Diversity, Cultural Appropriation and Ghettoes

One common complaint of the gatekeepers— editors at publishing houses, and literary agents— is that there is not enough ‘diversity’ in fiction. There need to be more characters from various ethnic backgrounds, sexual minorities, and ‘differently-abled.’

So one author decided her new YA novel should have an African-American lead character. She wrote it, and gave it a book cover displaying the ‘diversity’ of her character. And was condemned for ‘cultural appropriation’ because of her presumed ‘whiteness.’

So: what the advocates of ‘diversity’ really want is this: they want to get rid of most of the current crop of writers and would-be writers, and to replace them with writers who personally have the right kind of diversity. But it wouldn’t do any good if these ‘diverse’ writers were free to write what they wanted. What if that wheelchair-bound African-American man wants to write mysteries featuring a Swedish-American female detective? That wouldn’t do! He has to write ‘diverse’ materials that match his own diversity. In other words, he needs to write characters that are African-American, in wheelchairs, or both.

This is actually a great step backwards for writers. It used to be that a writer could disguise unusual or controversial things about themselves and write what they wanted. A woman writer often adopted a male pen name. A Black writer didn’t have to announce his skin color, but could write as if he were white. And Gay writers could write from their legendary closets if that was what was best for book sales.

What the ‘diversity’ advocates really want is ghettoized writers. Writers whose careers depend on writing about their personal diversity. Lesbian writers who include lesbian characters, usually lead characters, in every single book. Blind authors with equally blind characters. Asian-American authors who write nothing but Asian-American stories.

I guess I could start writing Lesbian, Asperger’s Syndrome characters— I would have to leave out the Catholic, conservative and chastity parts of my life— but I wonder how that would play out. If I had to write from a ghetto, or a ghetto-within-a-ghetto if I had to include both my ‘diversities’— could I ever build up enough of an audience? Yeah, I’d have the progressive readers who might buy one of my works to gain progressive points. But how many of those would identify with my hoards of Lesbian Aspie characters enough to prefer my ‘brand?’ I’d probably be stuck with a tiny subgroup of readers. Who would drop me like a rock once they found out about my unacceptable religious and political opinions.

I think the diversity ghettoes are a losing game for writers. You might get a little boost by starting to write just for/about your diversity group(s.) But it probably will make your writing less appealing to the general public. And those gatekeepers who demand all that diversity? When your diversity ghetto leads you to have fewer book sales than more general/non-diverse writers, they will drop you like a rock.

Writers must be free to write about the kind of characters they want to write about. They should be able to write characters of every ethnicity and every diversity category at will. The ultimate end of the cultural appropriation narrative is that a Black male Gay author will have to write stories with only Black male Gay characters. And where in all the potential galaxies could a story like that realistically happen? We should react to accusations of lack-of-diversity and cultural-appropriation the way we react to a dotty old lady who says our sci-fi novel is all wrong because it has a spaceship in it and spaceships aren’t real. In other words, ignore it and write on.

Avoiding anti-male bigotry with the Reverse Bechdel Test

International symbol of masculinity

In the July/August 2018 issue of Writer’s Digest, on page 8, is an article called ‘Girl Talk’ which touts the ‘Bechdel Test’ as a way to write more feminist fiction. Yeah, ick.

The Bechdel test is actually familiar to me. It originated in a Lesbian comic strip, ‘Dykes to Watch Out For,’ that I used to read at a time I was not a Christian. I must confess it’s hard for me to take a comic-inspired test seriously.

Now, the common feminist belief is that the writing world is actively hostile to women. But there are actual genres out there that are JUST for women readers and women writers. Romance novels, chick-lit, Lesbian fiction…. there’s nothing quite like that just-for-guys. And anti-male sexism is rampant in these women-only forms of literature.

 

How many works of WOMEN’S fiction would pass a reverse Bechdel test? Here are the rules:
1. The work must have two men in it.
2. They must speak to one another.
3. They must speak about something other than a woman.

 

OK, think about the last women’s romance novel you read (traditional or Lesbian.) Who were the men in it? Did they talk to each other? About something other than a woman? I think a lot of romances wouldn’t measure up as masculinist fiction. (And if all women need to be feminists, why shouldn’t all males have to be ‘masculinist’ and let a men’s movement shape all their opinions for them?)

 

Most of the time, the men in a romance novel talk about the fictional heroine. The talk may be complimentary, or it may be harsh. If harsh, the man is probably either a villain, or the love interest who is destined to change his mind. All males in women’s fiction are destined to serve the pleasure of the female reader. Quite literally the pleasure, in the case of the misnamed ‘sexy romance’ novel. (It’s actually not romance at all, but sex fiction with a requirement for 3 full-on sex scenes per novel.)

As for Lesbian romances? Many might as well take place on a planet with an all-female population. In fact, one of the Lesbian novels I own DOES take place on a planet with an all-female population. That one would flunk the Reverse Bechdel Test bigtime.

 

But wait a minute. There are much more important tests your fiction REALLY has to pass that are about more important things than if your work rigidly conforms to this year’s ideas about ‘diversity.’ (No one has suggested a test to create ‘diverse’ fiction which portrays political conservatives, American Republicans, or prolife persons as human beings entitled to respect and a lack of bullying.)

The real test of your novel’s plot is this: Are all the actions, characters and conversations in the plot furthering the plot? If you put in a scene with two unconnected women in your thriller novel discussing how much they want Elizabeth ‘Pocahontas’ Warren for our next president, it may help your novel pass the Bechdel Test, but if it doesn’t help any of your characters find the terrorist nuclear device hidden in the center of Washington, DC, that conversation has no real place in your novel. Cut it, unless you have a readership that demands feminist ideology and doesn’t care about plot. (Sadly, there probably are no readerships that don’t care about plot.)