As a writer your mind has to be open for your characters. Be it the hero or the villain. In some way, you should be able to love your characters. I believe, having an open mind set and readiness to learn about different cultures, sexualities, all in all ways of lives, can make better writing. More diverse and three-dimensional characters are simply more exciting. Below you find even more reasons why intersectional feminism makes you a better writer.
If you have never heard of intersectional feminism …
As an intersectional feminist you believe in equal rights for people of different gender, ethnicity, sexuality, class or with disability. Also, you notice the intersection of those and open your eyes for prejudices, that come from that. You are ready to listen.
For example, a Black woman has different problems with sexism than a white woman, though some general problems overlap.
Scenario: Intersection between gender and ethnicity
You must excuse me, but I will often use my cats’ and my friends’ cats’ names for examples.
Lizzy, a white female Art Director, has cut her long, straight hair short over the weekend.
Mia, a Black female Programmer, has stopped straightening her hair and now wears it curly.
Their co-worker Gatsby tells them both, that he found their hair prettier before.
Obviously, both women are annoyed with Gatsby’s unnecessary remark.
What could Lizzy’s and Mia’s internal monologues look like? How would they differ?
Lizzy: “Since when do I work with you to please your eyes? This is exactly, why cutting my hair was a good idea. I want to be taken more seriously and not seen as eye-candy.”
Lizzy is annoyed to be objectified as a woman. She has cut her hair to be seen as less feminine, and therefore hopes to get away from objectification and make people focus on her work. This is not exactly feminist, since she should just do, what pleases her, but she is tired of being underestimated due to her looks.
However, Mia’s internal monologue would be a slightly different:
“Since when do I work with you to please your eyes? I’m tired of using chemicals and destroy my hair and scalp with relaxer, spend a fortune at the hairdresser, only to make my hair look like a European beauty standard.”
While their reasons overlap in terms of objectification of their gender, another factor counts into Mia’s reasoning: Ethnicity.
Therefore, Gatsby has been sexist to Lizzy, but he has been both sexist and racist towards Mia, expecting of her to look European.
With intersectional feminism you will consider Mia’s thinking and this will help you become a better writer.
Black people's hair
Hair from Black people has a different structure. It comes in “varying degrees of tightly curled strands” (from THE MASHUP AMERICANS), so straightening (relaxing) it is an extremely damaging (and expensive process). Since you have found my Blog, I assume you acknowledge the fact that discrimination against gender and BIPOC (Black / Indigenous People of Color) exists. Black hair is a big part of this. Therefore, wearing your hair natural as a Black person can be a political act or an act of accepting the beauty of natural Black hair. Whatever it is, it is often a big deal and a decision not as easily made as from most white people.
In what way does intersectional feminism make you a better writer?
Informing and concerning yourself in terms of equality and with the different ways of discrimination people encounter, helps you with your character-building. Your characters have different daily problems, not only because of the life they have chosen, but because of how, where and from whom they were born.
However, diversifying your story is not enough. Make sure to inform yourself thoroughly, so that you don’t get yourself second-hand characters.
We all know afro-haired Jerry, who has grown up in the suburbs, is treated unfairly in class, toughens up early and dotes on his baseball talent to get into university.
But we want to know more of Jerry with glasses, who straightens his hair to fit in, is bullied by his sister for not being “Black” enough, bullied by his classmates for being a nerd and is always the first chosen in sports teams, when he actually hates sports.
Research is key
Writing a book from your collected stereotypical impressions isn’t only poor writing. It can result in quite the shitstorm. Have you heard of the book American Dirt? The author’s description and character-building of Mexican immigrants has been extremely criticised for its highly stereotypical depiction. Subsequently, Instagram exploded around the book. If you have done your research well and still are not certain, find a person, who is willing to proofread and be open for their criticism. You don’t want to get known as an ignorant, sexist, racist or ableist writer, do you?
8 Reasons why intersectional feminism makes you a better writer
#1 Common sense
Our world is diverse. What we need to diversify are places that do not represent the real world, e.g. white cis men companies. It’s the same with stories. It’s just not realistic to create worlds that consist only of people looking like you.
To build up my previous point, a world consisting of people that are all looking like you, have the same sexuality, thinking etc is plain boring.
#3 Three-dimensional characters
As previously mentioned, research is key. If you look around and open your mind for the daily sexist, racist, ableist, homophobic treatment people endure, you easily can bring depth into your characters. You will spot stereotypical thinking and prevent flat characters. With this, you can tackle their struggles, that differ to others due to privilege and discrimination.
#4 Modern writing
In addition, the world tends to change towards open-mindedness. A decade ago, women fought for their voting rights, half a decade ago Black Americans fought for their rights. In most countries homosexuality is legal. In modern countries we cannot even imagine anymore how loving someone could be illegal. Ignorant books get criticised more and more, rightly so. Writing should be forward.
#5 Encourage forward thinking
Stories make people see different perspectives. This is what we all love about writing, reading and watching them, isn’t it? Isn’t it beautiful to help your readers understand the problems of people they never thought of before? A good story has great power: It helps us understand each other.
We read and watch stories not only to understand others, but also to feel understood. When you read of discrimination, you have encountered yourself, it does something to you. It can help you process your own struggles. The story does not need to present THE solution. However, often feeling seen and understood is enough to make us feel better. Just like in a talk with someone close to you, for instance.
#7 Emotion, Humour and Irony
When I read or watch a story, in which a feminist insider is used, I tend to laugh more than I would, if I heard it for the first time. Using such insiders may be understandable for everyone but is a special treat for fellow insiders.
The story does not have to be defined as a feminist show or book but when a character uses a feminist term (like “white cis-men”) casually, I am delighted. It’s like getting a film reference. You got it, bravo, you belong to the club! Such a small, clever reference is great, just don’t overuse it. The not-yet-intersectional-feminist should not feel confused or excluded.
#8 Creativity Booster
When I construct my characters and think of their biographies, often some new plot points fall into place. When you go deep and find out, what daily problems your characters encounter, it does not only change the relationships, because you will have to think of other people’s reactions. Sometimes this even affects world-building, while other times you might think of a new twist.
An open mind is a writer’s tool
Of course, there are lots of stories we know, which are “successful” in the capitalist way of thinking, that do not impress with their open-mindedness or their diversity. But those are not the stories of tomorrow. With intersectional feminism you will consider deeper, societal problems, which will consequently make you a better writer. A simple romantic comedy, for instance, or a psychological thriller – there is a way for every story to be diverse.