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  • Diana Johnson

Bawdy Broads

According to Dictionary.com, the terms bawdy and broad are defined as follows:

bawdy [baw-dee]

adjective, indecent; lewd; obscene.

broad [brawd]

noun, slang-usually offensive, a term used to refer to a promiscuous woman.


It is my sincere desire today to offer a new definition for both.


 In creating the female characters for both Cold Daughters and Just DIY, I wanted to tap into all the strong and colorful women in my life. I wanted each one of these unique people to muster the courage to go toe-to-toe with their demons, never losing sight of the passions that moved them to be the best versions of themselves. All my characters are flawed, just like in real life. None of them have all the answers and all of them have much to learn about themselves and their relationship to the universe. But they never apologize for what they don’t know; they just keep asking better questions!


  When I marketed my novels, everything I read said ‘know your genre, know your audience’ and I contemplated where these stories fit in the world of the book buyer. They both have LGBTQ+ characters in them, which means they would fit in that genre. They both have female main characters, so Women’s Fiction is also a category in which they belong. Cold Daughters, of course, has the science fiction piece to it, but at its core, the story is more about the people than the science. And Just DIY is all about the people. Even my work-in-progress The Value of Miss Em is about the unlikely friendship between a young woman and the aging owner of the business school in which she teaches (think Driving Miss Daisy meets The God Father). So, I labeled myself a Friendship Fiction author. Because no matter who my characters are, how they identify, or what they go through, my stories are about the relationships between people.


And now for re-appropriation of the term Bawdy Broad.


  Growing up, I associated bawdiness with the likes of Mae West and Gypsy Rose Lee. And if I’m to stay with the conventional definition, those are exactly the female caricatures I should conjure. I heard my dad refer to women he saw out, alone, in bars as broads so many times that again, I could only agree with the parlance of our times. But as I have become a mature woman and met so very many impressive women along my life’s path, I have come to rethink these terms.


My Aunt Karen was a bawdy broad to me. She was loud and crass and said whatever came into your mind without hesitation. Sometimes she was scary. But most of the time she was hilarious! She raised five kids and worked as a nursing assistant: a challenging life at best. But she never apologized for being who she was, and I loved and admired her for that!


My friend June Howerton was another bawdy broad. She once told me she drove onto the campus of a military base to get a message to her son. He was in the early stages of basic training and couldn’t receive messages, so she drove into the middle of the field where the war game exercises were taking place and demanded to see her boy to tell him she was moving. The commander came to her son’s unit and asked which one of them had a mother ballsy enough to storm the field and demand to see her boy. Her son dropped his head and raised his hand. She was unafraid to assert herself, oblivious to her limitations, and again never regretted a single mistake!


I want my characters to be brave, irreverent, strong, and unfiltered like Karen and June. Bawdy to me means raw, unconcerned with the constraints of etiquette and protocol, real women! And a broad is someone who lets nothing deter her from what she most passionately pursues. Someone who exhibits strength and perseverance in the face of anything that challenges that pursuit. I don’t want people to hear Friendship Fiction and associate that innocuous label with Hallmark Movies on wine and cheese night. That’s fine for those who love it. But that’s not my reality. Is it yours? My friends are bawdy broads; I’m a bawdy broad. I want my characters to be bawdy broads. To me, they are ultimately more interesting than those ladies who secretly lust after each other’s boyfriends or bite their lip and try for that big promotion at work. Good luck to them and all their careful, courteous manners. But the girls in my group take no prisoners, only chances! We are bold and fearless and, yes, at times, a little scary. But we love hard and protect like wild animals, and we fall harder than a bowling ball off a balcony. I think that’s what makes for wonderful stories.


  I hope you won’t mind rethinking the use of these terms, as they have come to mean something quite endearing to me in my work and in my life. The next time you see a woman brave a clash or conquer a hurdle with passion and grit, pay her the compliment of calling her a Bawdy Broad!




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