Saturday, June 14, 2014

Is Theodosia a Strong Woman?

I like Theodosia Burr. I would not have chosen her for my heroine, if I didn't. There has been a resurgence of interest in her recently, and some of it has to do with feminism.  But while I do see Theodosia as a strong, intelligent woman,  in my books she does not follow the model of the superhuman, super-aggressive Amazon warrior that we have recently  been inundated with in popular fiction.

In today's fiction, women have been eclipsing their male counterparts in war, sex, business and life. This is meant to be empowering to young women embarking on their lives and careers, but I think it can be damaging to have completely unrealistic expectations. Of course, there always have been women who were better than most men at these physical and aggressive feats, but not every woman is going to be a Martina Navratilova or an Annie Oakley or even a Joan of Arc. There have got to be some role models for women who are intellectual, but not athletic, who are smart but aren't sharp shooters, who can take care of themselves, but who welcome the help of someone even stronger when facing the greatest challenges of their lives and of their nation's life.

That's why I recruited Jean Laffite to play that role alongside Theodosia. Could Theodosia be coupled with a lesser man? Sure -- in reality, she was --  and when that happened she would have been more clearly dominant. But how acceptable would those results have been, both in terms of dramatic tension and in terms of personal  and even sexual satisfaction?

Because we have been led to believe that a woman can be strong only when the man she is with is less strong, there has been a backlash of sorts, especially in the depiction of romantic and sexual encounters. Some reviewers have even likened Theodosia and the Pirates: The Battle Against Britain to Fifty Shades of Grey, conflating dominance with sadism.

I see this as a real problem at present in our society, as well as in our fiction. In order to be dominant, a man need not be a sadist. In order to submissive, a woman need not be a masochist. Dominance is a completely different issue, and if you are confused about this, you should read this article.

Living with a male chimpanzee day in and day out, I have had to confront and face the issue of dominance, and I think I have a pretty good idea of what it is and what it is not.

Dominance  does not imply any kind of superiority, especially not intellectual superiority. It just means that the dominant one has taken charge of the situation, so that the less dominant need not deal with the housekeeping function of policing right-of-way. Dominant individuals often defer to those who are less dominant, if the relationship is a happy one.

Theodosia and the Pirates presents an alternative way of looking at many things: politics, religion, war and even domestic relations. Read the two books with an open mind, ready to be surprised. Because nothing in this story is what you would expect!


  1. I know I said this before, but I see no similarity between your historical novel and 50 Shades of Grey, which is basically just a Harlequin sexual romp dressed up with more BDMS than was acceptable in mainstream novels of years past.

    1. Thanks, Julia. I agree. But I think that because our current state of literature is what it is, it helps to explain the difference between the vision I present of a fulfilled relationship and the currently accepted view. Of course, there are as many ways to be fulfilled as there are individuals, so this is not the only way. But I just wanted to make sure people understood that in no way do I endorse sadism in my books.