Strong Female Characters

I’m reading my way through Jane Fallon’s backlist and working up to her most recent release Queen Bee. It has been described at hilarious and addictive. Usually when advertising says something is hilarious, it’s mostly not, but after reading four of Jane’s novels, all ‘stand alone’ and populated with funny, flawed characters, I have high hopes.

So far I’ve read Worst. Idea. Ever, Getting Rid of Matthew, Faking Friends and The Ugly Sister. I read Ugly Sister first and I had to psyche myself up to read the next. It’s the weaker of the four I’ve read and the Goodreads reviews seem to agree for the most part.

The stories are full of strong female characters. The four books I’ve read would pass the Bechdel-Wallace test but there’s a lot of infidelity and backstabbing in these make-believe worlds. Women stealing their bestie’s man, women insanely jealous of their bestie’s/sister’s success, women who hate their sisters, toxic workplaces, oh, and a lot of drinking. It’s all very delicious because it’s all very different to my life.

Fallon’s heroine’s tend to make a series of mistakes or one monumental one, and spend the rest of the book trying to get themselves back to a semblance of normal behaviour. They lie. They commit fraud. They catch their friends and loved ones out, and they get caught out. But there’s usually a cat which is nice, and the stories are written with humour and I think I can say that Fallon’s characters deserve their endings which is all we readers want.

I’m not a contrarian. I have been known to upset the apple cart if I think it’s absolutely necessary but I certainly don’t enjoy it. There I was, surrounded by older, educated, wealthy women and they were talking about how they don’t like Feminism. They said the word with such distaste. I listened to their arguments and it seemed their main concern was that the third wave of Feminism has had a tendency to confuse, upset, and ‘marginalise’ men.

I have a son. I get it. They were all well into their sixties and beyond, and the mothers of sons. They worried that their sons weren’t afforded the same freedoms their father’s had enjoyed.

I was shocked. These were educated women. Some of them were writers. We have the freedom to write and publish now because it was hard won by the women who often risked everything. Women who threw themselves in front of horses. Women who starved themselves. As for writers, there were women who had to publish under male pen names or anonymously. Colette was locked in a room and forced to write so her husband could steal and profit from her work.

Eventually I had to speak up.

I pointed out that, in Australia, most women enjoy the fruits of Feminism every day. The freedom to work outside the home. The freedom to have a bank account, to own property, to travel unaccompanied. To vote. To drive a car. To access health care. There are countries where women are still being denied these basic freedoms. And worse. In 2023.

In Afghanistan, women are losing basic human rights daily. In Iran, women and men are being executed for demanding basic human rights. In the USA, ultra-conservative governments are grinding back the wheels of progress to remove access to reproductive health care, rights for the queer community, and education. They are banning books!

In lots of countries including Australia, Feminism has given men many freedoms not available to their fathers or grandfathers. Previous generations of dads didn’t have ‘permission’ to be present at the birth of their children. Men couldn’t take time away from work or change careers without raising suspicion about their motives or their mental capacity.

A hundred years ago, men didn’t have the freedom to choose a career or pastime that was considered outside the gender norm. Make that fifty years ago. There are so many ways our lives are better because of the women (and some men) who demanded the vote, the women who chained themselves to things, the women who turned up and didn’t take no for an answer.

I left it at that and then someone changed the subject.

Did I change their minds? I don’t know. But I know I spoke up, I did it with kindness and laid out some facts. Nothing gets better unless someone cares enough to speak up.


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