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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Give the Girl a Gun

Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing's Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho. For entertainment, he reads historical books, where he finds ideas for new novels. For relaxation, he writes westerns. Whenever he has a chance, he takes his wife and two homeschooled children on crazy but fun research trips. Learn more about Peter's books, research, and family adventures at

Studying gender stereotypes is as much fun as I can have. Why? Because once upon a time, I believed those casts defined everyone. A woman’s place was locked in the kitchen while she gently pined for a life outside the home. A man worked a brutal eight-to-ten hour day, with only two days off a week. He longed for a castle at home while his pretty and demure woman waited on him.

There’s a Bible verse about it somewhere that justifies the idea—I didn’t know where—that’s just what I hear.

I just slapped myself so you don’t have to.

My writing reflected my beliefs. I didn’t see people as individuals. Instead, I followed the stereotypes, and my characters were locked into these gender rolls. The girl couldn't defend herself.

About a decade ago, everything changed. My wife and I reversed rolls when I went to college. I was so exhausted with a full time job and college (gender studies class, ironically) that my wife went to work and I stayed home. Homeschooling our two kiddos was a blast, cooking was a breeze, and keeping the house clean was simply daily maintenance.

Day two I was tired, but I kept up the same regiment.

By day five, frustrated by repetition in chores, I tried to design a laundry-folding machine and failed.

On the other hand, I was tickled to get to know the children better.

At the start of the next week, my wife came home from work exhausted. I was eager to tell her what the kids had done, but she just wanted to eat, relax a bit, and then go to bed. The thought ran through my mind—if she really loved me, wouldn’t she want to hear how my day went? To start the conversation, I asked her what happened at work, and she babbled, animated, for ten minutes, and then rolled over and went to sleep.

I know this was a jump, but I wondered if someone was making my wife happier than I could. Tossing and turning, I spent most of the night guessing where our relationship was going.

A few days later, I’d had it with the bag I’d been using for school. I went shopping, and overheard several ladies chatting about their husband’s clothing and how to get the funny smells out. I gossiped with them for a bit, and we arrived home late. My wife didn’t say anything, but I could tell she was a little peeved dinner wasn’t ready. I simmered. I’ve done a lot of cooking lately. Would it kill you to take us out to eat now and again? Just for a little break?

I craved adult conversation. An online group for stay at home fathers accepted my ‘join’ request. Watching them complain about the little things their wives did was too annoying. I quit right away.

Suddenly it dawned on me that I walked the path of a stereotypical housewife. I harbored feelings that had nothing to do with my gender, but simply as a human being playing a role in a family. The necessity of the roll I’d taken dictated natural emotions and needed support just like any job.

It realized all my characters were locked into gender stereotypes.

I changed my female characters in my books. No longer demure and helpless, I empowered them with weapons of all sorts, from determination and cunning to love and swords. Sometimes they save the men. Sometimes children save grownups. If all possible, I let her defend herself.

I gave the girl a gun.

A few weeks later, I went back to work. Sheesh, being a stay at home mom was too difficult.

Gideon's Call is an unprecedented tale of tragedy and triumph amid the backdrop of the Civil War through the story of Tad, a very clever slave boy who comes of age as America’s war reaches the sea islands of South Carolina. Tad’s desire to better himself is obstructed by the color of his skin, until Northern soldiers force the evacuation of white plantation owners, setting 10,000 slaves free in a single day. These circumstances seem like a dream, except that the newly freed slaves have no money, no education, and little hope for the future—unless someone rises up to lead them. Based on true events, Gideon’s Call is the dramatic tale of a young man who battles the shame of his past and faces the horrors of war and unimaginable prejudice to become the deliverer of thousands of freed slaves.


  1. Great post, Peter. I know many stay-at-home moms/homeschool moms who would love for their hubbies to trade places with them, just for a week...but then again, I imagine the hubbies would like the wives to see how hard THEY work, as well. I personally love strong female characters who know how to defend themselves (it's what I often write, too). And I think of Ender's Game, where a child indeed saved the humans...can be a very effective strategy to turn those stereotypes upside down.

    1. Thanks, Heather! You gave the girl a sword!!! I wanted to ask you: who's your favorite strong female character?

    2. I wrote a reply and lost it! I have a long list--thanks for asking, Peter. I have several. I enjoy reading about main female characters who seem nearly irredeemable, like Scarlett O'hara or Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair (and their stories aren't all happy endings, either). You kind of love to dislike them...and I love Bathsheba Everdeen from Far from the Madding Crowd--she ran her own farm. I also love Smilla from Smilla's Sense of Snow, but that has strong language, etc.

      As far as CBA...I like Millie from When Mountains Move (Cantrell), Nora from Waters Fall (Doughty), Lola from Paint Chips (Finkbeiner), Anna Denning in the Karin Kaufman mysteries, and Raleigh Harmon in the Sibella Giorello mysteries. I am sure there are so many more! But yes...I'm drawn to strong female characters!

  2. Love it, Peter! This also (sort of) explains your fascination with purses.

  3. Love this article. Very well stated, Peter. Thanks for posting the link!

    1. Thanks Stacey. Great to hear from you!


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