Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Letters to Life: For the Sake of Diversity!

Dear People of Everywhere:

There's a thing in psychology. A big question. It circles pretty much everything people-related: is it nature or nurture?

I like this question. It's a good question to ask about things. Are you doing this because you are born with it in your veins, or are you doing it because you were raised with it? I don't really see other ways to the why behind any question. After all, nurture is there every time in your life; it's not a question of childhood, it's a question of environment.

For example: I'm a Baptist Christian. Happy to be one, actually. And I would guess that it might have something to do with the fact that the preschool I attended once upon a time also happens to double as my church today. Some of my earliest memories took place there: laughing and running around the playground outside, the stained glass windows of the sanctuary, the Sunday school/preschool classroom on the ground floor with its rug with the alphabet on it... happy times.

As I believe it, God gave us free will, which is why religion can be a nurture question, and not a nature question.

What does this have to do with anything? I assume that you don't visit this blog to listen to my religious views. (Really, though, it's about all my views. Including my religious views.) This example is just a lead-up to my main point.

Which, I suppose, goes along the lines of: why judge people on a matter of nature, when there are things to disagree with about nurture?

Not that I'm advocating prejudice of any kind. But I realize that wariness over differences can almost be counted as nature nowadays. We are nurtured from such a young age over trivial things, that it really can seem like nature. (See toy advertising words and gendered culture.)

When I say "trivial things," I mean by my perspective. The broad things, like gender and sexual orientation and skin color. That prejudice is taught from a very early age indeed. (I mean, have you ever walked down a children's toys aisle? All pink down one side, all blue down the other. It's disturbing. I preferred the gender-neutral libraries as a kid.) Not to say they are trivial to everyone, just that they are not the small, everyday things like how someone's voice is pitched at just that most annoying pitch, and that song that you hate is that person's favorite song. I pay attention to those smaller things. (I don't talk to people often, so really, by "trivial", I mean the things I don't keep an opinion on when I meet you. I keep an opinion only on whether you've annoyed me by interrupting my reading for a reason I don't care about.)

In books, you see things pretty clearly. How many times do we rip on Bella for being a weak, clingy, obsessive girl? And then think that perhaps the story would've been better if it was Edward's. (Or at least, that's what I do. I'm ashamed to say, sexist culture sneaks into my brain sometimes, too.)

I can think of many instances. One time, I was at B&N with my mom (who pays for the books I buy), and she refused to let me buy one about a boy who was gay-bashed. The MC wasn't even the gay boy; it was a female friend of the gay boy. (Of course, that was awhile ago and I can't remember its title or price; but my mother is of the "love the sinner, hate the sin" camp. I do imagine that sexual orientation was a factor.)

Now, gender, sexual orientation, skin color -- these are nature things. Not nurture. The only "nurture" thing about it is the way you look at it. I would hope I am such a tolerant, open-minded person because I have read all sorts of books since kindergarten. I would suspect people who are misogynistic are that way because either: a.) they have been actively taught that; or b.) because they honestly think society is already equal, and therefore misogyny can't exist. 

These things should not matter. It's just the way we're born. It's us who have made this matter.

Keep in mind I'm a teenager and not exactly an expert, but do I have to be? Even toddlers can tell the difference between nature and nurture. How ridiculous would it sound if someone told you that you chose the wrong skin color? (Don't get me started on tanning booths, whitewashing on YA covers, or any other such hogwash.)

So, why is so hard to find these natural things in books? It's not so bad, I gather, here in 2013. I will actively seek out books with a different culture, a woman protagonist, or a LGBTQ protag (I'm pretty sure there are more letters in there somewhere...), so I couldn't tell you about a dearth of them. But I know that the quality of them can be gosh-awful, a lot more than books about straight white guys might be. Particularly when it comes to sex.

Or perhaps it's not bad writing, per se, just harsher judgement from the reader. I don't know. But, as the title of this post implies, I would imagine it's the former, there being some need nowadays to toss in diversity, but seemingly no reason to write it well. Any subtle sexism or racism can be blamed on the character in question -- "It's not that she's a girl, it's her character." Which is a terrible argument, considering that an author (while character's character seems like an imaginary friend who chooses their own personality) does have a small ounce of control over how s/he expresses that character.

Well, so... readers' harsher judgment might be part of that. We will point out anything perceived as weak. Not all of us, not with every character. But it's there.

If the world were up to me, there would be an easy solution: focus on and develop such diverse characters as you do the straight white guy characters. Readers would then love them, because they are good characters. Unfortunately, the world is not up to me, and people will believe whatever they want to about a certain character -- or not believe at all, as the case may be.

Thankfully, there are diverse characters we can all love and hope for a better literary future because of: Hermione Granger, Holly Short (who does happen to be a POC, even if she's whitewashed in the graphic novels), Eona... (I'm having trouble coming up with LGBTQ characters. I avoid romance on principle, and I somehow think that LGBTQ ended a rather small niche in mainstream genre fiction, anyways, thanks to culture.)

I am one author. Not even published yet. But I know, quite deeply, that I will never consciously add a character in just for the sake of diversity. And, considering the fact I write epic YA fantasy, I have a feeling that most of my main characters will be diverse, and complex because of their diversity. I strongly believe that differences unite us all the more.

This one author here, will do her best to help diverse characters become real. I can only hope others will follow suit; and that maybe, just maybe -- in some distant future -- my words and worlds will help a change for the better for diversity,without making diversity seem like a cheap character trick that needs to tossed in due to social movements.

JDM -- daydreamer, fantasy writer, avid reader.

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