(*Update* An article on Bookriot by the hashtag originator.)
Last night, a woman named Preeti Chhibber (@runwithskizzers on Twitter) created a hashtag and invited people to share their favorite #WomenInFiction with her, and why the characters were important to them. This exploded in certain segments of twitter, and the tag has now been trending for about 18 hours or so. Usually I miss out on taking part in these sorts of online conversations, but for once I caught on early on, and was delighted to see so many of my favorite characters given love by a lot of others.
This #womeinfiction tag is just the latest piece of a larger conversation going on all over the internet about women, media, representation, intersectionality, and the characters that we love. We are so shaped by the media we consume, this is a necessary conversation to be having. This part of it made me realize that there really are a lot of amazing female characters out there in Fiction-land, for all types and tastes and flavors of woman. But just having a lot of characters doesn’t mean they’re all the best they could be.
I contributed several names (or retweeted and repeated several) to the tag, including some from my childhood such as Anne Shirley, Laura Ingalls, Jo March, Polgara the Sorceress, Amelia Peabody, Herald Talia and of course Hermione Granger. These characters (and many others like them) shaped how I thought about the world, and who I was as a person. But if you know anything about them, you may notice a trend, and it’s one I saw in a lot of the #WomenInFiction tweets. They’re all white (probably, there’s some debate on Hermione), presumably straight, and relatively educated according to her time and culture. Women of Color, lesbian and bisexual women, trans women, none of these appeared as often in the tag, probably because they don’t appear as often in fiction. And while some of the above names are terribly important to me, I’ll be the first to admit there are some problems with their characterization here and there. I love them, but they’re flawed, and not in a “good” way either.
That’s the thing about diversity in media and representation. It’s always an ongoing battle. Things are always “getting better”, and that process is neither smooth, nor linear. There are ups and downs, waves, troughs, back-slides. And that’s ok, as long as the overall progress is forward. But we as readers and writers must keep it in perspective that while there is a lot of women characters in certain parts of fiction, the quality of that representation is uneven and often lacking. We must continue to produce more intersectional characters with fewer stereotypes about the ways non-white-straight-cis women live their lives. And we must continue to talk about not just the things we love in the existing stories, but the things we wish could be fixed if the universe had a do-over button. As a younger reader, I’d love to have read a bisexual Jo March, an explicitly black Hermione Granger, or a trans Anne Shirley, and not just as the heroine of a fanfic!
#WomeninFiction has been a moving and positive conversation on twitter, and the popularity of the tag has made me really happy to participate in such a large conversation. But we can’t just have this conversation on Twitter, in 140 characters, because it’s too big and too complex. Nor should we be having it only online. We should be talking about our favorite diverse characters and what we love and how they could be better offline too.
Mostly though, I’m just glad we’re talking about this at all.
Oh yes, and if you’re on twitter, you should share who your favorite #WomeninFiction are, and why! We’re all dying to know! ^_^