The status of women in fantasy books has long been discussed and debated on the internet, and I have followed the conversations, believing it to be an important issue to address. People have different opinions about how, exactly, to confront sexism and objectification in literature as a whole and particularly in fantasy, which tends to be set in the past, when women had fewer rights and privileges.
Some say that since an author has the choice of worldbuilding, there is no reason for them not to choose to create a world in which women are equal. I see the argument for this, and the way of looking at literature through the eyes of a parent whose daughter will be reading. But I also see the argument that our responsibility is not to present an ideal future, but rather to show how humans deal with conditions that are less than perfect – and this may include sexism and worse.
In my case I freely admit the worldbuilding happened without enough thought towards these issues. And now, going into the second book, I am faced with a world in which women are in a different class, and in which slaves exist. Combined, these two facts create a nightmare of a world for a young female slave, who is constantly frightened and on the guard against sexual attack.
Some despise reading about women who are always victimized, who have no ability to change their circumstance or fight back. I agree. It is torturous. However, having introduced this darkness into the palace in book 1, I cannot gloss over it in book 2. I would be dishonest to make a rosier picture of the situation. It is a difficult thing to write about but a more difficult thing, I think, to ignore.
In all books in which women are victimized – if that cannot be avoided – I think the important thing is to address it realistically. Though each woman (and all people) react to trauma in different ways, I think it’s safe to say that in most cases, they do not get up after an assault, walk around and feel fine after meeting some nicer people. I will not portray it that way. What I will do is help the character find a survival strategy.
Now I have spent too long writing this and not long enough finishing book 2. I needed to get my thoughts out on the page because to dive back in is difficult. I can only aim to show abuse and subjugation for the terrible thing that it is, and to do that as honestly as possible without blinking. Having got myself into this situation, the only way out is through. Wish me (and her) luck.