Episode 78: Intersectional Lady Chains



We got a little more real than either of us expected.

Topics Discussed and/or Spoiled

Yik-Yak, Academy Awards, Room, Intersectionality, Pre-peeled oranges, James Nicoll Reviews, Hermione Granger, Flint, Hamilton, Civil War, Moving and Microaggressions, Stay At Home Dads, White Supremacy Credit Card, Fun Simon Pegg Movie, Farscape, TNC, Broderick Greer, Christena Cleveland, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Sofia Samatar, and Debs and Errol.

Our outro is Debs & Errol’s Pachelbel’s Song

Geekually Yoked is a proud member of the Crossover Nexus

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5 Responses to Episode 78: Intersectional Lady Chains

  1. Rachel Kolar says:

    Writing With Color has been an indispensable resource for me. I like that the mods cover a wide variety of backgrounds–there are several races, religions represented as well as some disabled women. The sections on describing POC skin without using food words and describing black hair in particular are pretty much required reading for writers of POC charactesr. My protagonist has a lot of bad hair days (being a werewolf and waking up in the woods every month will do that to you), but I had no idea how loaded it was to use words like “messy” or “unkempt” to describe black hair. The hair guide shows me how I can describe a black girl’s bad hair day in a way that’s both less offensive AND more specific–her hair isn’t “messy” after her night running wild under the full moon, her dreadlocks are seriously fraying and a few of them have managed to tie themselves in a giant knot that’ll take her hours to pick out. (Also, they’ve been really handy in how to write a werewolf story that has a diverse cast but doesn’t imply that POCs are animalistic, which was a headache. Every character in my story with agency is a werewolf, so it’s either have some animal-like POCs or have no POCs with agency. God bless, Writing With Color.)

    On a related note, it’s been an interesting crash course in intersectionality trying to write a proactive, capable black protagonist whose romantic subplot is a relatively minor part of the story without writing a Strong Black Woman Who Doesn’t Need a Man.

  2. Rachel Kolar says:

    Also, whenever I get some free time, I have a whole mini-essay in my head about the intersection of GLBT Street and I Believe And Profess All That The Holy Catholic Church Teaches, Believes And Proclaims To Be Revealed By God Lane. (Short version: it’s hella frustrating to have intersecting identities that are seen as mutually exclusive by both the left and the right, unless they intersect in a single specific way that doesn’t reflect me at all.)

  3. Glynis Schumacher says:

    You guys talked about a lot of interesting stuff in this, and it sort of touches on some very interesting conversations I have witness go on in the YA author community and how it connects to intersectionality from the creative side. (Not because these issues are somehow specific to Young Adults, but more because there was the right hashtag at the right time to bring on the conversation.) A lot of really great stuff happened as a result of the ongoing campaign #WeNeedDiverseBooks, but I think it also revealed some complications as well. The root of the matter came in the seriously intense back and forth on the place of white (and male) writers in the movement for diversity. The idea that an increase in diversity in YA fiction was needed was pretty much unanimous, and yet how to achieve that end was hotly contested with opinions as extreme as “white authors shouldn’t write about POC because they don’t know what they’re talking about and it that is only putting a band aid on the call for REAL diverse voices” on one side and “So I can’t write about Lesbians being sad (Dead Lesbians Trope), and I can’t write about Lesbians being happy (Perfect Gay Relationship Trope)–there is no story and I can’t write about Lesbians” on the other. The hashtag was so successful in bringing awareness and even in promoting diverse authors in the community, but the discussion around this was so obviously a mess to me. “We need diverse books” it seemed to say “but only from diverse authors who need to have their characters normalized in the setting while also being true and specific to the experience of the race/sexuality/disability while also not being defined by any of them. Did I mention that the white/cis/able/straight audience needs to not pigeonhole diverse protagonists, but white/cis/able/straight writers need to stay in their lane and not write them?” Its an insane standard.

    Untangling what was really going on took me weeks of reading the discussion and analyzing who was saying what and why. And I was not alone in my confusion, after this began I started noticing threads on writing discussion forums from all sorts of young writers popping up using phrases like “Is it OK to…” “I’m afraid that…” “Is it against the rules to…” to talk about making diverse characters. The Hashtag campaign brought into the light this pre-existing anxiety in young writers who want to help and don’t know how and simultaneously made their roles more confused and anxiety inducing. Intersectionality became almost a monstrous demon to some people, because it meant that there was no aspect of character in which it was “safe” to experiment. (Or else raised a perception of double standard wherein a white disabled author might still be criticized for writing about a protagonist of color, while a Korean American author might or might not be praised for writing about a disabled character because their status as a diverse author was more “obvious”) And frankly it’s really awful to be in a position where you are being told there is a problem in your media and that the only way you can help is by relinquishing your mantel as a creator of that medium. It’s hard, it’s confusing, and I don’ think it’s even helpful.

    For most of my creative life I have thought that dark skin was cool. This is very abstracted from any understanding of race or social distinction because I was young and I lived in central Ohio miles away from any other race than my own. I thought it looked better, so I used it. This meant that so often I was creating characters who were Latina, or African American or Asian, without even thinking about the fact that maybe these looks might come with cultural consequences of that race. On the one hand my use of race aesthetically is exactly the sort of thing that some people call “blackwashing” and argue against vehemently as sort of fake representation or even appropriation. On the other hand, my second real romp into writing fantasy involved a Latina character and a Biracial kid going on a romp into a world of dark-skinned elves in search of a morally ambiguous white antagonist. And I did it all because I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to. Was the story perfect? By no means. But maybe that’s part of the point of why Diversity is so needed. If every time an Indian character, or a blind character, or a trans character shows up they have to be unassailable representation, we won’t have any such characters at all. Furthermore, it’s not like we hold white/male/cis/able characters to the same standard.

    I think that intersectionality is an excellent theory to highlight places where creators might be weak on representation, as well as highlighting that there are more axes of character creation than might initially occur to you at the time. (Did you know that you can’t just create an Asian character or a deaf character–you can also create an Asian Deaf Character?) Because of my use of aesthetic race, I often have a fairly racially diverse cast in my projects, because of my gender I often include lots of important female characters, and I’m pretty “sure, why not” when it comes to sexuality–but I have never been very good at including disabled or neuro-atypical characters or even realistic trans or non-binary characters. (This seems like it might be odd coming off the comment last time but again, the fantastic gender games I am playing are basically fundamentally founded in the apathy of the immortals involved. They are not real people, they do not act like it.) I am aware of these flaws mostly because of the internet and my peripheral experience of this interesting, complex and often heated discussion. At the same time, the same rhetoric makes my friend sometimes afraid to move forward on his diverse cast project or even afraid to make it more diverse for fear of getting it “wrong” and being crucified for it. (Or worse, that even his attempts to be more diverse will be unwelcome.)

    I have come to the conclusion that there are really 2 fundamental issues in diversity, and so often their rhetoric and solutions get mixed up into the same conversation confusing everyone.
    1) We need more diverse voices in the community of creators so that all sorts of neglected stories get told, and we need to listen to and really engage with those stories. (YA is a female dominated genre, so why are male authors disproportionately lauded in it?)
    2) Diverse readers need to be able to see themselves in the stories that already exist. It needs to be absolutely ubiquitous that diverse characters exist and live in fictional worlds. This is the one that you talk about the The Room doing so well, and one that any and every creator has a clear path to contribute to.

    In the end Black Hermione might not be diversity triumphant, but diversity will never truly exist until Hermione can be black and no one cares.

    • Leeman says:

      Yeah, you definitely touch on a lot of points and show how you don’t necessarily need to have a masters in the subject to cotton to the need for diverse voices and diverse representation. So often we see a push-back against that very need before we even get into the reeds of what entails good representation.

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