“Is your protagonist an idiot?” Writing Charlotte’s journey in a feminist era.

There have been a few critical reviews of Witchiest Circus on Earth that specifically call out the fact that Charlotte acts like a child even though she’s thirtysomething. I understand the criticism and thought I’d address some of it for International Women’s Day today.

The men in her life, whether it be her father or her Uncle Phil, often push her opinion or needs aside and substitute their own. Even Samson, her steadfast familiar, is a male that often rolls his eyes at her. Charlotte’s own power to know what is in the minds of men has been an impediment to her own growth, and her withdrawal from those normal rights of passage in favor of staying home with her parents all those years… well, those kinds of things have consequences on one’s maturity level.

Think of the many women widowed but whose husband always handled the money—this was common not all that long ago. How overwhelming would it be for someone like that to contemplate getting a checking account? Registering the car? If you’ve never done it before, it can be confusing. Possibly even terrifying. Does that lack of experience make someone stupid? Not at all.

From my perspective, women can be both intelligent, and naïve about or dismissive of the power they give up to others. Many women have to learn to embrace their own power, and they don’t march into adulthood having fully overcome “the patriarchy”.

Their journeys deserve shelf space, too.

Start, then step

There are a lot of cozy mysteries whose protagonists start out precisely as they will be, and they are exactly who they are. I really enjoy those types of stories, too—but it wasn’t the story I delighted in telling this time around. I get a kick out of someone starting in one place and winding up in a different place. Especially when they’re baffled by how they got there.

So, I do not intend Charlotte’s lack of agency and reacting like a ping pong ball to present her as an idiot. I intend it to be a representative starting point. A symbolic place many women find themselves through the well-meaning (and, okay, sometimes not so well meaning) intentions of the more powerful around them, intentions so well meaning that sometimes we women don’t realize that we have given up that power to someone else. Intentions not intended to undermine us as women but which do just the same.

Feminism as a process

I am an unapologetic feminist, but I can admit that I apologize far too often than is necessary. In the workplace, I sat in meetings and bit my tongue as men dismissed my concerns, then reworded them as action items while puffing out their chest proudly for their originality. It’s taken many years to understand my own reactions, and the loving yet agency-thwarting reactions of men around me. I can remember kicking myself for not speaking up, wondering within my mind why I allowed someone to treat me that way.

It’s a journey that many people are still taking.

Charlotte’s definitely one of them.




Samson on Hill