By Laura Zats
Are you a human being who comes into contact with women?
Do you, as a writer, write characters who are also women?
If you answered yes to either of these questions, you should be a feminist!
Now, before I get hate mail, let me define feminism for you:
A feminist is someone, regardless of gender, who believes that people should be treated equally, regardless of what pronouns they use or what body parts they have.
Pretty simple and non-threatening, right?
Good. Moving on.
Right now, we are in the throes of third-wave feminism. I’m gunna let you google what that means (hint: intersectionality!) on your own, but what being on the third wave means is that there were two waves before this one!
Today, we’re going to talk about the second-wave, AKA the particular brand of feminism from the 1960s through the early 1980s, and why it’s important to being a writer in 2016.
Second-wave feminism is a broad subject. It covers topics like workplace equality, a woman’s role in her family, reproduction, domestic violence and rape, and legal inequalities. Another large part of second-wave feminism is a phrase popularized (but not invented) by Carol Hanisch.
Hanisch is the author of an essay called “The Personal is Political.” Worth a read, it posits that “personal problems are political problems.” What she means by this is that every decision you make—whether it is your job, how you dress, or what art you create—has a political importance.
This is especially important for writers. You are creating a story with characters who are fully formed and seen as real people. The things that happen to them are read by thousands and thousands of people, used as entertainment, to create community, and to deepen their understanding of the world around them.
Books, perhaps more than any other type of media, have the ability to change the world in a lasting way, starting in the hearts and minds of the individuals consuming the pages. This means that your decisions as a writer mean more than just what feels good for the story.
It’s a political statement, whether you mean it to be or not.
Are you writing a sword and sorcery book with no female characters or humans of color? Yeah. Political.
Are you writing a women’s fiction novel that infantilizes its thirty-something main character by having male characters constantly touching her without permission? Political.
Are you writing a YA novel about a character who befriends a kid in a wheelchair and stands up to bullies for them? Political (and problematic, but that’s another blog post).
About problems in our society, Hanisch says that “there are no personal solutions at this time. There is only collective action for a collective solution.”
As the wielders of words, you are working on an individual level and on a collective level. Your words are both private and public, and undoubtedly political.
If there are things in this world you’re not happy with, writing is not an escape from it—it is a balm. It is a solution. Action to the collective issue.
So if you’re not sure if you should be writing diverse book, AKA books that show the world the way it is, this is why you should.
You are making a political statement anyway, so why not make it a good one?
Love this, Laura. So very true that what we write makes a statement, one way or another.
As a second-wave feminist :), I’ve watched in dismay as the word itself came to have negative connotations. I know how it happened, but distressing, in the end.
Thank you for this post!