Friday, 5 August 2011
But I'm a Lady! N M Browne
I had an interesting research opportunity this weekend when taking part in the gladiatorial games at the Guildhall. How I wish I could say that I was a fighter, though I doubt anyone who knew me would believe it, knowing that I’m a dyed in the wool wimp and a malcoordinated coward.
The games were great. The crowd were baying for blood in a horribly realistic way and I found myself in the taverna cooking also in a horribly realistic way. That is what women have always done and though I am interested in fighting techniques and military kit, the male business of war and armies, I donned my borrowed Roman finery and ground pine nuts - in a pestle- because that’s what women did and do.
I am very inclined to write about feisty female characters who are much more likely to wield a sword rather than a pestle and I think I underestimate how hard it is to step away from the expectations of friends and family, to make a fuss, be a harridan, unfeminine, unprotected by the norms of society.
I am a domestic disaster, lacking much interest in cooking. I am a haphazard housekeeper, I can’t sew and you probably wouldn’t want so much as a scarf or dishcloth that I’ve knitted. I’ve spent my life working with men in male dominated environments and yet I slipped as easily into my role as servant of the men, as I did my first century clothes. I hid my short hair under a scarf and my expectations of equality under a smile. It was so easy.
In this case of course it was pretend. Everyone was really grateful for our work in the tavern and I don’t think I have ever felt so appreciated, but it was an important research opportunity and not in the obvious way. I learned a good bit about Roman cooking, and something of gladiatorial games but more than that I learned what I had almost forgotten that as a woman it is all too easy to fall into role, to be the support and not the main event.
I don’t know how much of that I want to reflect in my fiction. Maybe I will just have to make my heroines even feistier so that they can break away.