James Harrington has a great post today on the issues in over-emphasizing equality issues. My favorite point is that forcing a writer to include more diverse characters that don’t match his experience can result in one-dimensional caricatures that are more offensive than leaving out that minority group entirely.
This is something I’ve seen, not only in writing, but also movie-making, and comic books. It’s something I can say that I’m guilty of as well. What do I mean when I say we cater to the PC (Politically Correct) crowd? Well… honestly, we spend a lot of time concerned with the ethnicity of our […]
This also fits alongside another issue with exaggerated political correctness that I’ve mentioned a few times in the past (including at lunch today with university professor friend who is my favorite outlet for some good academic discussion). We seem to have come to a point where the quest for equality and inclusion is actually excluding some characters from certain roles. A woman being kidnapped is a damsel in distress, and that’s sexist. A female sidekick is relegating the girl to a secondary position – also sexist. But if we don’t allow females in these positions because it’s automatically sexist, isn’t that another form of sexism? Are we saying a woman can never be captured by the bad guy or help her male friend do something amazing? Yes, it’s a problem if it becomes a trope or isn’t part of a larger picture that includes female protagonists as well, but, hey, statistically sometimes even the strong hero (who happens to be female) gets captured – and that’s okay, even if she has to be rescued. It happens to the male heroes, too. And when people mention, for example, that Hermione Granger is a stereotypical female sidekick, I think “What about Ron? And what about the prevalence of strong female protagonists in YA literature these days?” Removing females as a supporting characters and only allowing them to be main characters is the opposite of diversity.
Creating a more diverse cast of characters can be done very well, but it has to be just a part of the story – something that just is, and that’s all. I’m white, so I can’t comment on racial issues with this, but as a woman I can say there are things that feel like pandering. Just putting a female in a male role is fine, and can be done really well. Doing so when it doesn’t fit the project, doesn’t feel like a realistic portrayal, or doesn’t add to the story in some way – in other words, doing it just to do it – is annoying and patronizing. Making it a big deal that the character is now female is also annoying and patronizing. I have friends who feel the same way about issues of gender and sexuality. It only feels inclusive if you don’t make a big deal about having it there. Otherwise, it’s more about the creators saying “Look at how wonderfully inclusive we are!” And trust me, your audience can tell when you’ve added a token black man or made Macbeth a woman just because you thought it would get attention.
There’s also a downside to randomly inserting ethnic characters into Western European fairy tales, such as what James mentioned with Disney’s The Princess and the Frog. When it’s done well, with well-written characters and without too much emphasis on differences, and with changes that make sense with both the story and real experiences, it’s great. And it’s important that everyone have characters they can identify with and that those characters are included in a shared culture. But is that the best we can do? It sometimes seems like we are honoring the majority’s culture and graciously letting the minorities participate. Instead of only trying to find ways to add diverse characters to Western European stories, why don’t we actually look at different cultures and embrace some of those stories, too? That would be truly inclusive and create a real cultural dialog. Not to mention it would be fun, and there’s a bountiful array of material to work with.
There was a time where we had to shout that “Yes, we are including this gender/race/religion/sexuality/disability!” We had to include characters of different backgrounds in visible ways, and sometimes that meant adding them just to add them. That attention was important in making the larger point and gaining visibility. But we are starting to move past that and understand that true inclusiveness means accepting all of these things as normal components of our lives. Creating authentic characters and treating them as normal occurrences in our entertainment media is part of that. And that includes not choosing a character’s traits just to add diversity.