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"Diversity": You can have it.

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Mythopoet, May 8, 2015.

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  1. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Ok, that was a pretty click-baity title, but I really am trying to find a way to express myself here that won't be offensive. *crosses fingers*

    In recent months there have been several threads dealing with the subject of "diversity" in our storytelling. The basic consensus is that diversity is a good thing and should be promoted through writing if at all possible. Generally these threads have explored diversity through race and gender, placing emphasis on writing compelling female and minority characters. Often times these threads descend into the chaos of competing views on what is "acceptable", what is "offensive", and what is the right way to view gender and race. I've participated in several of these threads intermittently, but always felt bothered by them. Not by the content of the posts in particular, but by the subject overall. I've finally identified what bugged me about it. In a few words...

    I just really don't care about these issues.

    That's probably going to offend some people because these are some of the big issues of our time. But let me try to explain.

    I find issues of race and gender equality boring. (Yeah, I'm really digging myself in here.) Maybe this is because I'm not a minority, being extremely white. (Seriously, I can't even tan. I'm pasty.) One could argue then that I am not concerned about issues of race because I'm part of the privileged race and therefore don't understand the obstacles minorities face. One could argue that my indifference to race is a huge problem. I wouldn't necessarily argue against those claims. On the other hand, I am a woman, even a small, feminine woman. I've experienced condescension. (I recently had a potential landlord insist that he needed to talk to my husband rather than me over the details of a rental agreement, even though I am always the one in our relationship that deals with these things. Needless to say, we didn't rent from him.) I've experienced issues when people viewed me as a "bitch" because I was in a leadership position and acted like a leader, a position in which they wouldn't have had any trouble with a man. I know there is injustice in the world and inequality. I know it's a problem.

    But at the same time, it isn't actually "racism" and "sexism" that is the problem. They are merely symptoms of the problem. They stem from much deeper fundamental flaws within the human nature that no amount of "representation" and "diversity" will address. So I see these efforts as useless and thus boring. We're treating the symptoms while the disease rages on, consumes the human race. The fish rots from the head they say so my thinking is...

    Why not just make my own imagined world just the way I want it? A world where I don't have to deal with boring issues of race and sex at all, but can just write the kinds of stories about the kinds of people in the kinds of places I find compelling?

    Is it escapism? It sure as hell is. But if I'm forced to live in a fundamentally flawed world full of fundamentally flawed people, I see no reason not to use my imagination to escape, at least for a time. Racism and sexism and every other sick human prejudice are never going to go away. There's only one real solution for them and most people won't accept it. (And I won't go into it here, because that's a whole different messy topic.) Call me crazy, but I just don't find issues that the human race has always had and always will have and there's nothing I can do about it very interesting.

    Quite bluntly, I find those issues boring. I don't want to explore them in my writing and in my fantasy world. I would much rather write about awesome fantasy things than mundane real world things. I would rather make my fantasy world fundamentally different from our real world with its own problems that I find more compelling.

    I think there are probably other fantasy writers who feel the same way and who feel like they are often being shamed into dealing with "diversity issues" in their work. Yeah, I know, people who make such calls always claim that they're not trying to pressure anyone. It still comes across as pressure. So I'm just writing this to say, I don't think fantasy writers need to or even should deal with this kind of stuff. If this is the kind of stuff you, as a writer, find interesting then great. Do your thing. But let me do mine. I just want to write fantasy.
     
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  2. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Do you want....congratulations? Or other people to "see the light" and agree that fantasy fiction should be completely separate from the world we live in? Sorry, not gonna agree with you on that one.

    No one's forcing you to write anything, or participate in those discussion threads. Don't read them, and voila, no one's going to bother you. It's entirely your choice, but if you're looking to be praised for apathy in the same way that someone would be praised for making an effort and writing diversely... Not sure if you're gonna find that.
     
  3. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    It appears you care enough to participate in those threads and to write this rather long, self referential post.

    Many times when I see something I find boring, or have no interest in, I don't even click on the thread. You might consider that practice.

    All I get from your post above is that you think that your view of these subjects is so important you need to tell everyone that something that is important to them is "boring". That strikes me more than a little condescending.

    It is kind of like being a soccer fan on a sports site and posting a thread about how you don't care about baseball and find it boring. If you don't like or care about baseball don't write about it. Simple isn't it? But taking the time to post a long comment about how you find it boring really is kind of a slight to people who think it is important now isn't it?

    Just what is it about your opinion that the topic adds nothing (when many people obviously feel it is important and worth discussing) that makes it so valuable that you felt the need to post a thread about it?
     
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  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Hey, um, agree or disagree, let's not challenge someone's motives for expressing themselves.
     
  5. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    At risk of sounding like a complete idiot, I find it kind of alarming that your complaint about "diversity" is entirely that you don't want to write people being bigoted towards each other. Just because your characters are different doesn't automatically need that you need to throw in hatred and prejudice (and I've seen advocates of "diversity" address that very problem.)
     
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  6. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    Boy, do I know that feeling. The way I've come to view the problem is that modern society has set up this dense tangle of tripwires for creators to navigate, so no matter which path you choose, you're going to set off one of them sooner or later. And I say that's OK. All you need to do is find out which wires you absolutely never want to trip on, which ones you don't mind so much, and maybe even which ones you want to take down. And while your critics technically have the right to "call you out" (even if the critical distinction between call-outs and harassment in the digital age is whether you're on the giving or receiving end), you also have the right to ignore their trolling. That's why humanity invented blocking.

    It's true that nothing we create exists in a cultural vacuum as Nimue was implying, but not only has this vacuum always been dynamic and culturally specific rather than static or universal, but even how a given trope or theme contributes to it remains open to interpretation. It's not even like the wannabe moral crusaders' own favorite tropes are immune to this. What might get billed as a positive celebration of so-called "body diversity" could just as easily be interpreted as a manipulative masquerade enabling a nationwide health crisis and its associated economic costs just to massage certain individuals' frustrated sense of sexual entitlement. Sure, the "body positive" creators may not have meant to enable any health crisis, but that goes to show you that people taking things differently from what you intended is a given no matter what message you mean to share.

    As a godless liberal hedonist, I say write or create what you want, and then decide whether or not it's hurtful for yourself.

    With regards to race in particular, I would have assumed most racial minorities, especially black people, were just damn tired of every book or movie "representing" them as fixating on narratives of historically recent oppression. They already put up with its ramifications on a regular basis; they shouldn't have to be reminded of it every time they crack open a book with characters resembling themselves. Not to mention how condescending it must seem to treat entire populations of humanity as one-dimensional, helpless victims.

    Not that themes of racism and sexism haven't ever crept into my writing, but I think there's a good point to be gleamed here.
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2015
  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    1. First and foremost, you have to write what you want, and what you'd like to read.

    2. Just because you have 'diverse' characters in your book (in terms of race, gender, sexuality, etc) doesn't mean you have to deal with social issues around diversity. You can just, you know, write them as people just like any other characters in the story, and the issues of racism, sexism, or other bigotry never comes into play.

    3. I think readership is diversifying, and the industry as a whole is diversifying. To some extent, many readers want/expect to see a diverse range of characters in stories. To the extent you don't have it, some readers may care. At the same time, there are plenty of readers who don't care whether stories reflect diversity, and it doesn't make sense to say every story has to do so.

    4. If you do decide to address the underlying issues involving issues like racism, sexism, sexual orientation, and the like, then yes, you're inviting critique on those bases, and there's no way you can please everyone, so you just have to accept that a percentage of people are going to have a problem with your approach to it.
     
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  8. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Yeah, I figured I'd get a lot of flak for this post.

    Listen, I don't want anything. I'm just putting my point of view out there. I posted it in a new thread so as not to derail any existing threads. I'm not complaining about those threads or calling those threads boring. Perhaps that was unclear. I never once suggested that people shouldn't talk about it.

    But there is often a tone in those threads which suggests that everyone should be concerned about diversity and honestly I'm not. I couldn't quite put my finger on it until today when I clicked on a diversity thread and suddenly thought to myself, "I just don't even care about this issue." I was kind of surprised by that internal reaction but thought about it a bit and came up with what I said in this thread. Like I said, I didn't want to derail that other thread. But I thought my point of view might give some insight into why some people might not care about diversity in their writing. I don't claim to be representative, but I would be surprised if I was the only one who just finds the whole subject dull and doesn't want to think about it in their writing.

    There's an idea that it's just not good to not be concerned about these things, it's never explicitly stated, but I can feel it in the threads that have been made here. I just want to say to anyone else out there who just doesn't find it interesting to "explore diversity" in the modern sense that I don't think we're in the wrong. I don't think we should have to be concerned about that kind of diversity. Honestly, from my perspective of human issues, race and gender issues are small potatoes. I'm just not interested. And I think that's ok.

    If you don't think it's ok, I'm not going to argue. I didn't make the thread to argue or because I want something. I was just saying what was on my mind after having taken part in so many diversity threads lately. Nothing more.
     
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  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    FWIW, there was a similar debate in the late 1960s in the world of science fiction. Same sort of division, with one group saying they "just" wanted to write science fiction. The implication in the statement was that science fiction *by definition* did not include addressing current social issues.

    You know how that played out.

    I see fantasy in the same light. My objection to Mythopoet's post lies in this: "... I don't think fantasy writers need to or even should deal with this kind of stuff."

    I agree with the first clause but disagree with the second. In addition, there's a missing quantifier there. Add "all" to the statement and it's clearly absurdly proscriptive. But add "this" (as in "this fantasy writer") and it's fine.

    Let a thousand flowers bloom.
     
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  10. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

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    Whether you care about these issues is one question, but I think the more important question to answer is: do you want to care about these issues?
     
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  11. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    What I meant was that it's not a question of "need" or "should". I don't believe there's anything any writer "needs" to write about or "should" write about. It's all on an individual basis.
     
  12. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I remember a while back a really cool guy that I often disagreed with told me "I don't want to read that fake shit." In this regard, he was talking about fantasy. He didn't like it because it wasn't real. In Mythpoet's defense, I think she has the inverse opinion. She wants to read fantasy because it's not real. Which I assume means she wants to read fantasy stories that deal with imagination, adventure, and the wonder of a world not like our own. I may be off, but I think her argument is that dealing with real life modern issues can somehow distort what she wants her fantasy stories to be: escapist stories dealing with the fantastical. And of course, that's fine. Because every kind of fantasy fan wants different stuff in their fiction.

    However, to make an analogy, I think traditional fantasy is in some ways becoming like boxing. It has its hardcore fans and people that want certain kinds of matches. But boxing lost a lot of fans along the way. Maybe because the same fights were being presented the same ways. Then came along MMA. And MMA brought a whole new dimension to what a fighting sport can be. It diversified for lack of a better word. All sort of interesting new styles, karate, jiujitsu, judo, kickboxing, wrestling, kenpo, sambo, etc. etc. blended together to make there be so many new possibilities.

    For me, diversity in fantasy fiction is like MMA. It allows one to bring so many more dimensions to the story that you might not see otherwise. After doing the Diversity Challenge back in April, it made me realize something: I can't really go back to boxing (traditional fantasy). Some of the stories presented in the challenge really wowed me and opened my eyes to all sorts of cool possibilities I hadn't considered before. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

    To be clear, diversity in SFF for me doesn't always mean dealing with modern issues in a fantasy story. It doesn't have to mean dealing with sexism or racism or homophobia. Of course if people want to deal with these issues, that's cool. It can just mean "I want a story about Japanese monsters" or "I want a story that shows a lesbian dragon rider trying to make her way home" or "I want to see how a Native American navigates an escape from a feathered serpent" or "how will an African priestess handle the presence of a pobobawa on the outskirts of her town."

    That's what it means for me. Seeing new stories with new faces in new worlds. And if it touches someone who feels underrepresented, then I'm certainly happy for that as well.

    So when someone says to me, "I don't want to read about fake shit" or a specific style of writing then I just tell them "You might be missing out then."
     
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  13. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    No. I care about a lot of issues that I believe are much bigger and more important (but that also indirectly include) these issues. It's not that I just want to write mindless, entertaining fiction. There are a lot of themes that I want to explore because I am intellectually and emotionally drawn to them. These modern diversity issues are not among them.

    I would be interested in knowing from everyone here, do you personally believe that racism and sexism are issues that all persons, in general, and perhaps content creators in particular should be concerned with?
     
  14. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I think the entire range of the human experience should be addressed by fiction, and is susceptible to fiction of all genres. So yes, among fantasy writers it is well and good that there are some authors concerned with themes of race, gender, and sexuality. That's great, and I think it should continue. That said, however, not every work can deal with every issue important to humanity, nor should that attempt be made. Nor should every writer of fantasy (or any other genre) feel compelled to deal with any given issue.

    I don't tend to see a lot of complaint about a book not raising a given issue at all. I don't think that happens that often. What I see more of are:

    1. A book raises an issue like diversity and people don't like how it deals with that issue; and

    2. A book raises an issue like diversity and people don't like the fact that the book raised it in the first place.
     
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  15. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I'm not sure that's what I glean from these diversity discussions. That sexism and racism should always be discussed when certain types of characters are in a story. I do think people should be concerned about these issues in real life.

    In my experience, I've included non-white characters and female characters in my fiction that experienced no racism or sexism at all. In others, they've dealt with it more extensively. I think it depends on what kind of story I'm trying to tell. Am I telling a story about a gay knight and his struggles with homophobia in his order? Or am I telling a story about a knight who happens to be gay and the story is more about him trying to kill a dragon? I don't think diversity always has to tackle heavy issues, but when they do, that's fine as well.
     
  16. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

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    F*cking obviously. When we live in a world where people can be judged, harmed, discriminated against and even killed because of their sex, ethnicity, or sexuality, something is clearly wrong. Personally, I care that people suffer in this world because of injustice and prejudice. It's called empathy.

    But with regards to writing fantasy fiction, what does racism and sexism have to do with anything? If there's one thing I've never heard said it's, "gee, I do love me some fantasy fiction, but if there's one thing it's missing, it's discrimination". What actually is said is, "gee, I do love me some fantasy fiction, but it would be nice if there were more stories with more varied casts". People aren't crying out for more stories about racism and sexism (we actually have plenty of those already). People are crying out for diversity.
     
  17. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    I believe that racism and sexism are problems that all people who believe equality is a virtue should be concerned with.

    (longer comment to follow later)
     
  18. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    If I'm going to be a writer, then I want to do right by my audience. That's all I can do. I can't really tinker with the moral fabric of our society. I can't change the way people treat each other. That's not on me. But if I have a diverse audience, I want to appeal to them. I want to do right by them. I want everyone to feel welcome to pick up my work and enjoy it. Maybe I can't win over everyone all the time, but I can make the good faith effort.

    Among other things, that means creating a diverse cast of characters and being respectful of their reasonable differences. It means helping readers identify with my characters.

    But for me, that's the end of it. I just don't have the emotional energy left in my life to let people drag me into the moral outrage our society and our internet is prone to. With this and other issues, I'm inclined to recoil against those kinds of efforts - to ignore it (within reason) when there's nothing I can do, or to challenge it when the conversation itself, I feel, starts to go too far and affect the communities I'm a part of.
     
  19. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    Exactly.

    As I mentioned, I saw presentations from two published author-artists making a living creating works with diverse casts. The gist of their message is as Gryphos said. Giving black students books about slavery to meet a need for "diverse" representation was presented as an example of well-intentioned insensitivity. The black students just wanted a story about a black character in a normal situation or on an adventure like the ones all the white MCs get to go on.





    I'm working on it!
     
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  20. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    Going off what I've gleamed from everything Mythopoet has posted here on MS, I don't think she has any problem whatsoever with other writers' choices of theme. And given her interest in Japanese and Egyptian mythologies, among others from outside the European subcontinent, I sure as hell don't believe she has a vested interest in strictly Eurocentric fantasy. What she's taking issue with isn't other fantasy writers differing in preferred subject matter from her own (which is more than can said someone like, say, Brad Torgersen), but certain activists demanding catering for their own ideologies. And you cannot deny such individuals exist. Why, I think we even have some in our own midst:

    Excuse me, but recognizing both the traditional application of that phrasing's diction, and the particular individual who's restating it, I'm having an extremely difficult time not perceiving it as this snide effort to sway writers into satisfying her specific agenda. It's their favorite trick in the book. They'll take any self-evident truism, or recognition of a real problem, and manipulate it to draw any psychological connection imaginable, no matter how contrived, between it and whatever they're really out to accomplish. And if you state any disagreement with their conclusions, or even point out any inherent non sequiturs or hypocrisy on their part, they'll dart in to sting your conscience with the most venomously guilt-inducing language. And if you're like me and you're suffering with chronic personal insecurity which they know about, their barbs can drive you to the point of suicidal contemplation---but even then, don't try crying out for help away from their earshot. They'll somehow find out about it anyway and use it against you.

    (To clarify, I'm not accusing our own Nimue in particular of sinking to that last tactic. But I have had it inflicted upon me elsewhere on the Internet, and certain things she and like-minded posters here have said have inadvertently triggered memories of that experience.)

    Back to topic, this type of activism should not be confused with wanting to incorporate diversity into your own work. You have the right to design your world and characters however you wish, but while others have the right to voice their own opinions on them, they are not entitled to your capitulating to their own specific perspectives. Listen to you critics if you believe it'll benefit your work, but if you decide their criticisms are unreasonable, you should not let them rip your confidence, or even your basic sense of self-worth, into bloody pieces.
     
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