Welcome back! We’re on an intersectional feminism kick, so you’re reading part two of my 3-part series on intersectional feminism in writing. Just as a quick recap, intersectional feminism is addressing societal inequality through multiple lenses on top of just gender. Thus, when we want to address equality, we want to ensure that everyone gets a piece of the pie. It’s win-win for anyone who thinks you should be nice and fair to literally everyone.
So what does this have to do with fiction writing?
With self-publishing rising in the ranks, we’re seeing a new mix of writers, genres, and characters. Instead of trying to predict what the market will promote, anyone can publish what they want to see now. This means that we’re giving a lot more writers a chance to create fresh stuff.
Chances are, if you’re passionate about writing, you’re likely passionate about inspiring other readers to be smarter, wiser, or more confident. We want to build up our readers. And you can’t go wrong with making your novels intersectional.
I addressed this topic last year with the post, It’s 2017: How Can We Write More & Better Diverse Characters? That post was primarily about giving writers the confidence they need to change up their writing to add diverse characters in their novels. This post will talk about other elements of writing that make a book “feminist-friendly” beyond sticking in brown or gay characters in the book.
Your Characters Show a Wide Range of Human Emotion
Part of what makes a character interesting is their relatability. You can show great care and writing mastery by creating a wide cast of emotionally complex characters.
Part of the stereotypes that still thrive in our community is the types of emotions we plaster on groups of people. And often times, these emotions are negative: loud, violent, abusive, poor, lazy, fat, petty, calculating, evil, impure, damaged, useless, etc. Could you guess which of these words would “match” people’s perceptions of other cultures or races?
In truth, there is a complex history attached to each major group of people whether we sit down to learn it or not. No one’s perfect, but we as individuals are never just the sum parts of our bad attributes.
So how can this translate over to literature? With the free range of options involved in fantasy and fiction, we don’t have to stick with the stereotypes anymore; we can have a bi-sexual prince, a female villain, a black mermaid, or an Asian superhero. This isn’t just throwing darts at a board to create new combinations, but giving people a chance to be complicated by writing their stories.
This is easier said than done–mainly because you can’t really pants these kind of characters. They require some effort to flesh out before they grace your manuscript. I would argue that having the mindset of rejecting stereotypes and encouraging complexity will get you where you need to go.
Here are some examples of books that excel at creating characters with depth and emotion:
- The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo
- In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang
- Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
- Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
The Plot Challenges Society’s Expectations
Readers love a good plot twist, right?
Sometimes as writers we like to rock the boat. We want to shake things up and possibly change some minds. There’s no better place to do this than in fiction. Just like a jester in a king’s court, you can easily use your fiction to change a person’s heart. It’s certainly easier than ranting on Facebook.
As I mentioned earlier, there are still a lot of perpetuated stereotypes in society. Sometimes people are genuinely scared of other groups and what their cultures or ideals could do to their own cherished ideals.
If you’re a writer and you want to diversity your cast, don’t be afraid of the characters you want to include. Don’t be afraid of gay characters, characters of color, characters with disabilities, or characters of another faith. Basically, send your biases packing. It’s very difficult and different from “write what you know,” but Google is our friend; we can connect with other people who are different from us, learn from them, and then let them show up in our novels.
Here’s an example: in the latest Disney film, Beauty and the Beast (2017), they let LaFou be queer. LaFou flinches and feels uncomfortable when Gaston leaves Belle’s father, Maurice, for dead. LaFou even mutters that he wonders who the true beast really is. In this movie, this queer character has better morals than the straight one, Gaston. That can ruffle some feathers, right? The point isn’t to show that one sexuality is morally better than another, but it challenged what many people think about queer people.
Quick note: this is not permission to fetishize certain groups of people. Please don’t do that!
Here are some examples of novels I enjoy that changed my outlook on life in an effective way:
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
- The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
- The Desertera series by Kate M. Colby
Your Novel Champions Supportive Friendships
Often, it’s not enough to create the queer/black/Asian/female best friend. Sure, it’s progress when they show up on the page, but are they just there to be the sidekick, the voice of reason, or otherwise there to provide purpose to the main character?
An easy way to give your characters depth is to show supportive friendships. Two people who will support each other, not just one way. You can play with the quirks, strengths, and weaknesses of the friendship to show that these two people are on the same level.
Another way to show some intersectionality is by showing characters–especially female characters–supporting each other and their endeavors. Too often, it’s the pretty vs. the smart characters who duke it out rather than let each other thrive. That’s just a personal pet peeve of mine; a lot of books in the 90s had a lot of characters that couldn’t be both attractive and smart. One trait was sacrificed for the other. Stepping away from some of these stereotypes will lead you to discovering and creating characters that step out of the mold.
Here are some novels that rock excellent friendships:
- The Lumberjanes series
- The Paper Girls series by Vaughan Chang
- The Ingenious Mechanical Devices series by Kara Jorgensen
- Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust
- Ahsoka by E. K. Johnston
So here’s the quick overview of writing feminist fiction. I noticed that as I was listing out my examples that there is still more room for intersectionality in my TBR. This is just to show that this is something I strive for; it’s not something I’m perfect at. And that’s okay!
Am I telling you to never read a book with a male protagonist again? No, I’m not about to tell you what you can or can’t read. This isn’t about who is more woke than the other, but showing how you and I can be better readers, writers, and humans by diversifying our reads.
If you want to read my other posts on feminist fiction, check out 4 Reasons Why We Need More Intersectional Feminism in Literature. My next post will be how to be more intersectional and feminist in how you interact with your readers, fellow writers, and more.
If you have questions or suggestions, start sharing! I also want to give y’all shoutouts online if you’ve been talking about this already. I know I’m not the only one who came up with this idea.
Did I cover everything in this checklist? What makes a book feminist or intersectional to you? What choices do you make in your writing to inspire your readers?