Feminism has become a dirty word but it really shouldn’t be, after all it is just about equal rights for all, men and women alike.
Author Alison Morton is known for writing Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with strong heroines. A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, she has visited sites throughout Europe including the alma mater, Rome. But it was the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain) that started her wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by women…
Both INCEPTIO, the first in the Roma Nova series, which was also shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award, and PERFIDITAS, the second in series, have been honoured with the B.R.A.G. Medallion, and were shortlisted for Writing Magazine’s 2014 Self-Publishing Book of the Year Award. Alison’s third book SUCCESSIO is out now.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in French, German and Economics, a masters’ in history and was in the territorial army and has some fabulous views on the state of feminism today.
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Yes, a practical one rather than a radical one.
Why do you think feminism became a dirty word?
Two things: firstly, the major battles of feminism seemed to have been won, so ‘feminist’ sounded old-fashioned and unnecessary, and secondly, there was still a misconception in many people’s minds that feminists were hairy, ugly, man-hating, angry women.
What does the word ‘feminism’ mean to you?
I believe that women and men should be treated equally. We are different from each other biologically and studies have shown that we have different aptitudes, strengths and approaches dating back well beyond the Stone Age to when we were evolving from the primates. But there’s no doubt that women’s roles and lives through history have been defined by their gender and by the power and control exerted over them by men, particularly in harsher times. And women have been and often still are lumped together as ‘the women’, e.g. who will women vote for, and what do women think of X? I deal with people as individuals, irrespective of their gender. Being a feminist does not mean you are a man-hater. I like men and have been married to the same one for 29 years!
How did your time in the male-dominated Territorial Army help to shape your views?
My family has always served in the military; both grandfathers (Army), my father (Royal Army Medical Corps), three aunts (two in the WRNS, one WRAF), uncles (RAF and Army). I had the great good luck to have a feminist for a mother who had brought us up gender–blind. It never occurred to me that a girl couldn’t be a soldier. I had a brilliant time! It was more important to carry out your task irrespective of whether you were a man or woman. Of course, there was sexism and sexist language, but you learnt to give it back. Serving in a mixed unit gave each gender an appreciation of what the other could do.
How do you think feminism has changed since the second wave of feminism in the 60s/70s?
Sexism changed and became covert and more complex, but it’s still there. Even an intelligent, high performing trader like Nicola Horlick was attacked not because of any financial dereliction, but because she stood up against the sexism in her workplace blocking her career progression. Much of the reporting was about her latched on to her being a working mother with four young children. She wouldn’t have had the initial trouble nor would the story have focused on her family if she’d been a man. The other nasty thing is the emergence of intense violence and objectification of young women by young men, the total disrespect of girls and young women as people and the assumption that they count for nothing. How dare they? Third wave feminism in the 1990s and 2000s began as a response to the backlash against initiatives and progress achieved created by the second wave. It built on feminist theories developed in the 1970s and widened into considering sexuality as a means of female empowerment, and different definitions of femininity, class and race.
Is misogyny playing a role in this?
Yes. I think a lot of anti-feminism is based on insecurity and fear of inadequacy by men as women are taking on more ‘men’s roles’. We need men’s education and liberation equally.
In your books the society is led by women. How does your version of a feminist military differ from one led by men?
The core value of my imaginary Roma Nova is based on service to the state being the highest virtue. Putting the collectivity before the individual has been a survival strategy since earliest times when daughters and sisters had to fight alongside their menfolk to protect their new home and way of life. In the 21st century the Roma Nova military continues to be a mixed one with promotion on merit and capability; gender is not an issue. Although there are probably equal numbers in the Roma Nova military leadership with a possible bias towards men, in civilian life women head families, the senate and commercial organisations; the ruler is female and inheritance is through the female line. After all, we can usually be sure who a child’s mother is…
Who is providing a good feminist role model for women these days?
Any woman who achieves by talent and hard work, from famous ones like Christine Lagarde who heads the IMF or Sheryl Sandberg of Google. But really it’s each other: mothers, sisters, colleagues, friends who should be inspiring us.
How can we encourage young women to have an interest and understanding of feminism?
Feminism comes from inside. Until we become aware from personal experience and say ‘no’, we may not even realise we need to be feminists. Promoting aspiration and self-confidence in girls and young women, and showing there should be no barrier to any life choice are more effective than hectoring from above. But keeping a lively and informed public conversation going means there is something for young women to explore and join in.
How do you think campaigns such as #yesallwomen and Everyday Sexism Project are helping to get the message of modern feminism across?
Very well! Such social media campaigns where women across the world from every background age range can contribute raise awareness of the tiny casual everyday inequalities and lack of respect as well as the external horrors of FGM, flogging and systemic gender war.
What can women do about embracing feminism without being seen as ‘men-hating hippies’, and instead being seen as wanting equality, self-esteem and freedom for everyone, women and men?
Keep a sense of humour! Believe you have a right to be yourself as a woman and act as if equality is already won while challenging each little thing that threatens it by using logic and good manners. My thought to take away? When asked the question, ‘So, why do you write these strong female characters?’ pro-feminist man Joss Whedon answers ‘Because you’re still asking me that question.’