Monday, April 25, 2016

GUEST POST: Equality in Fiction by Shanti

India - Kalaroos village folks, Kashmir
Flickr Credit: sandeepachetan
Fiction: a place where the borders of reality can be expanded, where social, economic, and cultural boundaries can be challenged, a place to escape to when the world is too much, or not enough.

That’s my definition of fiction. It encapsulates one of the reasons why I love to read fiction: because in a fictional story, all of the horrible things which cause humans to hate each other don’t have to exist.

Oh, and hi, by the way. I’m Shanti, and I blog at Virtually Read and today I’m taking over from Heather to talk about equality in fiction and normalising diversity.

So before I get into my discussion about why I think there should be more equality in fiction, I’ll say my disclaimer: I understand why books do have inequality in all its shapes and forms, because a) it can create plot tension and b) it reflects real situations that real readers deal with.

But a good writer shouldn’t need to have unequal characters to create a good story. And just for once, especially in speculative fiction, I’d love to read a story where women and men; black people, brown people and white people; people of all different sexualities and religions have been equal from the start. Maybe these books exist already, and I just haven’t found them. But fiction should be a place of equality.

Because if fiction is about escaping some of the barriers that people put between each other in the real world, then surely it makes sense to have fictional worlds where the differences between what people look like/do/ believe don’t matter. On this planet there are a lot of historical and cultural reasons why discrimination exists, but I personally think that a narrative without discrimination will often be richer.

Yes, #Weneediversebooks. We also need books where the diverse experience is not a big deal—where, in short, there is equality. I, for one, am sure that it’s totally possible to tell a story where all the characters are equal. Not the same, but equal.

See, that’s the problem with a lot of diversity—if it’s put into books just to be diverse, it can feel awkward or overdone. (and Alyssa has a great post about that here). But if fiction becomes more equal, both in terms of the number of diverse experiences that it shows and the characters themselves being equal, then diversity doesn’t have to be a big deal.

Representation is super important. But for a lot of people (in fact, almost everyone on this planet of ours), diversity of languages, ethnic backgrounds, religion, sexuality and so many other things is just ordinary life. By sectioning books into ‘diverse’ and not, but adding diversity just for the sake of it, it seems as if having that different experience of seeing the world is separate from you. I can say, as someone of multi-ethnic background who speaks more than one language and lives in a place that isn’t West Europe, the US or Australia/New Zealand, that my experience of life is important. But it’s also totally normal to me.

Without equality—in fiction, in the real world, then the experiences of people different from you don’t seem normal. They seem foreign, weird, or other. I love reading—and writing—stories about people who live outside of the developed world, who don’t have white skin. After all, everyone has some story to tell. To me, it seems that telling a good story doesn’t need inequality. It needs compassion and understanding. If diverse experiences can be treated more like the everyday life they are, then that’s a solid first step towards understanding people who are different to you.

So tell me in the comments, Sometimes I’m a Story Readers. Do you agree with me? Would more equality in fiction make the diverse experience more normal? Do you think a story where everyone is equal would be realistic or is discrimination inherent to the human experience?


Shanti is a multitude of things: reader, blogger, student, violist, runner and spontaneous cartwheels. She loves intricate plots with politics and a dash of magic. When not frantically busy doing schoolwork or reading, she can be found hanging out with her family, wearing brightly coloured tights and baking. She loves thinking about reading and life, and can be found at her blog and on Goodreads.


  1. Books where a character casually mentions that so and so has two moms or the best friend is casually gay and so on are the worst! They drive me crazy. I always feel like these things are thrown in so that the book can be called 'diverse', but they're not really. There's no point to being diverse if the story isn't realistic, if you know what I'm saying??

    I think that YA has come a long way in terms of diverse books, but we've still got a lot more work to do :)

    1. When it's issues like homosexuality that are still so contested, it does feel like they need to be more than casually mentioned. At the same time though, I like that sometimes it isn't a big deal? Having 'diverse' as a label or selling point can be quite problematic.
      I completely agree!

  2. I WOULD like to see more equality in books. I think another problem with the lack of diversity is that sometimes people of colour don't write stories that feature characters of colour.

    Also double standards. All the characters in The Fault in Our Stars were white but when an author tried to publish her novel, one of the reasons for rejection was that the characters were 'too narrow' because they were mainly Asian.

    1. There can be some internalised fear of identity I guess? And sometimes publishers won't buy books that are too diverse as they feel like it might alienate their readers, I guess? Diversity doesn't have to be a big deal though-- and sometimes I feel like the recent focus on YA diversity makes it seem like diverse people are different from 'normal' cisgendered white people.
      That's really true! The publishing industry is a beast riddled with contradictions.

  3. I definitely would! In fact, I just blogged about this on the weekend. :D I think diversity is hugely important and I want to read it in every book and not have the "wow this book is diverse" feeling...because I want it to be just expected, you know? Plus I think equality is important and we need to aim for it, and starting with that in fiction is an excellent place.

    1. Yeah, I did in fact see your post on the weekend *hi fives for same posts*. Like diversity in books tends to indicate that the characters are white and live in a developed country-- and worldwide, that isn't the average at all! maybe fiction can represent the way the world will eventually be. -- dreams, hey!

  4. Interesting post! Honestly, I don't strictly agree or disagree. Because, like yeah, it'd be really cool if you decided to write a book where everyone was completely equal from the beginning (though I am interested as to where your conflict would come from? because it seems to me that most conflict comes from inequality on some level), but I also think that if an author feels it's the best way to stir up conflict in the story they want to tell, then inequality is the only way that they can go. Basically, people should use whatever makes sense for their stories: if complete equality, awesome, go for it! If inequality, fine, just make sure it's overcome in the end. :)


    1. Thank you for bearing my presence on this blog! (haha, I'm sure it was awesome). We do need both types of books-- because if books are just lala happy happy equal then the horror of discrimination in all forms might be ignored. I guess it's a fine line between discrimination through lack of representation and what is just telling a story. Plot can come through evil plans or the environment too I guess, just as two examples. Inequality is also a pretty important part of the human experience for sure. Yes, I agree!


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