When I started my novel, One Woman's Vengeance, it was to be a revenge novel with a strong female protagonist in the post-Civil War west, a time and a place where women were not even second-class citizens. They weren't citizens at all.
During the seven years of developing the novel, I realized with dismay that in some major areas not that much has changed for women.
Nora Hawks watches her husband's cold-blooded murder by a gang of hired thieves. She is brutally gang raped and left for dead. She survives, secretly returns and hires a retired bounty hunter to teach her how to track and kill. She is intent on getting rid of each member on her own terms.
During the course of the story, Nora enlists the help of a Hispanic madam of a whorehouse. During the writing and research, I realized that when a woman lost her husband back then she had three alternatives: searching for another man, menial labor, or selling her body.
Recent conversations and proposals made me realize with some horror that little has changed. Rush Limbaugh's attack on Sandra Fluke underscored the apparently widespread male feeling that if a woman has sex for any other purpose than procreation, she's a slut. He strengthened his assault later by suggesting that if "we" pay for affordable birth control for women, then women should videotape their sexual activities so he can watch and get something for his money.
He said the last statement was meant to be humor. No, it was not meant to be funny. It was meant to strip a woman of all dignity and humanity by creating a mental image of a naked woman having sex as men watch. Men earned the right to watch, according to Rush, because they helped pay for birth control. His proposal is not only devoid of humor, it's sick and twisted.
Meanwhile the Georgia State Legislature debated a bill making some women carry stillborn or dying fetuses until they "naturally" go into labor just like cows and pigs do, according to Representative Terry England. In Virginia and Pennsylvania, politicians pushed to require women to have ultrasound exams before proceeding with an abortion. These procedures are an invasion of privacy designed to humiliate and dehumanize.
Early in my novel, Peter, the retired bounty hunter who doesn't yet understand Nora's rage, asks "What's so hard about being a woman?" Her answer: "Men."
During the novel's climax, Nora Hawks faces villain Butch Wheeler one-on-one. A few minutes later the wounded manyells for help from the onlookers. "F--ing woman shootin' a man! She can't do this! A woman ain't got no rights! Kill her!"
That "rights" feeling is still around us by men who shape opinion and men who make laws. This way of seeing needs to change quickly.
Violence is never the answer. But what women have gained since the 19th Century are access to education and the right to vote. I really wish they -- and men -- would use these and elect leaders who would not only change laws but change consciousness.
One Woman's Vengeance is fiction. "Every Woman's Rights" is a dream. We need to make it a reality. Be outraged. Fight with votes and social media to bring the media and elected officials from the 19th century into the 21st.
Dennis Miller, of Horseheads, NY, is the author of the novel One Woman's Vengeance. All proceeds from his book will go to benefit scholarships for the English department at Mansfield University in Mansfield, PA.