Writing as a Feminist by Mariko Tamaki
There’s something about talking about writing and feminism that turns me into a downer.
I should make clear that I am a big fan of questions about feminism in relation to writing and to the making of any kind of culture, because I am, without a doubt, a feminist writer. Purposefully so. I am also, a totally legit MASTER in Women’s Studies (whut whuuuut!), with a degree and everything, care of York University. Questions about feminism are often my only chance to bring that up.
This means that, when I write, I am distantly informed years of study of Betty Friedan, bell hooks, and the lesser known Deborah Cameron and Penelope Eckert (look ‘em up) and, of course, I am informed by my very feminist friends.
But in terms of how to answer the question of “how” I do it, the answer, as I said, tends to sound very negative.
Writing as a feminist:
I try not to reinforce stereotypes about what women should look like or sound like
I try not to write about characters that are white and straight by default
I try to not just avoid but negate traditional narratives, which I tend to think of in terms of Archie and Jughead cartoons, where the girl’s only storyline has to do with the pursuit of a boy, where there are only two type of girls, Betties and Veronicas (who are really just the same girl with different hairstyles).
Sometimes, when I talk about writing and feminism, I mention the Alison Bechdel test, a test devised by a character in one of Bechdel’s comics (and thereby to some degree Bechdel herself) where a movie must past the following three standards:
1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it. 2. Who talk to each other. 3. About something besides a man
This is a more a standard of judging the mass of pop culture than it is a standard for writing, but I bring it up because it sets the tone for the importance of writing from a feminist place, which is a place informed by the massive percentage of pop culture that doesn’t pass this, bare minimum, standard.
That said, writing from a feminist perspective isn’t just about writing against something. It’s as much about inspiration, about goals, as it is about avoiding something negative.
Writing as a feminist it’s my goal to try, whenever possible, to unpack , girls’ and women’s experiences and struggles with the complex identities that are “girl” and “women.” To show how women define these things not just for themselves but for each other.
Writing about women (like writing about any human creature) is about writing out and looking at the relationships between women, between mothers and daughters and friends. Because, and bear with me while I have a Gender Studies moment here, as Foucault says, “Power is everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere.”
(Did I mention I’m a Women’s Studies Master? Yes. Ok.)
And the thing about all this is, that is a joy to do. It is anything but a downer. I love thinking about these stories as much as I love telling them. I love listening to the way girls and women talk to each other and calling it research. It is a great job.
That’s what I want to say as part of my answer here from now on. I’m going to start here.
What’s it like to write from a feminist perspective?
Mariko Tamaki is a Canadian writer and performer. In addition to her celebrated graphic novel Skim, co-created with Jillian Tamaki, she has also published several works of prose fiction and nonfiction, including the young adult novel (You) Set Me on Fire. Mariko’s short film Happy 16th birthday Kevin premiered at the Inside Out Festival in Toronto in May 2013. Her most recent graphic novel is This One Summer, with Jillian Tamaki. You can find her online at marikotamaki.blogspot.com.