One of the questions I get asked most often at signings is why I chose to regress women’s rights in the city-state of Baalboden in DEFIANCE. I’ve heard everything from anger that I would regress women’s rights to fascinated interest in looking at a society where girls are treated like property and are denied an education.
Most of the people who ask me about this topic, though, are really asking “How could you portray girls in such an unrealistic light after everything we’ve fought for?”
My answer is simple: We aren’t done fighting.
We aren’t done.
Baalboden is ruled by Commander Jason Chase, a misogynistic brute of a man motivated by fear that he’ll lose the power he’s accrued. He’ll do anything to stay in power. One of the best ways to keep oneself at the top of the heap is to severely limit the education, choices, and freedom of speech of those who are dependent on you for protection. To that end, the Commander doesn’t allow the girls in his city-state to have a true education. They can’t own property. They can’t even walk the streets of the city without their assigned Protector with them (a husband or older male family member.)
Is your blood pressure rising, yet? Mine is! But there’s more. The Commander also requires that all girls be Claimed after they turn seventeen. The Claiming is Baalboden’s version of marriage. Girls are paraded across the stage in their finest dresses w/their fathers and single men step forward to Claim them. The girl’s father has the final say in who Claims his daughter.
I can’t even type that without feeling angry enough to want to light that city on fire. So, I totally understand when readers feel that same rage. It’s a kind of helpless fury that girls would be treated like brainless dolls ostensibly for their protection when really the truth is far more insidious. The truth is that the Commander recognized that the only way to stay in absolute power was to marginalize the girls. To create a society so one-sided in privilege that half of the population would never have the tools to rise up against you.
So … why did I do that?
Because that situation is the reality of girls across the globe.
In Pakistan last year, a teenage girl was shot in the head because she asked to have an education. (She survived, and is still campaigning for her fellow girls. Here’s a petition you can sign to stand behind the girls in Pakistan and to ask the U.N. to step in w/teachers and aid.) Also in Pakistan, rape victims are told to be silent or risk bringing shame onto their families. And in the recent elections, men were told to keep their wives and daughters home and away from the polling places because women had no place in the running of a democracy.
In India, women are largely unrepresented politically, most are not afforded the right to inherit property, most are not allowed an education, and accusations of rape often go unprosecuted or are given an extremely light sentence.
All across the globe, from Morocco to Denmark, rape victims are forced to marry their attackers.
Child brides forced to marry older men is a common practice across the globe as well. In Southeast Asia, 48% of girls are married off before they turn 18. In Africa, it’s 42%. In Latin America and the Caribbean it’s 29%.
In Russia, women’s activists were recently arrested after straying from a government approved message at a women’s rights rally.
The lack of basic educational opportunities available to girls all over the world is staggering. In Nigera, it’s estimated that 65% of girls lack access to basic education. In fact, all of Africa is experiencing a tremendous crisis in education. The Middle East is also a battleground for a girl’s right to an education, a voice, and a choice, though in places where a priority has been placed on equal education, the plight of women has steadily improved.
Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army.” - Edward Everette, the former US Secretary of State.
This lack of education is really the crux of the inequality girls face. Without education, a girl’s choices are limited to dependence upon her father or being married off to be dependent upon another man. If she’s hurt, raped, or molested, she can’t speak up or get help without going through the same patriarchal system that already devalues her enough to say she isn’t worth educating, doesn’t have a voice in the running of her country, can’t inherit property, and must marry whomever her father or her government decrees.
We’ve made tremendous strides in the area of women’s equality in America, but there is still work to be done here and across the globe.
Which brings me back to the reason I chose to structure Baalboden the way I did. I wanted to show a society where girls are not given an education or a voice. Where they are treated like property instead of like human beings. Where they don’t have the tools to change their situation, and don’t have the basic right to choose what to do with their lives and whom to spend them with.
And I did it because in Defiance, Rachel’s father made a different choice. He educated his daughter. He taught her to read. To fight. To think for herself. And she changed everything.
What could we do for our fellow girls if we gave them choices? If we helped them get an education? Helped them gain the tools they need to forge a different future for themselves? Helped them secure the freedom to think for themselves?
They could change everything.
How to Help:
Maasai Girls Education Fund: Donate to help educate a woman in Kenya.
WorldVision in India: Sponsor a child monthly to give clean water, nutrition, and an education.
Global Giving: Send 30 girls in Pakistan to school.