Women criticize other women more harshly because it's safer than criticizing men.

  4. I'm not sure if I agree completely with it being not safe enough to criticise men. Patriarchy is a cohesive whole, that works across gender and class layers.

    Yes, it is my experience that women work harder than men, to put down other women and maintain the status quo. It's also my experience that many women are the strength and voice of change, as are men.

    Many men do not subscribe to the Patriarchal mind set.

    I think expecting women to always be supportive, is not reasonable. So many women consider their own identity, as part and parcel of the idea of what it is to be a 'nice woman', that it's too threatening to them, to open up to other forms of being.

    Likewise, men who are totally switched on about how Patriarchy oppresses both themselves, and their female friends, are often the best ally.

    As a lactavist, I spend most of my life being torn to pieces by other women. I see that as a side effect of patriarchy, not an innate female trait.

    To respond to Julie's comment about her comments being meaner than if a male said them....

    I like to name the behaviour, not the gender. If someone is being bitchy, I call them bitch. If someone is acting like a hard nosed bastard, I call them a bastard. Sexual equipment is irrelevant.

    It FREAKS people. Try calling a man a bitch, and a woman a bastard. It's very... illuminating... :-)

    But, of course, I'm British. In Britain we see it as a CLASS and Gender issue. A working class male is going to have less privileged voice, than you might expect. In my experience, it's difficult to have the class issues discussed, within the USA paradigm. As if class has no bearing. In Britain, it's inconceivable to discuss gender issues, without reference to class.

  5. Consider the origins of the word "bitch" for a moment. Originally, it was used by the Cult of Diana to refer to her follows. Diana's "bitches" were her female followers and it was meant to indicate a free woman. Being a bitch was a sign of power and independence. It was the Catholic church that villified the word to indicate a negative. But now we use the word to insult women that say things we don't like, act in ways we don't approve, or who are too "full of themselves."

  6. I'm a woman who works in a man dominant job and I am often called butch or dyke not because of the way I look or even act, but because I take it as a compliment that I can hold my own. In writing, I get the....this is a female author, obviously the gender neutral described character must be female. pfffttt.

  7. In UK parlance, bitch and bastard have pretty defined meanings. A bitch is someone who back-stabs, undercuts, gossips maliciously.

    So when I see a man doing this, I'll refer to him in conversation with others, as a bitch. It's the behaviour.

    Likewise, a bastard is seen as someone who is strong, determined, will push their own agenda first, and push out other people's agenda to get their own way.

    So if I see a woman acting like this, I name it as that.

    It does fuse brain cells. Good fun, in the right circumstances. (As in, not to the person's face, and not as part of that power play, just observing ironically from outside.)

    Gossip is actual a vital component in social interplay. The concept that men DON'T do it! Fie!