Via facebook I was directed to this entry over at VIDA. It’s a good read.
Okay now as I’ve said before one of the biggest problems when it comes to representation not just in literature but in any media is privilege.
In this case, I’m using it to mean the privilege of being the norm or what is considered the norm.
In literature, the norm is the usually fairly well educated, work worn male genius. He is trouble, he might be an asshole, he might be mentally ill, he might be highly prolific or only write a book ever ten years, he might be super good looking whatever.
This faceless Dude is the literary canon whether or not he deserves it or wants it.
Here is a fact of life whether it is in literature or in TV or every day life. If the only thing you need to do to be considered the average, the normal, the expected is be a White dude half your battle is won.
When it comes to literature this Dude is the history of literature, this Dude is the bar by which other literary works are measured, this Dude is The. Dude. Who is all important and all wise and we should all aspire to if not be like him, at the very least we should be worshipful because he is it.
Problem number one if we are going to be honest.
If we are measuring the subjective nature of what a “good” story is, it must make sense within the framework of The Dude’s universe. If a Good story must make sense in his universe, women doing things that don’t revolve around him, stories about people who are not White Dudes in peril, or stories that have no Dudes in them, stories that are about the intimacy between women, or People of Color can’t exist because The Dude has no need to either think about those things or understand them. It is The Dude’s universe.
That being what it is, the rest of us are shoveled into almost but not quite literary boxes. If I write a story about a woman trying to give herself a pelvic exam because she is say in a panic about feeling something weird in her vagina. This story would be put into the Dubious Women’s Lit category. Now in The Dude’s universe where women are for fucking and being understanding and being Mommies, and being hot and maybe writing about sex but only if they are young and attractive, this story can’t be good can it? In that universe, it does not work because The Dude is excluded. The vagina in the story is not there for his gaze, it’s not meant to give him a boner, it exists in a realm completely outside of The Dude.
Now, if we were going on the premise that The Dude is trying really hard to notice those of us who are not Dudes like him, he could say well I read it but it’s just not interesting, it’s not good, people don’t want to read about weird feelings in vaginas, so I won’t publish this.
In that definition of people, what about people who have vaginas? Or might have had weird feelings in them and would be into this story? The Dude would say, well there’s women’s lit. This is a Woman Story. I Do not Understand or feel it so, whatever.
I’m being hyperbolic I know.
Stay with me.
The main point is that those who are considered to be a part of what is Normal and Usual have to make the effort. Asserting that those outside of that norm are those who are responsible for inserting themselves into the norm is ridiculous but the idea persists.
The problem with that in the literary world is that, if you are not the owner of the press or magazine, you have zero power in the equation unless you are already very famous.
Let’s not bullshit each other. Yes, you can self publish, you can start your own press, you can do all sorts of DIY things but, not all of us have the time skill nor inclination.
The simple fact is a lot of us who are standing in the Other circle, just want to be read.
Some of us myself included are pretty much over and done with the idea of The Dude and his ilk being the arbiter of our art. Frankly if The Dudes of the literary world think my work is stupid and they hate it, that’s fine. It’s not for them.
There are others of us however who really want to be in The Dude’s world and that’s fine too. What’s not fine is that those people, they are often unwelcome.
Or they are told they are welcome but in The Dude’s world there is no outward sign of that welcome and frankly, none of us take The Dude’s word for it.
How to change it?
The steps towards making the literary world less about The Dude and his ilk are pretty simple but very difficult to actually do because it’s unsteady footing for the Dude and his kind.
Here’s another short list.
- Stop talking about how diverse your tastes are. Especially if the only Other voices you talk about liking are shit you had to read in Grad school or the most famous of the famous Others just shut your mouth. Shut up. Stop talking about it like that one book you read by a brown lady is your one Black friend. Don’t.
- Understand that while “good” is subjective, good does not have to mean it makes sense in the world and universe of The Dude. Begin to unravel your own ideas of goodness as expressed by things you can relate to on a personal level. Embrace the Other lives and voices that no, no you won’t get them on a gut level most likely but that’s okay. It is.
- If you are really not in a position to enjoy the Other, hire someone who can. Guest editors, guest readers, expand your peer base as it pertains to people who are not hovering in or lodged in The Dude’s Universe.
- If you want to say your publishing house/magazine whatever is diverse, be honest about that. Is it really? What doesn’t count is the one time you had a Black History Month special issue or the time you did a Lady issue. That’s a start but that doesn’t do shit to solve the problem.
- If you are not in a position to do these things, expand your own reading verse. Read things you might not normally. If you can google, you can read. If you can read, you can find all of us who are the Other. I have faith in you Dude, you are smart.
At the end of it all, all of this for me personally is kind of mastubatory. I don’t have the kind of faith in the literary world that means I will hold onto hope of big change. That isn’t to say I don’t pay attention or want the change, I am just in a place where I don’t believe my own future is dependent on The Dude’s of the lit world accepting me. If you feel like your future is that’s okay too.
That was a lot of things I just said there and didn’t intend to. Now that I have it out, I’m going to go work on some things and try to get out some new submissions. What do y’all think of all this?