07-14-18 Cassandra O’Leary

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Heroines Through History

Hi everyone! I am YA author B A Binns , writer of contemporary and realistic fiction for teens. My tagline tells you what I am about - Stories of Real Boys Growing Into Real Men - and the people who love them. 

I've heard suggestions that we need a Woman's History Month.  Too few people know the important "her-stories," tales of the heroines that are just s important, if not more important that the male-dominated history. And while I write fiction instead of non-fiction, I love and appreciate a good heroine. I also study them, and, when appropriate, grab one's history or personality to help make my own characters more complex, interesting, and...well, more heroic.

I begin with  Fatima Al-Fihri, a Muslim woman who established the world's first University in the 9th century.  She turned her grief over the deaths of her father, brother and husband, into community work, using her personal wealth to found the Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque and University in Fes, Morocco, a country in Africa. Muslim and non-Muslim alike have studied and received degrees at this school, including the man who later became Pope Sylvester II. To this day, the school continues to educate and graduate students. This princess whose dedication to education has shaped so many lives in the past deserves to be remembered.

Because I also love anti-heroes, my next heroine is Ching Shih, a nineteenth century female pirate who was more feared by her enemies (and her men) than the more well-known but less successful Anne Bonny. Ching Shih took control of her pirate husband's fleet after his untimely demise and went on to ravage shipping lanes in the early nineteenth century. 

She established strict rules for her the crews of her ships (yes, she led hundreds of pirates, called the Red Flag fleet) including rules prohibiting the rape of female prisoners. Men who disobeyed that rule ended up headless. And the former prostitute did not accept claims that the sex was consensual. This crafty woman even knew when it was time to retire. After negotiating a deal with the Chinese government that included amnesty and a nice chunk of cash, she lived to the age of 69.

One of my American heroines is Clara Belle Williams. Mrs. Williams had to earn her graduate degree in education from the University of New Mexico by taking classes during the summer because she taught elementary school the remainder of the year. She also had to attend many of those classes standing in the hall because many of her instructors would not allow the first black student at the University to enter their classrooms. Nor was she allowed to attend her graduation ceremony to pick up her diploma with fellow  students. But she went on to educate children at the Booker T Washington elementary school in New Mexico and raise three sons. Her sons all became doctors and founded the William's Clinic in Chicago.

I use Mrs. Williams as an inspiration to the kids in my current WIP who attend the made-up Clara Belle Williams school in a Chicago suburb. The teens in my book will learn the privilege of attending a school named after her, including one who looks at her picture in shock, telling readers that "she looks so young to have accomplished so much with her life." Truth is, she lived to be over 100, dying in 1994, but don't tell my character that. I want him to be inspired by her in spite of his youth.

My final heroine is alive and well and occupying the White House: FLOTUS, aka the elegant Michelle Obama. She is going to be a hard act to follow, no matter who occupies the White House next. She is appropriate for a romance blog because its obvious how close she and POTUS are (I just love those acronyms).

Recently her  Let's Move! campaign took her on field trips. Let's Move is an initiative designed to raise a healthier generation of kids. The video below shows her stopping at three sites to offer encouragement to kids and adults.

Her first stop in the video is at Watkins Elementary School, home to a schoolyard garden and students who grow, harvest, cook, and prepare nutritious foods. The First Lady join them in the school's demonstration kitchen and help make corn tortillas from scratch for tacos, along with a salad using kale harvested from their garden.

Next came John Burroughs Elementary School which has a vegetable garden and a newly planted fruit orchard. The final stop was a community garden cared for by Eriks Brolis and Linda Bilsens in the Brookland neighborhood of DC. Their garden fills an entire backyard and is used to help feed family, relatives, and neighbors.

Michelle Obama is at home at a state dinner and when encouraging the next generation.  And I'm sorry Romance Authors, but she's more fun than any story book heroine I've ever read. I guarantee she will someday make an appearance in one of my books. At least her personality and joie de vivre will land on the pages. Even if I have to package her under another name I will continue to utilize the stories of real heroines to enhance my characters.


Sarah Raplee said...

This is a super-awesome post, V.A.! Thank you so much for sharing about these historical heroines (and anti-heroine.)

I adore Michelle Obama! She handles her many roles with wisdom, grace and humor. She lights up every room she enters. The leadership and compassion she's demonstrated while implementing her healthcare initiatives, as well as her unwavering love and support for her husband, our President, have endeared her to the American people.

I believe both the POTUS and the FLOTUS will do amazing things long after they've left the White House.

Paty Jager said...

Great post, B.A.! I enjoy hearing stories of women in history who made a difference despite all they had to endure.

Courtney Pierce said...

Women heroes are amazing. I give a shout-out to all the women who deserve to be in Arlington Cemetery, which denies them internment because they're women. And they say it's because of the lack of ground space. A travesty. But in the end, this is why women grab for books about their achievements.

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Awesome post, B.A. Thanks for teaching me about a few heroines I didn't know.

Judith Ashley said...

I do believe that our history books are sadly lacking in many respects and your post emphasizes that. Other than FLOTUS, I'd not heard of any of the other women you mentioned. I particularly like the strength and courage of pirate Ching Shih..."did not accept claims that the sex was consensual". Goof for her!!!

We have amazing women in our rich global history. I'm all for rewriting the history books to include more herstory.