An exploration of the feminist motifs in The Matriarch
The speculative fiction genre fosters more than just the fantastical. It can create an environment that explores societal norms, exposes and dissects flaws in our society and asks the hard questions about our morals, our values, and our impact on the environment. Ultimately, speculative fiction can create a narrative around the best and the worst of humanity. When you combine the highlights of speculative fiction with romance tropes, you have the opportunity not only explore thought-provoking concepts, but also how these environments influence the nuances of relationships, love, family and community. These concepts provide the platform for dissecting important themes. In the Matriarch, the first book in the new Women of the Dust series by Annabelle McInnes, the pervading theme throughout the novel is feminism.
It was at the height of 2018 that the story began to take shape. This was as the #metoo movement was gaining traction. The premise was conceived in direct response to a number of TV/Movie characters at the time who were portrayed as being feminist, or having feminist attributes, but were still tightly confined by the rules and systems of the patriarchy. I wanted to explore female leadership in dystopian worlds after a number of Young Adult movies had come out in the years previously. The premise was simple – what happens to the dystopian world and societies after women have ruled consecutively beyond six generations.
I have always been fascinated with the layers, paradoxes and extremes of feminism. Feminist ideals, like human’s themselves, vary from person to person. A feminist’s core beliefs are intrenched in their childhood, upbringing, influences and generation, so it’s impossible to attribute one individual concept to the feminist movement. It was important to me to showcase that the feminist movement is not singular. One feminist may argue that we must move forward and embrace a more inclusive society, and strive to ensure that every voice is heard. Yet, another feminists may demand that we exclude ourselves from the patriarchy and its confines. These textured waves within the feminist movement are our strength. We build upon the work of past feminists and face the challenges presented to us and overcome them. These ideas are explored within the novel through the generational divide of Yolanda and her mother.
There are undercurrents of deconstructing the patriarchy in this novel. As well as the role of both sexes working together in order to achieve equality. I wanted to showcase that alpha males and their attributes are not an enemy to feminism, but can be its ally. Yolanda’s smaller stature in comparison to Sasha’s is no accident. I wanted their size difference to be overt to ensure that no matter Yolanda’s perceived height, she is always vulnerable to Sasha’s greater size, and it is by his choice alone she is safe from him. Sasha never carries a weapon. This was done on purpose. His innate strength in this environment is his masculinity, whereby in contrast Yolanda’s physical weapon is inseparable from her character.
Alongside concepts supporting the deconstruction of the patriarchy, this book also explores theories surrounding toxic masculinity. The Delasovian nation, a fictional nation-state within the world, epitomises toxic masculinity. The people within its borders are portrayed as overtly sickly. They represent what long term exposure to toxic substances does to the human body. It deliberately only has a tower as its stronghold, which can be theorised as the embodiment of male masculinity. The MCs must climb the tower in order to save their world. But it was important that they did not deconstruct it. I wanted to depict that though toxic ideals need to be overcome, representations of masculinity do not need to be destroyed in order to achieve equality.
Female friendship is also a significant attribute of the book, and one I was particularly focused on. I wanted to ensure that female friendship was portrayed as a sacred entity, and showcase that the bonds between women are stronger than iron. It was important to me to ensure that women were portrayed as complicated, multifaceted beings with various support networks and levels of societal integration, and these support networks were entrenched in encouragement, inspiration, kindness and love.
It was also important that I showcase the varying attributes associated with female leadership and the differences women bring to the leadership table. It was imperative that I didn’t fall into clichés, whereby the only strength of a woman in power was in her “soft skills” of negotiation, compromise, mediation and inclusivity. These attributes are all important, but I also think that a woman’s aggression, tenacity, inflexibility and ambition are equally important and to be applauded as leadership traits. Women are not immune to the traps of power, and there are nods to this snare in the novel, but ultimately it was the breadth of a woman’s skillset as a leader that I wanted to portray as fundamentally unique and to be praised.
As the series progresses, I’ll be exploring in further detail how a matriarchal society works cohesively with their environment. I will focus on community spaces and how they are developed while entrenched in feminist ideals. I will explore how a society of women live, work, congregate and entertain themselves without the impact of the male gaze or with a male influence, including concepts that usually require physical strength. Each book will draw on different angles of feminism. With Yolanda in The Matriarch, we explore feminism through the prism of leadership. We’ll them move to feminism through the eyes of youthful exuberance in The Warrior, to the jaded extremist with The Commander, to feminism and motherhood with The Guardian. I plan to also showcase feminism at a mature stage of life with The General. Brenna’s book will be the one I hope to explore the separation between old and new feminism in more detail.
As a genre, Speculative fiction asks the question “what if?”. It’s a fundamental element to the plot and can drive the narrative and the direction of the story. By doing this, readers are given the opportunity to explore different realities, alternative histories and futuristic prospects. The Women of the Dust series will continue the narrative solidified by this genre and I hope readers will enjoy further exploration of feminist motifs with me.