By: Ren Westerman
I often say that I absolutely despise writing characters from my own perspective. I feel as though it is a drab and rather boring approach to a story given that I perceive stories as adventures for both the reader and the writer. Simply said, it isn't much of an adventure if I already know every detail about my character and how they will react to various situations. For this reason I often challenge myself to a rather stubborn extent to never write my main characters through my own lens. This may seem confusing at first glance, but in a sense, I don't want to see myself in my own story, something which I honestly find challenging simply because it's 'my story,' so of course I'm going to see myself as a large part of it. It is that challenge which I've grown to crave and pursue to great lengths.
Perhaps my greatest inspiration behind this strive to challenge perspectives in writing came from a course I'd taken my first year at Adams State University. The course was ENG 203 Major Themes in Literature taught by Professor Aaron Abeyta. One of the discussions we had was in regards to three levels of the feminist approach to literature. I'll provide a link at the bottom of this post if you're interested in looking in depth at the levels, but for now I will focus primarily on the one that sparks my inspiration. The third level of the feminist approach to literature is the female approach. One of the ideas discussed was the idea that because we (the males in the class, including the professor) were males, we would never be able to write using the female approach. In a sense we were a graph which followed an asymptote (for sake of simplicity, an asymptote along either the x or y axis). The axes, our asymptotes, represent the female approach. Try and try and try as we might, we would never truly reach that approach. The logic behind this is that we have not, do not, and will not know what it is like to be female. Now this comes into a grey area with varying approaches to the concept of gender, but again for the sake of simplicity, a male will not know what it is like to be female, and vice versa. Essentially, males can write in the feminine and feminist approaches (the other two of the three levels), but they cannot write in the third, female, level. This concept doesn't need to strictly follow the distinction between male and female. The same logic applies that females will be able to write in a 'male' approach. And in a much broader sense, if you aren't _____, you cannot fully write from _____ perspective.
To this effect I've turned my attention to another view on literature and writing. While I might not be able to fully write through particular perspectives, I am however able to learn about them and advocate for them. In a three level system, this approach gives meaning to the first two of the three levels which can be attained by anyone. Again I will provide a link at the end of the post for greater explanation on the following subject, for now I'll give a brief explanation. This approach which I've become accustomed to follows the stages of cultural competency. In this system there are six stages ranging from destruction to advocacy. This system doesn't follow a "you start at the bottom and rise to the top" philosophy. This is due to the first stage of cultural competency being the destruction of another culture. More often than not, especially in the current generations, most individuals fall into the third level of cultural competency which is blindness. This stage is unbiased in that traits of an individual such as race, sex, gender, color, ethnicity, etcetera do not make much of a difference in the development of opinions. I like to think of it as an "ignorance is bliss" approach. It has good intentions, but it still has potentially harmful side effects. I suppose in regards to the graph analogy, the blindness stage is in the curve of the graph before the graph starts to approach the asymptote along the axis. There isn't much influence one way or the other. It is in the following three levels that an individual begins to approach the axis and come closer and closer to being able to advocate for a particular perspective. As an individual becomes more knowledgeable and familiar with a culture, as they seek to obtain said knowledge, as they become familiar with the pros and cons of diversity in culture, and as they begin to accept and develop a respect for a particular culture, then they reach the sixth level of cultural competence, proficiency. Proficiency is essentially the equivalent to the feminist approach in the above discussion of the feminine, feminist, and female approaches. This is that never-ending stretch where you're so close to being able to truly see, write, elaborate, speak, and understand from a particular perspective.
It is through these stages of developing cultural proficiency that I find a purpose behind writing outside of my own perspective. Even though I may never be able to truly write from a particular perspective, I want to strive to familiarize myself as much as possible to the extent that I can come as close as I can possibly manage. I want to get to know my characters. I want to understand them. I want them to teach me as they live their lives from chapter to chapter. I've mentioned in an earlier post that I use writing to make sense of the world around me. And now you've gotten to know a little more about my character.