Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Experience of Diversity (and the blindness of privilege)

Last year I made a vow to myself that I would only read books written by authors who were not straight white men. By and large, with two explicit exceptions, I was successful in my goal. And I learned a bunch of things.

The first (and most important) thing I learned is that my reading habits were already moderately diverse; I made a list of ten of my favourite authors and nine of them were women, so I didn't really have to give up on anyone that I was particularly invested in.

The second thing I learned was that my "historical read" list is actually pretty white/straight/male, though; I often go back and read a book again for comfort's sake, to go over familiar territory and comfortable writing and try and find something new or at least interesting. That means I haven't been doing a bunch of rereading and that led to...

The third thing I learned, which is there are a LOT of non-cishetwhitemale writers in SF, both historically and especially currently. Just looking at the last two years of Hugo winners was a good starting point, but I've also been involved in a queer SF/F book club and that has been really eye-opening in terms of the depth of the bench where authors are concerned these days.

The fourth thing I learned, though, is that I am still blinded by privilege. I have a book by an author that I absolutely adore; it's Not Your Standard Fantasy Setting and I was very engaged and involved in the characters and their plights. The second book also features a female protagonist and I went on and on about how cool she is and how much agency she has, especially as a middle-aged woman (which is not by any means a standard protagonist in fantasy). What I managed to completely miss was that the internalized misogyny of the novel and the characters within it, with a bunch of implicit and explicit sexualized violence hanging over the heads of all the women in the book. Truthfully, I thought I was aware of that sort of thing, and I try to be careful about recommending work with troublesome aspects, but I was just completely blind to it. Which, yes, is a Privilege that comes from being a man and not having to deal with that sort of thing basically all the time.

The good news is, my friend called this out to me, and I've been able to reexamine my experiences and get better at seeing things I didn't see before. And there are lots and lots of authors and books that don't include that sort of background radiation in their stories.

So I'm going to follow my vow of 2014 with a vow of 2015: to read more diverse work, including more work by non-white authors, and try and read at least some work in translation (The Three-Body Problem, I'm looking at you!). And I'm going to try and be a better curator for my book club. Because those peeps be awesome, yo.