The joy of reading fiction comes from the glimpse you catch into another person’s experiences. The promise of learning something new about how someone passes through the world that you share is one of the most exciting things as a reader. Yet recently, I have noticed that I was getting insights into the same person’s experiences and ideas – white straight men.
This realisation was sparked by Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, which made me realise that something was missing from the books I had been reading, mainly modern classics written by white straight men. From there on, the books from my usual repertoire didn’t make me feel the same as it did before – there was always something missing.
I started noticing that all the characters were white. I noticed the holistic depictions of masculine identity and experiences, glaringly contrasted against the role of women merely as one-dimensional supporting characters – a mother, a wife, a sexual object. This became hard to ignore and prompted the unshakable feeling that, as a woman of colour, the author was writing for an audience that excluded people like me. I was not what the author had in mind.
It’s not to say that the perspective gained by reading fiction by straight white men is inherently boring or valueless – it’s just I’ve absorbed it already. It’s no longer exciting. As Ferrate has pointed out, there has been a ‘male colonisation’ of the female imagination – women have no problem imagining things from the male perspective. Yet it is clear from recent events, seen in the responses to the sexual harassment ‘scandals’ that have pervaded Australian media in the past months, that this is not reflected in the reverse. Although there are really great works of fiction by white straight men, there are also books that are just as remarkable and skilfully written, created by women and people of colour, that challenge me and include me, both within the book and as its audience. I don’t need more insight into the world as experienced by white straight men, which already permeates almost every aspect of my life outside fiction.
Thus, at least for now, in a time where women and people of colour are being published at growing (albeit slowly), fiction written by white straight men sit at the bottom of my to-read list.