My world-building series takes time to craft, since I often sift through my old notes and textbooks to make sure all the information presented here is accurate. For all my readers wondering, this is why the next installment on Atmospheres and the various cycles on planets is not yet ready.
In the meantime, I can discuss instead this fascinating series by a wonderful vlogger: Anita Sarkeesian – Tropes vs. Women
She deconstructs several tropes about female characters in pop culture America in her videos, and does a much better job than anything I can write here. So my challenge for this week is for people to watch her video series.
Writing female characters that are fully developed is absolutely essential when developing a cast of characters that are highly diverse, interesting, and fully developed. It isn’t enough to just include people of color, people of varying gender identities (including non-binary genders such as gender queer, neutrois, and androgyne along with the typical male and female), and people of varying sexual orientations. You can include someone, but the hard part is making sure that you don’t fall in the trap of writing that character as a stereotype rather than as an actual, breathing, realized character.
Language holds a lot of power in our society, as I detailed in my previous entry concerning languages and world-building. When language is used to oppress, ignore, and de-legitimaze the experiences of various groups of people this can cause a ripple effect within society. As this language use continues throughout the decades, this can become internalized to the point where people began to believe the stereotypes about people of color, people who are not straight, people inside and outside the gender binary – and this in turn can lead to prejudice, systematic racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia within all areas of life, harassment, sexual assault, and even viciously violent hate crimes that end in death.
One of the first things I noticed growing up was the lack of character to which I could identify. This bothered me a lot. Some of my favorite books, where there was great adventure and in-depth plots and characterizations, had male leads – white, straight, male leads. Any females were often supportive characters if they appeared at all. A few exceptions would be Eowyn in Lord of the Rings, but despite her great strength and how fully realized she was as a character in a male dominated world, she was still just a supporting character in a tale mostly about men doing great things. In my senior year of high school, I began to realize my own sexuality and how I identified with my gender; however, being the avid reader I am, this is also around the time I began to realize that nearly all the books I read had absolutely no one that I could relate to in regards to sexuality, and there was very little characters that represented my gender that were not one-dimensional stereotypes. In fact, many of the books I read, and the socialization I received through my childhood and my time at school, lead me to believe that my sexuality (and how I viewed my own gender) was some evil, terrible thing I had to fight against, fix, and ignore. This caused great harm in my life, and although I survived it, it really forced me to realize that erasing people through literature is incredibly harmful for everyone within our society. Sadly, this topic is not something that’s discussed very often.
I started writing stories at a very young age – when I was in first grade in fact – mostly because I wanted stories that related more with not only how I viewed my gender but also allowed myself to experience the same inspiring, intricate, and/or intense adventures that male counterparts did. As I came to understand myself better over the years, this opened my eyes to the realization that who is represented in literature and the media can have a profound affect on how we view ourselves and others. It also inspired me to investigate this further to try to understand why this is, and this lead me into the realm of feminism and other aspects of social equality. Now, when I examine the stories I wish to write, I consider who these characters are and I make sure that my cast of characters are diverse. Not only do I wish to be more realistic – considering how diverse my home country is, it just makes sense to include diversity in my novels – but the world of Elivera is set in the far future where the human species is highly diverse with equality being one of the top priorities of the cultures of Elivera. If this is true, then my cast of characters must reflect this, meaning there must be people of color, people of varying gender identities, people of varying orientations, and people with or without disabilities.
If I want to fight back against the white-washing that is prevalent in our society, the cisgender male-dominated stories, and the push for straight only relationships, then I need to be coignizant of the diversity within my own writing and world-building. Learning about these issues is incredibly important, but it often takes us realizing that maybe we might have a bit more privileges than another group of people, and that privilege may be masking the true awfulness prevalent within our society. Language can play a huge role in combating that awfulness and that oppression, and language is the tools that a writer uses to craft stories (and even whole universes) as well as to influence a wide range of diverse readers.