One of the protections that my Alpennian ladies have for their personal lives is the willingness of Rotenek society to look the other way. To enter enthusiastically into the belief that “nice women don’t do that sort of thing” and therefore that two women who are well-born and respectable could be the closest of romantic friends without ever stepping across the line into forbidden desires.
This attitude is grounded in the contradictory attitudes of the times. The people who celebrated and praised women’s devoted romantic friendships were able to reconcile that with their moral beliefs because they considered that love to be elevated and non-sexual. It wasn’t that they didn’t think women might be sexual with each other, but female homoeroticism was strictly Othered in their minds. It was a thing that foreigners might do, or lower class people, but not People Like Us. And it was that admission that lesbian sexuality could exist that served to place limits on romantic friendship and keep it from entirely subverting heteronormativity. Two women who rejected the pressure to marry men in favor of being devoted to each other risked the possibility of being accused of unnatural desires if their relationship were seen to threaten social norms.
Margerit and Barbara’s relationship may seem “safe” but it treads a tightrope. Despite Margerit’s various expensive projects, she’s still an unmarried heiress. And Barbara is still an unmarried member of the titled nobility. Both states can be viewed as depriving some hypothetical man of what he considers his right to take advantage of those open positions for a spouse. There are men who are not above hinting at the consequences of gossip in order to convince one or the other to choose a more traditional life path.
At the same time, women who aren’t protected by society’s willingness to be oblivious walk an even more dangerous tightrope. And the divide of class can be wider than any commonality of desire. One of the things I wanted to do in Floodtide was to explore this contradiction. Even Roz (our narrator) has been blinded by the assumption that maisetras and mesneras “don’t do things like that.” But when she does see the light, she knows how little it means to her own life.
(from Floodtide, chapter not yet determined)
When I figured it out, my stomach knotted up as tight as a cramp. I knew the maisetra and the baroness were friends who loved each other, but I’d never thought about them being in love. Not like me and Nan. I never imagined them doing the things we had done. Maybe it should have made me feel glad to think the maisetra and I were alike that way, but instead I was frightened. It was one of those dangerous secrets Tavit had warned me about. The kind you didn’t want to know and you didn’t want people to know you knew. I thought about how the maisetra had hired me, even knowing why I’d lost my last place. Maybe that had been a part of it—thinking that we were just a little bit alike--but it wouldn’t go any further than that.