When I started writing this piece it became this three page long…something which I realized wasn’t helpful. It was rambly and verbose and had no real direction. So we’re gonna do what I did in school and that’s the IRAC method:
I – Issue, what am I trying to answer?
R* – Response, my answer to the question.
A – Application, this would be where I back up my response.
C – Conclusion, summing things up
(I adjusted the R. It normally should be “Rule”, but this isn’t a legal case. Yet.)
Whose voices do we see? Whose voices do we need more of? Where do we find representation lacking and what can we as bloggers do to address that? What about negative or stereotypical representation?
Predominantly we see cis-male or cis-female representation, Caucasian racial representation, and heteronormative relationship representation. When a character does not fit those three things they are often presented in stereotypical or negative ways, either because of ignorance, laziness or negligence.
The obvious answer is to encourage writers to include characters who aren’t limited to those three traits. The more difficult question is how to encourage writers without a) making it inauthentic/inorganic and not fall into the “tokenism” trope (ergo not undermining our efforts by perpetuating negative stereotyping) and b) encourage libraries, bookstores and consumers to buy/request the books (which in turn encourages publishers to take a chance on the writers/stories).
As bloggers we have this open medium in which we can literally talk about anything we want. While some of us do this for money (or as a job) the vast majority of us do this for the love of reading and books. There’s no “correct” way to blog either – no rule brick like in school where you’ll be graded if you’re sentences are run-ons or you forget to have six sources for your article. There isn’t an oversight committee working in the shadows policing folk who don’t blog about the right books or topics.
Within ten years the book blogging landscape was created and completely transformed. It went from a few niche sites (for example Dear Author or Smart Bitch Trashy Books – both largely concerned with romance novels, which at the time of their formation had the lion’s share of the popularity) to an explosion of interest. Readers of all walks of life started building blogs and making friends. No two bloggers read the exact same book and had the exact same reaction – a huge diversity of authors, titles and books were being exclaimed over.
Yes the publishing industry was slow to notice; it’s really only in the last few years that book blogging has seen any kind of support that our traditional print reviewer cousins always had. And hey the landscape is changing yet again.
Yet diverse representation has become almost stagnant. Not just in the publishing industry, all over. White-washed casting choices with nauseating excuses, outcry over female-driven science fiction films, what feels like a mass termination of gay or lesbian characters on TV, musicians getting crap for being too “this” or not enough “that”…endless negative news stories that drive home “to be other is to be wrong”.
Diversity has become a checklist. “Do we have a strong female character? Check. Do we have a gay or lesbian character? No? Can we have one of our characters question their sexuality for some time? Check. Some minority casting choices? Check.” And then when those characters aren’t well received or called out for being what they are—lip service—the creators wring their hands and say “We tried! You people decided you didn’t like them! We tried!” or worse they build these characters into likeable, relatable characters—then kill them in service to another (usually Caucasian) character’s storyline. Or just completely sideline them until they’re shells of who they were. Sometimes all three.
I’ll admit as a cis-female, Caucasian, heterosexual, agnostic I tend to trend towards protagonists (or love interests) in books who reflect me. Sassy/sarcastic, introverted brunette with a penchant for annoying people and constantly wanting to be right? I’ll be there quicker than you can say smart-ass. But the fact that I can say that is telling. Give me a couple moments and I’ll find you a boatload of books just on my shelves that fit that description. Give me longer and I’ll find you ones I’ve looked into, but haven’t read at the bookstore.
These aren’t the only ones I read. If you ask me to I can name a dozen or two books wherein either the main character or the love interest does not reflect me. But I own thousands (literally) of books in fourteen different languages (no I can not read fourteen different languages) and I’m only talking about my print books. If we add my e-book collection I easily have over 10,000 books. And I’ve read close to 65% of them. The odds are not in favor of diverse representation in my collection. Which means I can do better.
The easiest way to apply the knowledge I have to the problem at hand is to speak up more. To be more cognizant of what I’m reading, what I’m featuring on my blog, what I’m suggesting. Make an effort to go outside my comfort zone and try something new.
We can do this by requesting books by authors and about characters who aren’t the conventional. I would have never heard about Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed if not for a random comment on twitter. Zoraida Cordova has the seriously brilliant looking Labyrinth Lost coming out this year. Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not is damn awesome and if I haven’t stated the absolute adoration I have for Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway you don’t know me well.
Basically I can do better. We can all do better. Here’s a list of sites that can help you (or me) do better:
- The Curiosity Quills Press: Using Non-Western Influence in Fantasy
- The Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf and Book Review: Recommendations | Non-European Fantasy by Women
- The Illustrated Page: Non-white Protagonists in Fantasy and Science Fiction
- N.K. Jemisin: Describing Characters of Color (an ongoing writing series; parts 1, 2, and 3) and “Hello! You just used the “damned if you do/don’t” fallacy!” post
- YA Interrobang: Inclusivity
- Hero Complex: Beyond ‘Game of Thrones’: Exploring diversity in speculative fiction
Start there and make suggestions! I realize my list is woefully unrepresentative of LGBT interests…I’m working on that (I really only read m/m smut…) so please make suggestions!