May 23, 2013

Writers' Responsibilities

As many of you know, I'm pretty outspoken on issues of discrimination, particularly when it comes to how people of particular gender, sexual orientation, race, and religion are depicted in fiction.

Yesterday I read an amazing piece by Kameron Hurley about how stereotypes have become so ingrained in our minds that we can't conceive of a world where those stereotypes are wrong, even when faced with proof that they really are wrong.

This led my friend and fellow author, Celine Kiernan, to direct me to a similar article by Foz Meadows. This goes further to reveal how society has chronically ignored the roles played by women throughout history.

Women have been soliders, teachers, philosophers, scientists, explorers, rulers, and contributed in every way we commonly associate only with men. I can't imagine what happened to us that we started separating out contributions to civilisation by gender. Why do we need courses in Womens' Studies to learn that women have been just as important in history as men? Why do bookstores need "Womens' Fiction" shelves? Why does Wikipedia have one page for "American Authors" and another page for "Female American Authors"?

When did women stop being people, and start being "female people"?

I don't have answers to these questions. What I do have is a pair of wonderful daughters who deserve to grow up in a world where their accomplishments don't have to be qualified by their sex. To have an education, and careers where "Oh, and she's a woman" doesn't have to be appended to the goals they achieve.

I've often spoken about how entertainment can change the world, and how people view it. I may not know how we got to the state we're in, but I do know that it can change. Authors can turn expected conventions on their heads, writing characters who accomplish great things, not in spite of their gender, nor even because of their gender. But where their gender is just one more aspect of their character. Where all characters are people first, not solely defined by gender or racial stereotypes.

This is one of the reasons I love writing the kinds of books I do. In fantasy, action and adventure, I have every chance to play with convention, to challenge expectations in new and interesting ways.

It might be a simplistic way of looking at the problem, but I find that the simplest solutions are often the ones that stand the test of time. I have no illusions of writing a book that will change the world, but if every book I write manages to touch just one person and inspire them, then I've made a difference.

I believe writers have a responsibility to challenge themselves and their readers to re-examine their outlook. Ask why you expect a hero to look or act a certain way. Could you change it? What amazing stories could we tell if we stepped out of our comfort zones just once in a while?

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