Dear (Jackass) Just because I’m a woman, don’t assume I’m talking about women all the damn time.

Dear Jackass,

When I talk about increasing diversity, or problematic tropes, or the state of publishing today, you always assume I’m talking about women.

If I say, “using alien space hookers in your story is a tired old trope that came out of a time when SF writers hid their racism by attributing negative stereotypes to aliens instead of non-whites”, you assume I’m upset that you portrayed women as prostitutes.

If I say publishing should use blind submissions, because it’s been proven to increase the diversity of authors, you assume I want quotas for women.

If I say your space opera movie about a platoon of soldiers fighting alien bugs isn’t diverse enough considering the source material, you point out the two white women who play supporting roles.

Yes, having women in a book or film that is otherwise populated by men is slightly more diverse than one where there are only men. And yes, because I am a woman, I would like to see myself in some of the characters portrayed in my fiction. But you do know that “diversity” means more than slapping breasts on a white guy and thinking you’ve satasified me, right? Why should science fiction, of all genres–the one where we talk about the future and human potential and evolution of both man and machine–be struggling so hard to find acceptance for anyone who doesn’t look like Casper Van Dien*?

You want to use prostitution in your SF as a way to talk about the problematic roles forced on women by the men in their lives? Sure, go ahead. I’ve done it myself. But make the hookers human and let the aliens have some positive characteristics for once.

You want to write a novel about an army of clones serving their God-Emperor as he fights to expand the Empire? Okay, fine. But do they need to be clones of Jason Statham? Base your soldiers off the best fighters and athletes on the planet right now, since that’s what anyone actually building a clone army would do. Chances are your future scientists are going to pick people like Michael Jordan, Haile Gebrselassie, Paula Radcliffe, Jet Li, Christiane Justino, Ji-Hyun Park…

And diversity in publishing means picking the best writing regardless of who submits it, which is what blind submissions gives you. It’s not about setting a quota for how many of what kind of people you “must” let in. It’s about making sure the door is wide open for everyone in the first place.

I don’t want to less women in SF. More would be better, since twice as many strong female characters who aren’t there just to serve as a romantic interest for the main character would be, let’s see, carry the 4… About 1% of the fictional people in SF. I think we can handle a few more without the universe collapsing. But that’s not the whole of the problem, so increasing the number of white women in your book isn’t the whole of the solution.

Do me a favor. If you could, from now on, pick one character in your otherwise-white story and make them a person of color, that would be a great start. Just make sure that every time you write a story, at least one person is something other than the straight/white/male default. If you have 10 or more characters in your story, make another one of them QUILTBAG, too. Two people out of ten. That’s all I’m asking. Even if your story is only 20% more diverse than it was before, IT’S BETTER THAN IT WAS BEFORE, because it more accurately reflects the world we live in and the future we’re going to live in.

If everyone writing SF got 20% more accurate than they are right now, you couldn’t say we’re ruining SF with our calls for diversity, could you?

* I swear, if they make another Starship Troopers movie where Johnny Rico isn’t a Filipino or at least an Asian living in Brazil, I will set something on fire.

6 thoughts on “Dear (Jackass) Just because I’m a woman, don’t assume I’m talking about women all the damn time.

  1. “Yes, having women in a book or film that is otherwise populated by men is slightly more diverse than one where there are only men. And yes, because I am a woman, I would like to see myself in some of the characters portrayed in my fiction.”

    You allude to something that I wish more authors would realize: having more diverse characters in your works would probably make one’s work more appealing to a wider audience, possibly increasing one’s sales. Sales is why we do this, right?

  2. According to the director of Starship Troopers, Paul Verhoeven, he wanted to satirize what he interpreted as the book’s overtly fascist and pro-military stance by giving the material the look and feel of Nazi Germany. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine why Casper van Dien was cast, as opposed to, say, someone so obviously non-Aryan in appearance.

    Not that I disagree with your overall point.

    • To be fair, that’s according to Verhoevan after the film tanked and he started explaining how it was meant to be ironic and no one understood his genius.

      But he didn’t start the trend; an 80s Japanese anime version has Rico as a blonde Argentinian, based on a bad read of the book (they assumed he was Argentinian because his mother died in the attach on Buenos Aires, and the blond thing is because… I have no idea.)

      • Also, to be fair, the film does employ Verhoeven’s trademark imagery and themes, which have been recurring since the 1980s. I can imagine the film being as it was when he found it, and he fitted it to suit his own vision. It’s extremely obvious, for example, that Neil Patrick Harris is fashioned after a Nazi officer, among other highly specific, post-scriptwriting choices that reflect Hitler’s Germany. Verhoeven has also written and directed films about WWII Germany both before and after Starship Troopers. As a Chinese-Cambodian, I can grasp the concept of whitewashed heroes with more fluency than I care for. But here, I have little doubt this was a clear case of a trashy artist retrofitting material to be, at least, superior to that it’s originators (studio execs) intended.

        As for anime…let’s just come out and say it: it’s a medium in love with Europeans. I’m sure you’re aware the characters are supposed to look neutral and without a specific national identity. But of course they look white, and are surrounded by cozy, mid-century European cottages. Or in general an environment that represents an ideal between Japanese and European cultures. Brown or black people, or other cultures, are depicted only when it’s clear a foreign land is being depicted. This style is the backbone of Studio Ghibli. Of course, not all anime (or manga) employs this well-established style. It just happens to be the most popular. All in all, I never could shake the suspicion that it’s a more subversive case of whitewashing.

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