On Writing about Strong Women

Literature is full of classic novels portraying strong female characters. Titles like Jane Eyre, Anna Karenina, Pride and Prejudice, and My Ántonia, to name just a few, have graced old and new bookshelves for many years. History, as depicted in both fiction and nonfiction, has been shaped in large part by women—women with strong voices, convictions, and fortitude who have influenced every part of human existence. This demonstration continues today and no doubt will continue in the future. Check out contemporary novels like The Covenant of Water, Songbirds, and The Secret Life of Sunflowers if you’d like to read about extraordinary female protagonists.
But, as we all know, everything is not well in the world, especially when it comes to the silencing of women’s voices and the tribulations they face in many parts of the world, including, recurrently, in the United States. The worst offenses are transpiring in places where there is conflict, war, and uncertainties—dominions found in the Middle East, India, parts of Africa, and anywhere there are refugees from violence. Our own muddled southern border has festered with female exploitation and sexual abuses among the thousands of desperate migrants.
A newspaper article caught my eye the other day. It was a piece exposing the shutdown by the Taliban of beauty salons in Afghanistan. At first glance, this might not seem a big deal, but rather a minor footnote in Afghanistan’s long, tragic history. However, the salons, besides being places where a woman could get her hair cut or styled a certain way, were one of the last locales where ladies were allowed to gather, earn an income, and exist apart from men. It’s another knife in the identities of women and girls. Not only can they be refused an education, but now they are losing basic human rights. Freedoms briefly enjoyed when the Taliban lost their power are now being pulled back with a vengeance. What kind of existence is left for women who have had their jobs taken away, their education denied, and their smallest freedoms revoked?

Reflecting on this, I’m proud to have written strong female characters into my novel, Five Hundred Moons. Nayem, the young shaman of the Quiroste tribe, is central to the Ohlone storyline of my book. She alone understands what her people are up against during the early years of Spanish colonization and plots a course she believes will help her culture to survive. Papina, a resolute Gypsy woman, protects and guides her family with perseverance, guile, and intellect. Her daughter, Drina, models her mother’s resourcefulness, but with more sensuality and cunning to achieve her goals. Other woman characters—Malina, Condula, Maria, and Besa, all play pivotal roles in my story.

Bookcover: Five Hundred Moons by Buzz Anderson
Photo of Buzz and Jennie

And behind the scenes without fail stands my wife, Jennie, who has guided me in all ways—not just in storytelling—but in life.

My thanks forever go to her.

While I realize Five Hundred Moons may not be considered a classic literary work, I believe it more than does its part in promoting compelling, powerful, yet gracious female characters who are role models for girls of all ages.

Of that, I am most pleased.

Feature image: “En route pour la pêche (Setting Out to Fish),” by John Singer Sargent, 1878. National Gallery of Art, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund) Accession Number 2014.79.32. Public domain.

Photo of Buzz and Jennie Anderson provided by Buzz Anderson.

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