I am indebted yet again to a contact made through social media for this fascinating discussion of both the need for, and the experience of, writing literature that uses strong female role models as the central character.

One of the most common complaints from women actors, for example, is the dearth of strongly-written roles, especially for older women. I wish Phyllis enormous good luck with her novel – and note, one of her books Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel is currently available as a FREE download for Kindle at Amazon

I am very impressed by all those women – and men supporting them – who have spent decades patiently chipping away at the ridiculous attitudes and barriers that deserve to be buried deep in the past. It is not the grand gestures or major campaigns that ultimately change the world, it is the work of individuals, talking person by person, sticking to their truth, demonstrating by example, that make change happen.

Today’s guest blogger: Phyllis Zimbler-Miller

“I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s in a small Midwestern town northwest of Chicago.  The only professional women I knew was one woman doctor who was generally considered somewhat crazy.  (Remember, these are memories – absolute accuracy is not guaranteed.)

I do recall in seventh grade choosing the foreign service as a career path about which to write a report.  Of course, I did not realize at the time that such a career path, besides a secretarial position, was not open to women.

As a newspaper journalist in Philadelphia in the early ’70s I became aware of how even respectable newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal were somewhat derogatory towards women.  In fact, I had quite a collection of examples of such “put downs.”

Then in the mid-70s I taught newswriting courses at Temple University Center City.  In order to get my students to write about women in the same way as my students wrote about men, I first had to do “sensitivity” training about women.  Literally, I had to convince both the women and the men in my courses that women were equal to men.

During this period the Equal Rights Amendment was being voted on by state legislatures.  I had the fearsome experience of being present at a taped debate in 1976 between Phyllis Schlafly (see below) and the women’s group NOW (the National Organization for Women, founded in 1966).

From Wikipedia:

“The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution designed to guarantee equal rights for women. The ERA was originally written by Alice Paul and, in 1923, it was introduced in the Congress for the first time. In 1972, it passed both houses of Congress and went to the state legislatures for ratification. The ERA failed to receive the requisite number of ratifications before the final deadline mandated by Congress of June 30, 1982 expired, and so it was not adopted, largely because Phyllis Schlafly mobilized conservatives to oppose the ERA.”

One of my accomplishments at the weekly newspaper at which I was an editor and reporter was to get the right for women to have their own name in their obituaries.  Until then a woman, for example, was Mrs. John Smith (nee White) and her first name was never mentioned.

Then around the time I started at The Wharton School to get an MBA, I had a “Women In Business” column in the Philadelphia Bulletin – at the time one of the two major Philadelphia newspapers.  I wrote on such topics as business suits now being available for women.   Yes, that was actually big news!

At Wharton I remember walking through the snow to the job interview center wearing boots with my skirt (no pants).  But when I got to the center I had to change into pumps.

Years later, when my husband Mitch and I started writing screenplays together, we wrote strong female characters because we both believe that fictional characters are often role models for people.

(In fact, in the early ‘90s I tried to convince people in Hollywood to portray safer sex scenes in films in order to encourage teens to follow the example of movie stars.  Unfortunately, this was not one of my successful projects.)

In the case of Mitch’s and my screenplay LT. COMMANDER MOLLIE SANDERS, we wanted to explore what it would be like for the first woman officer on a U.S. submarine.

We did a great deal of research for the story, and the screenplay was a 2005 Nicholls Fellowship quarter-finalist – the contest sponsored by the same organisation that puts on the Oscars.

We then wrote a prequel to the screenplay, A NEEDLE IN THE HAYSTACK.  Finally, I decided to combine the two screenplays into a novel because Mitch and I really like the character of Mollie Sanders.

Phyllis’s book – why not download one of her novels for free if you own a Kindle? (See above.) If not, just buy a copy of this one 🙂

In retrospect, if I had known the antagonism that the book would get from certain quarters against a strong female character, perhaps I would not have adapted the two screenplays into a novel!

If you read the positive and negative comments that the thriller gets on Amazon, you will see that in many cases the character of LCRD Sanders is held to a different FICTIONAL standard than a male lt. commander would have been.

In addition, some people comment that a lt. commander is a low rank when, in fact, in the U.S. Navy it is equivalent to a major in the U.S. Army.  Apparently people see the “lt.” and miss “commander.”

Other people insist a fictional character could not do what she does.  But she graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, has a degree in the work she does for the Navy, and by her own admission she tries harder than the men around her!

On the other hand, there are both men and women who write reviews praising her as a fictional character.  I must admit, though, that I wasn’t prepared for the controversy over what is, after all, a fictional character.

Basically, I am saying that, just as there is still not equality for women in real life, there is apparently not equality for women in fictional life!

Oh, well, it is not for lack of my trying!”

Phyllis Zimbler Miller is the author of fiction and nonfiction books, including TOP TIPS FOR HOW TO PUBLISH AND MARKET YOUR BOOK IN THE AGE OF AMAZON.  She is also the co-founder of the online marketing company Miller Mosaic LLC.  You can check out her Amazon Author Central profile at http://www.amazon.com/author/phylliszimblermiller

  1. Thank you for this wonderful article. I forget how much we have struggled as women even within my own lifetime.

    I studied abroad in my junior year in college and lived in Spain. While there I tried to open a checking account and was told by bank officials that a woman could not have a checking account in her name alone. I had to have my father or husband on the account with me. I could live in a foreign country without my parents, but could not have a checking account. Interesting.

    Today societal attitudes are not as blatant. Thanks for changing the obituary. I am not my husband’s possession. (Although after childbirth my OBGYN told me he had taken “a little tuck for my husband”. The look he gave me demonstrated that he thought I would be pleased that he had helped me out.)

    With the obit, I am a person who has lived on this planet. I have my own life and my own death. It seems this should be a no brainer, but you had to fight for us to have this right. Thank you.


  2. […] And thanks to the unexpected element, the story of CIA FALL GUY is off and running in unexpected directions. Now click here to read my guest post “Writing Strong Female Characters: The Need for Positive… […]


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