The Devil’s Daughters

Ok, here’s the exercise:

First, imagine your favorite time period or setting to read or write about.  Modern times?  Well, this still applies in many modern cultures.  The 1900s or earlier?  A culture patterned after medieval or renaissance times, maybe steampunk?  Alright, that’s just the start.

Second, think about what your favorite characters did to make a living.  Is your character male?  If so, make that character female and think about that again.  What did she do to make a living?  Is she dependent on a father, husband, or brother to guide that profession?


Let’s raise the bets now.  The civilization has enough school teachers.  A war or plague has dropped the population of marriageable men way below the percentage of women.  Your female character is in a society that values physical strength of men, and the women realize that there just aren’t enough jobs to go around.  What does she do to make a living?


I’ve read very few books that encroach upon prostitution as little else but a filthy, condemning trade that turns women into untouchables.  Really, only one series has shown me a side of compassion or necessity for women who see no other path but starvation.  If you really want to read a compelling fantasy work from an author who looks into the other side of base society, of urchin street gangs, and of the abuse that happens to women out of desperation, check out Brent Weeks’ Night Angel Trilogy.

Caution: Night Angel Trilogy is not for the faint of heart.  If you’re buying this for your young teen, please read it first.  Especially book two.

If you are open to really exploring what happens to the common people in wartime, in a setting that other authors have written about but never really detailed in this regard, find the trilogy and read it. I wasn’t disappointed at all.  While discussing research he did for his trilogy, Brent Weeks describes hearing stories from his wife, who was a social worker for kids in gangs.  He mentioned the abuse that happens to many of the boys, and nearly all of the girls.  Take these children, mature them, and argue that they should know better.  Argue that they should find respectable careers.  Argue that same point to widows with children, who can’t stand to see those children starve.


Today, a Facebook friend linked to a very educational blog post about prostitution in Victorian England.  The milieu I prefer to write and read are not set in Victorian times, but many of the conditions are the same.

You can read the post here:  The pictures on this post have been taken from this original website.

I compare this to women I know in my personal life, who have had to work undesirable jobs to support their children.  (I live in Reno, Nevada.  There are a lot of adult entertainers here.  Many of them are single moms.)  I also compare this to cultures that have adopted polygamy, not out of a sexual need for the men.  They adopted it as a physical need for the women, a way to take care of them.

What circumstances can you imagine that would drive a woman to consider her own body as a commodity she would be willing to sacrifice for something of greater value?  And while you consider these circumstances in the work you’re reading, or writing… or as you encounter someone in your life who has made that choice… how does society view her choice?

I would love to hear about books you’ve read that cover this subject with something other than condemnation.  Works that expound upon it with compassion, reform, or even simple detail for the milieu.  I’d also love to hear your opinions regarding the choice and sacrifice itself.

4 thoughts on “The Devil’s Daughters

  1. Daniel Swensen (@surlymuse)

    Interesting topic. In my own work, I have a female protagonist who’s a thief, and while her life is not easy, I did make a couple of rules for the book: she doesn’t get captured, she’s not rescued by a man, she’s not ruled by the threat of sexual violence. These things are pretty prevalent in fantasy fiction, and this time around, I wanted to comment on them via their absence. It’s interesting to me that you mention gender-flipping a protagonist’s parents, since that’s what I did with my (once-male) hero, and it made things way more interesting and skewed the narrative in unexpected ways. Thanks for the post.

    1. marissaames Post author

      I like those rules. The first time I read your comment, I wondered, “Why doesn’t she face the threat of sexual violence? She is a woman in a dangerous world, after all.” But when I reread the post and amended that she wasn’t RULED by the threat, I completely agreed. I find that I do the same with my characters. To write female characters in male-dominated worlds and completely ignore the threat is ignorance; to allow the character to have her choice of how she deals with the threat is empowerment.

  2. Rebecca L Goldson

    It is so refreshing to read what you, Daniel, my daughter Emmie and others are doing to fight the stereotypical roles and fates of women in fiction and in real life! I loved your guidelines and the rules that Daniel set out. I am not a writer, for now, but I am an avid reader, and gave birth to a writer, so I hope you don’t mind me visiting your blog. Women in society, as a subject, has been the focus of much of my life’s work. I read a series of books set in 13th century England, which featured a woman who ran a “respectable” house for gentlemen- rented from the Catholic church, and on their grounds, btw. The head of this establishment (spoiler coming)was a former noblewoman who had killed her husband in self defense and was forced to flee or face death for murder. She had eventually taken in some other women who had no means of support, and ran this brothel, where most of the men who patronized it were regulars, and no abuse of the women was permitted. She was championed by a knight who worked for a certain bishop, and the knight was in love with her. The series was actually a set of mysteries that these two solved together. I thought it was intriguing, although I did react to the way she made it seem as though the women all really enjoyed their work. (I am wracking my brain for the author’s name, and will post it if I can find it again. Memory is not my strong point.) Also, hats off for all the painstaking research you do! I read your former posts.

    1. marissaames Post author

      When you remember the author’s name, I would love to get that from you. That series would be a great research read for me and my work.

      Regarding enjoying the work they do… it makes sense that the next moral step from “it’s wrong, don’t do it” would be, “do it if you have to, but don’t enjoy it.” If they have to do it, but do enjoy it, is it therefore more forbidden? And if they do take the next step to find a little joy in the work they do, does that take it further toward sin or further toward empowerment?

      In my late 20s, as a single mom, my second job was nightclub bouncer. I really enjoyed it. These days, this job is seen as empowerment. In my mother’s generation, and especially in my grandmother’s, it would have been seen as scandalous. I wasn’t going home with the customers, I wasn’t dancing in the cages or shaking my feminine parts for higher tips but, judging from the comments of some of my more religious friends, I was working in a scandalous career. I often heard them say, “Well, you do what you have to do…” That was their justification for my immoral job. I rarely heard them ask if I enjoyed it. Maybe, if I enjoyed working in an establishment with liberal drinking and sexy women dancing in cages, I’d be closer toward sin?

      P.S… it’s an honor to have you read my blog!
      Thanks for dropping by, and I hope you come by often.


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