Rose

Nowadays, Pokemon trainers, both male and female, travel around on long arduous journeys and no-one questions whether one gender might be better suited for the task than the other. But it wasn't always like that, for there was a time when actually training Pokemon was a strictly male preserve. Even after female trainers began to gain League recognition at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, few, as yet, considered them capable of becoming Gym Leaders. Even the Gyms at Celadon and Goldenrod - now bastions for females - had male Gym Leaders during this time.

There were even doubts as to whether the fairer sex could battle competently. Papers of the period would argue that, since females are more "sensitive" and less capable of "rational thought" than males, it might have an adverse effect on them if they were called on to battle their Pokemon too often. As a result, many young girls were steered towards what the establishment saw as "ladylike" Pokemon such as Jigglypuff and Eevee, Pokemon that did not require too much skill to train . . .

But all that was about to change as women and girls, tired of being treated as though they were second best in the world of Pokemon, began to assert the right trainers today take for granted, the right to train any Pokemon they wanted. One such girl was a Seel trainer named Rose and this is her story . . .

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Rose Lewis was born in 1888, the daughter of a merchant from Vermilion and the only girl out of five children. Throughout her childhood, she watched her three older brothers get their starter Pokemon and set off on Badge-collecting journeys, journeys that would take them to places she had only read about. More than anything in the world she longed to follow in their footsteps, but her parents simply would hear of it; the very idea of a girl going off and becoming a trainer offended their sensibilities

"Rose," her mother said when the girl raised the issue while helping with the laundry, "your place is here, helping me and learning how to be a lady."

"I don't see why a lady can't be a good Pokemon trainer," objected Rose, who was ten years old at the time. "You and Papa were really pleased when Henry, Paul and Daniel . . ." She was referring to her three oldest brothers. "left on their journeys - so why can't I go just because I'm a girl?"

"Precisely because you are a girl," her mother said stiffly, smoothing her skirt out as she spoke. "I'm sorry, but no girl in this family has been a Pokemon trainer yet - and there's no way I'm letting you be the first." She spoke with pursed lips, an expression she always adopted when she wanted to make it clear that a matter was closed. But Rose wasn't about to give up so easily . . .

"Tilly Charlton went last month," she said, looking at her mother out of pleading brown eyes. "Her Mama gave her a Pidgey and she went off to fight the Gym Leaders."

"The Charltons spoil that girl," was the stiff reply as Mrs Lewis busied herself with her dolly pegs in a bid to avoid looking at her daughter. It was true - even Rose had to admit that - the Charltons were the richest family in Vermilion City and nothing was too much trouble for their pretty daughter, Tilly. A complete wardrobe made especially for her and filled with reams of dresses, a nursery brimming with the latest toys and now being allowed to go off on a Pokemon journey - if you cared to name them, the chances were that Tilly Charlton had them. "And I suppose she'll be home in tears at the first defeat."

Rose had no reply to that, but she knew her mother could be extremely firm when she wanted to be and made no further arguments. At least not out loud . . .

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Five years passed, during which Rose's older brothers became officially recognised as Pokemon League Champions; Daniel, who was only a year older than she was, went one better and actually reached the coveted status of Pokemon Master. It was also during this time that her youngest brother, Albert, left on his journey and that meant their would soon be four boys in the house bragging about their achievements in the Pokemon League. Sometimes, the thought was more than Rose could stand and she was often tempted to hack off her long auburn locks, dress up in Daniel's clothes and run away from home disguised as a boy. But it wasn't worth the risk - she would never be able to pass herself off as male for the rest of her life.

Besides which her mother had other plans for her, plans she announced shrotly before Rose's fifteenth birthday. "My daughter," she said one afternoon as she and Rose strolled along Vermilion Harbour, "it's time you made your own way in the world. I've written to an old friend of mine in Cianwood City and she says she will be more than happy to take you on as her maid. And, you never know, but you just might find yourself a future husband while you're there."

It was about what Rose and most other girls from her generation had come to expect from life - a little domestic work, marriage, a family. That was about it, but Rose's life would soon take a twist that enabled her to strike a blow for females everywhere who wanted to actually train Pokemon as opposed to raising them as pets. Rose had formed a close bond with her pet Seel and she couldn't help sensing the Pokemon's boredom at having nothing to do except swim up and down her pool all day.

"I know how you feel," she said as she crouched by the pool on the day before she was due to leave for Cianwood, a place about which she knew very little other than that it was somewhere in Johto.

"Seel seel," Seel said sympathetically as she allowed Rose to stroke her under the chin.

"It's just . . . you're a Pokemon, so you should be battling other Pokemon," Rose muttered to herself. "Not swimming round your pond all day . . ."

But, for the life of her, she couldn't see how one person could change anything. She lived in a man's world, a world where women still vowed to "love, honour and obey" their husbands and females had precious little power outside the domestic sphere - and not much in that. All she could look forward to was a stifling half-life . . .

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All too soon, it was the next day and Rose found herself sitting in a railway compartment as a bright red steam train chuffed and whistled its way to Olivine City. From there, she had been told, her employer's housekeeper, a Mrs Marsh, would meet her and the two of them would take the next paddle steamer to Cianwood. Then, she would start a new life across the Olivine Sea, working for people she had never met and only knew via her mother's descriptions. The thought was so hard to bear that she began to examine her Seel's Poke Ball in an attempt to take her mind off the situation.

Suddenly, a man's strident voice yelling the words "Olivine Station!" cut through her thoughts and she glanced out of the window to see throngs of people, some of whom were humping trunks around. A quick glance at the hoarding on the wall was all she needed to tell her that this was indeed Olivine City Station and she was on Platform 2. "Oh well," she said to herself. "Better get over to the harbour and meet this Mrs Marsh . . ."

Thoughts of what the unknown Mrs Marsh would be like circulated through her mind. Would she be a kindly old soul in a white linen apron who kept a pet Meowth in the kitchen and received regular visits from her grandchildren? Or would she be a stern old battleaxe, a stickler for rules and punctuality, who thought Pokemon were "unhygienic" and certainly wouldn't allow rowdy grandchildren into her domain? If the latter was true, what was she going to do about her Seel?

"Guess I'll just have to cross that bridge when I come to it," she said to herself as she hitched up her long skirt with one hand and carried her valise in the other. "Besides, mother say Cianwood's only just across the water - I should be able to take Seel down to the sea on my days off."

In those days, Olivine City was a rough and rowdy place, very different from the more laid-back Vermilion City where Rose had grown up. As she left the station, the first impression she had of the place was that it seemed to be full of sailors, many of whom were heavily tattooed and looked as though they were spoiling for a fight. Perhaps, she thought to herself, it was a good thing she had Seel with her - even though the Pokemon had never actually battled, she should still be able to perform at least some Attacks . . .

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It was as Rose made her way along the harbour, searching for anyone who could possibly be Mrs Marsh, that two drunken sailors began to leer at her. In those days, any female was seen as fair game; men had the God-given right to treat women and girls from outside their immediate family (and even those within) any way they chose. Unfortunately for Rose, those sailors chose to treat her as someone who could provide a little "onshore entertainment" . . .

"Hey! Girl!" one of them, a beefy figure with a thick black beard and a bandana on his head, shouted. "Come and talk to me mate an' me!"

"What do you want of me?" Rose said coldly, keeping a tight grip on Seel's Poke Ball and grateful she was still some distance from the two men. Her mother had warned her about such men, told her they often hung around here and the best way to handle them was to ignore their ribald comments.

But, if anything, Rose's dismissive words and frosty looks seemed to encourage the men, both of whom had had rather too much rum to drink at a local tavern. "A stubborn one, eh?" the other remarked, showing a gold-edged tooth as he grinned wickedly. "Mebbe we oughta teach 'er a lesson? What d'you think, Seth?"

"Yes, I think we oughta," Seth replied as he pulled a Poke Ball out of his pocket and prepared to activate it. "No-one messes with Seth Pritchard and gets away with it! Kingler - go!" As the large crab Pokemon with pincers powerful enough to crush metal burst out of his Ball, Rose acted instinctively. Forgetting that she had never been in an actual Pokemon battle before, she quickly decided to fight fire with fire - or rather water with water - and had her Seel's Poke Ball ready within moments. Seth and his companion seemed to think this was a huge joke.

"Run along, little lady," Seth said in a decidedly patronising tone. "Pokemon battles is men's work." But this statement served to deepen Rose's determination to show these two that a girl could handle Pokemon as well as any male and she swiftly responded by releasing Seel into the water.

"Who told you that?" she demanded as it occurred to her that it was time for someone to make a stand on behalf of all females who desired to be Pokemon trainers. For far too long, they had been denied full League recognition, excluded from battling at competitive level and even, in some areas, forbidden to keep Pokemon at all unless as pets. And Rose Lewis, an ordinary fifteen-year-old girl from Kanto, was about to turn the tide, to stand up to the male-dominated world she lived in - starting with Seth Pritchard and his crony.

"All right, Seel," Rose said as she tried to recall what Attacks a Seel could use. "Give that Kingler your Aurora Beam!"

"Kingler - Protect!" Seth ordered as Seel sent a blast of rainbow energy in the direction of the Kingler he had raised from a Karbby. In response, Kingler braced himself against the harbour, exerting force against force as Rose quickly called on Seel to follow up with a Headbutt Attack.

"Seel!" Seel said as she swam at Kingler with her head down ready to ram the crab Pokemon with the small horn on her head. As she watched her Pokemon battling as though she had done so all her life, Rose knew it was time to try and bring about some changes in her world. No matter what others said, females had as much right to be Pokemon trainers as males; just because the "experts" said they shouldn't battle their Pokemon did not mean that they couldn't.

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But Seth was very much of the old school, a firm believer in the idea that men had dominance over women, and was not about to let a girl and her Seel defeat him. It was time for a concerted effort if he was to salvage any pride . . .

"Use your Guillotine, Kingler!" he ordered as he watched the two Pokemon struggling in the shallows. Hearing these words, Rose knew she had to act fast to counter the move; her brother, Daniel had once mentioned battling a Kingler which used Guillotine on his Ariados, defeating the Bug/Poison Pokemon in one move.

"Seel, swim away!" she ordered in the seconds before Kingler's crushing pincers snapped shut around Seel's body. But, just as Seel dodged out of their path, a voice from nearby made Rose and Seth stop in mid-battle . . .

"Rose Lewis?" Rose turned to see a woman in her late forties dressed in a long blue dress with a cameo brooch at the collar standing with a Snubbull at her side. "What are you doing down there? This is no place for a young lady."

"I'm sorry, Ma'am," Rose said as she called Seel back into her Poke Ball. "But he was being disrespectful to me and . . . I don't know . . . I suddenly wanted to prove girls can fight Pokemon battles too."

"There's no need to call me Ma'am - just Mrs will do," the woman said as she picked up her Snubbull. "Mrs Marsh, to be exact. I was told you would be around here somewhere."

As she looked into Mrs Marsh's eyes, Rose felt an immense feeling of gratitude towards the woman for stepping in when she had. Seel had done all right so far, but this was her first battle whereas Seth's Kingler had obviously battled many times before. Of all the lessons on Pokemon training she had picked up from her brothers' conversations, the most important had been that of relative power, that Pokemon grew stronger the more they were used in battle. It hadn't mattered to her if she won or lost, so long as she could put up a decent fight - but she also knew there were limits to how far she could push Seel at present.

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"So you've wanted to be a Pokemon trainer for as long as you can remember?" Mrs Marsh asked as she and Rose sat on the deck of the Olivine to Cianwood ferry. Until today, Rose had known little of Cianwood other than that it was across the Olivine Sea, but Mrs Marsh had filled her in on the rest. She said the city was the most westerly point in Johto and had, until around thirty years ago, been part of neighbouring Shima. But war had broken out over territory as the people of Johto sought to expand their territory across the Olivine Sea, a war that left many dead and had little impact on Johto's borders - Cianwood City and the surrounding countryside were the only areas in Shima that came under their rule.

"All my life," Rose replied as she pushed thoughts of Johto's history out of her mind long enough to answer. "But my parents wouldn't hear of it. They said my place was in the home cooking and cleaning, that training Pokemon was not something that befits a lady."

Mrs Marsh nodded, her face furrowed as she recalled how, as a young girl, she too had longed to leave home and go on a Pokemon journey only to be told that only boys were allowed to do so. "Maybe, times are changing," she said with a faint smile traced across her face. "My . . . our employer is of the opinion that our world will one day alter beyond our imaginations . . ."

"But I'll still have to learn to content myself with life in the home and I still won't be allowed to train Pokemon."

"You might not be able to, but I feel in my bones that times are changing, that women will one day be granted full League priveliges," Mrs Marsh said as her Snubbull curled up in her lap. "But it's up to us to take the first step. If we can gather enough support to make our voices heard, who knows what we can achieve."

Rose pulled her Seel's Poke Ball out of her valise and placed it in Mrs Marsh's hands. As the two of them face each other, they knew in their hearts that what Mrs Marsh had said was true. In that instant, the first step towards winning women the right to actually train Pokemon instead of simply keeping them as pets was taken.