#SecondThoughts: Historically accurate female characters

I’ve been watching “Life on Mars” – the time travel (or is it) tale of a detective from the 2000s who finds himself back in 1973 after being hit by a car. Much is made of the changes in attitude between now and then – the everyday misogyny and racism for example, the casual violence and the “fit ‘em up” attitude of making sure the bad guys go down even if they aren’t guilty of the crime they’re being framed for. Of course, there’s also the use (or not) of science, forensics, and the (lack of) availability of databases for use in investigation, let alone the cars and the fashion.

I’d not seen it before, but remember all the chat at the time of Gene Hunt (the boss cop) being a popular character – full of banter and prejudice, cocky and loud-mouthed, on the take but basically decent. Indeed, it was so well loved, the actor even went to reprise the character in television advertisements.

In the 30 years between the 1970s and the 2000s, the contrast in attitude was marked. We’re now an additional 20 years on and we’ve not stood still – especially in the world of gender identity. Earlier this year, we had a nationwide census here in the UK where there was much discussion over whether the standard gender question would be expanded from the two traditional options. In the end, they included an optional additional question as a work-round, which probably pleased no-one. Regardless of the view you hold about gender identity, it is a major issue of the 2020s which could – even should – have been properly captured for posterity within the census.

When seeing the change in the area of gender within the last 50 years, what about the changes in the 20-30 years before that? The second world war brought many changes in this area. Women did men’s work while the men went to fight. When the men came back, some women were happy to return to their old lives, others were not, and the seeds of the women’s liberation movement were surely sown.

Our story, The November Deadline, is set in the late 1940s, when it was still a most different world to the one we live in now. In order to remain believable yet able to include a couple of strong female characters (one primary, one secondary), our task has been made easier by dint of their being from a different – matriarchal – culture.

Lady Michaela is skilled at navigating life with a foot in each world, while Juliet has yet to learn those skills. Michaela’s confident manner could be considered inappropriate or out of place were she not also the possessor of a title, but it remained important for us to demonstrate the practical means which would permit her to work in a traditionally male environment – engineering. Despite it being an area in which she is highly skilled, her financial independence is important, but it’s her friendship with Jack which provided her an out-of-sight workshop in which to pursue her passion.

Juliet (spoiler alert) is being trained to have a most unusual life – different in every way from that of the normal young woman in the late 1940s. She will have to learn quickly that not all men are like those who train her. Isaac, laid back and quietly spoken, will hopefully be able to teach her interpersonal skills alongside those of self-defence, armed and unarmed combat. Her hot temper will doubtless cause conflict with the more typical 1940s male she will encounter, and it will take the combined skills of all her trainers to fully prepare her to meet that task.

But what’s kept it real was David’s introduction of the minor character of Viv. Viv is a more typical female character of the time – a traditional stay at home mother who’s had to go out to work when her husband is posted as missing during the war – and through her we’ve been able to introduce some of the social history of the time. London – the east end in particular – has such a proud history from the war years that it would be a crime not to weave it into our tale in some way.

Our book is a work of fiction, but I believe that incorporating historical details, including those of social history, helps to keep it feeling real. Or maybe that’s just my excuse – for uncovering what was there then which isn’t now, has been a fascinating and most enjoyable work of research.


© Debra Carey, 2021

Author: debscarey

Tweets @debsdespatches My personal blog is Debs Despatches, where I ramble on a variety of topics. I write fiction on co-hosted site Fiction Can Be Fun, where my #IWSG reflections can be found; and my Life Coaching business is Caring Coaching.

5 thoughts on “#SecondThoughts: Historically accurate female characters”

    1. Thank you Stu. I love how she grew and demanded that we keep her, despite only being created to meet the posting for J! I’m rather fond of her too 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. My current WIP is also set in the 1940’s, and I’ve been doing a lot of research on certain cultural attitudes of the era, including sexism. I’ve been a bit surprised by how progressive people in the 40’s were. They were not quite as sexist as I expected them to be. I suspect there was some backsliding that happened in the 50’s, with women losing some of the gains they’d made.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. James, you’re spot on. The return of men from war – not just in Europe but in the Far East (which took longer) did mean there was a delay in women being expected to return to their previous roles. I cannot imagine how it must have felt. While I’m sure some found it a relief, I cannot believe most younger women did.

      Also, oooooh on your WIP! Looking forward to hearing more about it. I think my research of the era has been my favourite bit.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The research has certainly been eye opening for me! My story is set specifically in that narrow window of time between the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War. I learned a lot about those two eras in school, but I didn’t know anything about the transition period between them. It’s fascinating. Kind of feels like a bit of lost history to me.

        Liked by 1 person

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