Picture the scene: we are at the little café on the corner of the street. At the overcrowded table, there is me, you, my dear reader, and some other friends. Some new people mixed with some old ones. Hot drinks between us: coffees, chocolates, and spice lattes. Between the new mates, someone turns to me and asks, “Marta, what do you study?”. I will straight answer that my field of study is literature, English Literature. Often the following upcoming exclamations would be “oh, so you must love reading!” “Shakespeare, Dickens, Jane Austen are most likely between your favourite authors” and the most classic one “You must spend a lot of time reading!”.
Now, I would look at these new strangers and see two possibilities in front of me. Scenario number one: I smile and politely say “yes” to all those questions without adding anything else. Scenario number two: I would start a long monologue about what I love about my experience as a reader.
Here, this is what I am going to do, my dear reader! I will write what reading is for me as an English literature student and an intersectional Feminist.
Books to me are not just black words printed over white paper. They are not just pretty covers filling the bookshelf. (I will lie if I say that I am not attracted to a pretty cover in Waterstones). Books to me are voices. The voices of people who want to share their experiences, views of the world, and personal experiences. Through those voices, I choose my friends, my lovers, and even my enemies.
I listen to them, and I critic them.
I debate with the authors while reading.
I do not just go through the pages.
I conversate, I annotate, and I create my own layers of experience.
Saying that the degree that I am persuading is English literature sometimes comes with some misunderstanding.
To clarify: I did analyse Shakespeare’s sonnets and explore the very much descriptive text of Dickens. But I do not do just that. The literature that I study travels way far from the British borders. I learn about Mexican culture, second-generation immigrate. I acknowledged cultural traumas that earlier were invisible to me, nature, space, and how simple sentences can change an entire story.
The activity of “reading” has often been surrounded by stereotypes. Having pleasure in reading, both in movies and ironically even in books, is the preferred activity of those considered outsiders from the society. However, let me tell you the truth: I learned more about the different layers of society in the pages of those books than outside in the streets.
For instance, I learned about intersectional feminism.
The American law professor Kimberlè Crenshaw, the person who coined the phrase, describes intersectional feminism as “a prism for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together.”
Intersectional Feminism sees how people’s identities have layers of discrimination and labels. And that every experience makes our own identity differ from someone else’s. Professor Crenshaw continues in her interview, “We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality, or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts”.
This current wave of feminism does not talk about equality as a whole. The fourth wave of feminism speaks about gender, sexuality, work experience, immigration, trauma, mental health. We, as Feminists, are learning to acknowledge the experience of others as our own. As something possible to speak about, to read about, to express as valuable.
Being an intersectional Feminist is not just a matter of believing in Equality, but it is an understanding that a person’s identity is more complex than a single label. We are not just a single thing: we are at the point of intersection of different lines that make us, well… us. Ethnicity, gender, sexuality, origins, culture, experiences, and thousands of tiny parts mould our identity. And if it wasn’t for the ‘simple’ study of English Literature and the thousands of hours spent ‘just’ reading, I will never get to know the power that intersectional voices hold.