What a strange time to be a woman, a guest post by Bree Barton
Author Bree Barton, whose book, HEART OF THORNS, is out today, joins us to talk about freedoms, feminism, power, and stories. Hop on over to this link to see Amanda’s review of Bree’s new book.
In some ways, we have never enjoyed more freedom. As I write this post, I am sitting in a café drinking crimsonberry tea and wearing short shorts—an outfit that would have seen my grandmother shunned by “polite society.” I went to a good school and got a good job. At thirty-three, I don’t have kids, and no one is pressuring me to. Last year I saved up money and took myself to Iceland for ten days on a book research trip. I never once felt unsafe.
In other ways, we are stripped of our freedoms every day.
I’ve always been interested in what it means to have a body, especially as a woman. What brings us pleasure? What brings us pain? Who has control over our bodies? I wish the answer to the last question were unequivocally “ourselves,” but we know that isn’t true. Controlling someone else’s body is about power, and historically, that power has belonged to men. The church. The government. Husbands. Doctors. And, most recently: the Supreme Court.
But to be perfectly honest, those questions were not at the forefront of my mind three years ago, when I started writing my debut fantasy novel.
We’d had a good few years. I canvassed for Obama in 2008, riding the wave of optimism undulating across the country. Sure, the years under the Obama administration weren’t as rosy as they’d appeared on those “YES WE CAN” posters. But they weren’t that bad. Right?
Besides, we had Hillary. I watched Hillary Clinton decimate Donald Trump in the debates with tears in my eyes and pride in my heart. We were going to have our first female president. If I did decide to have children someday, they would grow up never questioning that a woman could be in charge.
As a cis white woman, I thought about power in an abstract sense, the way a palm tree imagines a blizzard. That’s the thing about privilege: it’s so inherent for those of us who benefit from it, most of the time we don’t even know it’s there. I knew my book would have magic—it was, after all, a fantasy—and magic typically involves an exploration of power. But that was just fiction. It wasn’t real.
Then November 2016 happened.
Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of what people of color, my LGBTQIA+ friends, and anyone from a marginalized community had known all along: the world was not an equal playing field. The game was rigged. I only got a taste of the reality they faced on a daily basis, but that taste was staggeringly bitter.
Though I will never understand their centuries of pain, I began to see the ripple effect of our new president’s policies. I could no longer afford my health insurance. On my last covered trip to the gynecologist, she urged me to consider an IUD. “Just to be safe,” she said. “Since we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Meanwhile, one of my favorite nonprofits closed its doors after 20+ years. My local library had to abbreviate their hours, thanks to budget cuts. Nightmare stories began to pile in—hate crimes, casual racism, threats to deport kids from LA Unified. I did what everyone did: Unfriended bigoted relatives on Facebook. Read all the memes. Cried over the thought pieces. Called my representatives.
Heart of Thorns didn’t start out as an expressly feminist fantasy. I hope everything I ever write is feminist, but not until the presidential election did the story truly snap into focus.
In the first two drafts of HoT, I had a fuzzy concept of an “evil king.” After Trump seized the throne, let’s just say that character emerged in high definition. For the first time I saw King Ronan of Clan Killian for what he was: a hateful tyrant who seals the borders, persecutes people of color, and abuses his bisexual son. A man who not only condones assaulting women, but makes it actual policy.
I wrote about the unmitigated reality of the United States: racism, misogyny, xenophobia, hate. Sci-fi and fantasy authors talk a lot about wordbuilding, but for me worldbuilding was a three-prong process: read the news, shudder in horror, then write it into fantasy.
As I shredded my draft to ribbons, a new question knit itself together in my brain. What if our bodies evolved to shift the power imbalance? What if the “tables turned” and magic focalized in a woman’s body gave her power over men? How would she use that power? For good, or for evil?
I knew in my bones I wanted to create a magical system in which the female body had evolved to right the imbalance of power. In the world of Heart of Thorns, this power is why women are feared and hated…but the more they are feared and hated, the more powerful they become.
This is a strange time to be alive. But if there is one thing I’ve learned from the heartbreaking events of the last two years, it’s that we have never needed stories more. Stories allow us to write about the horrors of the present—and they also empower us to write the future we desire.
In 2017, I launched Rock ‘n’ Write, a nonprofit dance and writing class for preteen and teen girls. Every week we come together to dance, write, and connect; to move our bodies and open our minds. What I tell my girls is, stories have power. Anyone who tells a story—or crawls inside the ones they read—does possess magic.
Today’s culture tries to alienate us, to remind us of the ways we are different. Books remind us of the ways we are the same. We need libraries now more than ever. We need librarians to lead kids to books. We need stories to shine light on every corner of humanity—the bad, the good, the resplendent. This is why we read. Always and forever, we yearn to be drawn into the light.
Meet Bree Barton
Bree Barton is a writer in Los Angeles. When she’s not lost in whimsy, she works as a ghostwriter and dance teacher to teen girls. She is on Instagram and YouTube as Speak Breely, where she posts funny videos of her melancholy dog. Bree is not a fan of corsets.
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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