Monday, December 11, 2017

The Line is Not Moving

I saw a thing that has stuck with me. Someone was discussing that a book that was called out for problematic portrayals had been researched, and that had been reviewed by a sensitivity reader and still, on publication, called out as portraying problematic stereotypes. They said if all that wasn't enough anymore, how was an author to keep up.  I think this person meant well.  But this is a misunderstanding of the goal.  In my opinion, the goal is to produce books that wherever possible are free of unintentional problematic portrayals.  There are many different roads to doing this, but in the end the finished product is what the readers judge.
Anyone in a client facing job knows that the customer is rarely appeased to learn that you had these safety checks or quality assurance measures in place, if their tea tastes like coffee they want a new tea.  Knowing what the establishment is going to do (or not do) for next time helps, but it doesn't solve the drink in front of us.
And I know it's not easy, we've all absorbed a lot of problematic things over the years, gotten used to hearing that women don't make sense, that fat people are inches away from death, that folks in the US not speaking English must be brand new and zillions of other harmful stereotypes.  That's why I reflexively tensed up watching "Mad Max: Fury Road" when I realized most of the women were wearing white and saw a hose, I expected that in this moment - even in this world where water was a precious commodity, they would soak all the girls so folks in the audience could oopsie, see more of them. And they didn't. 
But it's easy, and often lauded to make use of some of these expected moments.
The difference now, is that social media makes it faster for the folks disappointed to reach you.  And yes, you can't listen to everyone, and you can't make everyone happy. That doesn't mean that those complaining aren't right either though.  If your intention as an author isn't clear on the page, that's a craft problem, not a changing reader expectations problem.