PSA: This post will probably be longer and rambly-er than my usual posts, but I
hope promise? it’ll be worth it!
So, a little while ago, there was a bit of a shit-storm on book-Twitter. Usually, when I comment on drama like that, I leave it on Twitter. But, in this case, my thoughts are a little too big for 280 characters, so now, you all get the pleasure of seeing my thoughts on an issue that seems to pop up again and again in the book world.
So, without any further ado, here’s my two cents on the whole issue.
These are just my thoughts about the diversity discussion that keeps coming up. I am in no way an expert, so feel free to correct me if you think I got something wrong.
For those of you who may not be aware, a little while
months ago, there was a girl on Twitter who posted that she would only include diversity in her stories if it served a purpose, not just to be “thrown in,” because “the whole world isn’t diverse.” To which a lot of people, including myself, said, “What the actual eff?!” Since then, I have seen so many authors get shit for “using” diversity to get published, whether it be because the author themselves are from a marginalised group of people or because they include an “unnecessarily diverse” cast of characters. And honestly, I am so sick of seeing this same BS pop up again and again.
Here’s the thing: Diversity does not “serve a purpose.” People who have faced hardship because of their race, sexual orientation, mental illness, gender, or any other marginalised reason haven’t done so because it served a purpose or because these things helped complete someone else’s story. People have their own stories to write, stories that deserve to be heard, and they’ve been dealt enough stupid comments without someone saying that they shouldn’t exist without serving a specific purpose.
Also, the whole world is diverse, I don’t think it’s asking too much for our books to reflect that. Saying characters shouldn’t have diverse qualities unless they’re useful is erasing so many voices and stories simply because you find them inconvenient. (Also, who the hell are you to decide who is “useful?” Because being straight and white isn’t “serve a purpose” either, but here I am.)
Diversity is a necessity! It is so, SO critical that people feel that they’re seen, that they’re important, that their identity is valid and deserves to be recognized, and that people they identify with can achieve incredible things! Even adults need to be reminded of this
always once in a while; don’t try to deny people that validation simply because you can’t see how it benefits you.
Growing up, I was a huge tomboy. Part of this was because I grew up with brothers, but part of it was because most of the media I consumed didn’t have the best representations of women. They almost always fell into one of two categories: Either they were the helpless princess in need of saving, or they were the kick-ass lady who could take care of herself, but had no feminine qualities to speak of. And I couldn’t see myself in either of them.
I saw Disney Princesses I adored constantly wait around to be rescued, and knew I wanted no part in that. I saw Princess Leia save herself time and again, but never really exhibit any traditionally feminine qualities, and I didn’t think I could be kick-ass all the time. I thought I found a hero in Padme Amidala. Until Episode III came out, and Padme, who had prevented wars, who had fought to save her people, who always endorsed kindness over violence, but never shied away from a fight, literally GAVE UP ON LIFE because her man had changed sides.
I was devastated! All this worked together to tell me that I could be nurturing, or I could be strong. I could be a leader, or I could experience emotions. I could be independent or I could be feminine. But never both.
And then, in high school, I started watching Star Trek: Voyager. There are a lot of Star Trek fans that say Voyager is the worst series. I’ll admit, it’s not perfect, but I’ll probably defend it till the day I die.
One of the biggest reasons was that this series featured the first female captain in any Star Trek series. And they nailed it!
Captain Janeway feels loss, loneliness, fear, heartbreak, and doubts herself at times, but through all of this she still has the unwavering loyalty of her crew, and rightly so! She exhibits incredible leadership and works hard to earn their trust, even as her femininity remains intact. I was hooked!
There are a few other characters that contributed (Seven of Nine, B’lanna Torres), and it may sound cheesy, but this series was part of the reason I was able to enter college with so much confidence. I had finally seen characters who exhibited both incredible femininity, while also remaining strong leaders and respected friends. I had seen characters embody who I wanted to be, and knew that I could become that, too.
If these character had been men, would the outcome of the series have been affected? Probably not, meaning this bit of gender diversity didn’t “serve a purpose” to the story. But I clung to it anyways, because I had finally seen myself reflected in TV characters. I had finally found role models in media, fictional as they were.
And I’m a straight white girl who’s only dealt with mild depression.
I could be picky about which characters I wanted to represent me, because there are multiple straight white girls on TV and in books and movies for me to choose from. There are people who don’t have that same privilege. POC characters are regularly harmed for no real reason. Series showing the LGBTQA+ community are often deemed too “graphic” or too “controversial” to be shown. Characters with mental health problems are often written as dangerous criminals. There are people looking for the same thing I was, with a much smaller chance of finding it.
We are just now barely even beginning to fix uneven representation, and you want it to stop because it’s not convenient for your story? That’s possibly the worst idea I’ve heard in a while, and Donald Trump is president, so there’s real competition for “Worst Idea 2k18.”
So please, for all our sakes, stop acting like diversity is just a trend, or that it only serves a purpose to those who know how to “use” it. We all deserve better than that. We all can be better than that.
Thanks for reading!
What about you? What thoughts can you add to this topic? Are there any movies, TV shows, or books you feel have great representation? Was there anything that made you feel like, “YES! I can finally see myself in a character on the screen/in the pages? Let me know in the comments below!