Posts Tagged ‘Prejudice’

It’s been a rough day. Let’s talk the intricacies and difficulties of writing fiction!

I often like to talk like a know-it-all on this blog, but let’s face it, there’s still things I could be better at. Or that I think I could be better at. One of those things is themes. Most stories have them: Harry Potter has destiny vs. fate, prejudice, and our relationship with death; The Shawshank Redemption is about finding hope in a hopeless place, learning to survive and even find ways to thrive in harsh conditions, and, of course, redemption; and The Very Hungry Caterpillar is about how the inevitability of change crafted by thousands of years of evolution and the incessant need to feed to support the process.

Okay, that last one is a huge stretch, but you get the idea. Plenty of stories have deeper meanings and commentaries wrapped into them, like several candle wicks wrapped together to form a new and beautiful candle. Some of these stories are written with the theme in mind, while others arise during the writing of the story. And depending on the kind of story, it can seem odd if a story does or doesn’t have a theme (I wouldn’t expect one from any variation of The Three Little Pigs, but I would expect plenty of thematic elements in an Anne Rice novel).

But how well you carry the theme can vary sometimes. It’s like carrying a tune: sometimes you’re able to do it well, sometimes it varies depending on the tune, and some people, like me, can’t carry a tune that well at all (though that never stops me when there’s a karaoke party going on). With some of the stories I’ve been working on lately, I’ve been trying to figure out how well I carry the themes written into them. And after a lot of thought, I’ve come to the realization that authors are probably not the best people to judge their own work.

Which is probably why we have beta readers and editors, now that I think about it.

With Rose, there’s a big theme of toxic masculinity, especially in the latest draft, that becomes more and more apparent as the story goes on. That theme kind of arose on its own while I wrote and edited and re-edited the story, and I like to think I carry it very well in the book,* though at times I wonder if I’m being a little too obvious with it. Meanwhile, in this novella I’m working on now, there’s a pretty obvious theme about the perils of racism. I’m not too sure how I’m carrying it, if maybe the angle I’m going for or just the way I carry it is the problem.

Then again, some really good stories do go about exploring racism without being subtle at all. Heck, sometimes that’s the point. A Raisin in the Sun makes no attempt to hide what it’s about. And the novel The Help by Kathryn Stockett has been criticized about how it portrays and explores race relations (as well as who’s writing it), but it still gets its point across very well. Maybe I’m doing something right after all.

Despite my own uncertainties about how well I carry themes, I still write and try to carry them as best I can. What else am I supposed to do? I’m not going to give up writing anytime soon just because I’m unsure of how well an idea or a deeper meaning in one of my stories is presented. Hell, I should keep writing, because that’s how I’m going to get better at carrying them. And if I make a few mistakes along the way, I’ll just pick myself up and try again, either by editing the story or trying to write a new one. It beats beating myself up over it, right?

Besides, I may be my own worst judge. What I see as clumsy carrying, others might see as pretty damn good. And that’s reason enough for me to continue writing in the first place.

*Which I hope to have more news on soon. Thank you, as always, for your continued patience as my publisher Castrum Press and I make sure that Rose is up to snuff before publishing.

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Well, I got another story done this evening. And I honestly didn’t think I’d get it done that quickly tonight. I thought it’d take an hour and forty-five minutes to finish off this story. Somehow I got it done in half an hour. But who cares about that? I got a short story done!

Yeah, I use Bitmoji on occasion. In case you forgot.

Anyway, if you skipped the title the story is called “Do-Over,” and is about the lengths one girl goes to fix her life after she sends out a tweet she doesn’t realize is really offensive, ruining her life. Yeah, pretty relevant, isn’t it? In fact, this story was partially inspired by the story of Justine Sacco, the woman who sent a tweet making a joke how she hoped she wouldn’t get AIDS in South Africa, then saying it wouldn’t happen because she was white. When she finally landed in Cape Town, she was a trending subject on Twitter, had received a lot of hate over the Internet, and had even lost her job! However, I decided to make my protagonist a teenager rather than a thirty-year-old woman, because teenagers are still learning what is considered appropriate and what isn’t (actually, a lot of adults are still learning that, but let’s ignore that for a moment, shall we?), and I felt that would make her more relatable.

At least, it did to me. One thing I’m afraid of is that something I’ve said or done will come back to haunt me, especially if it’s on the Internet where nothing dies. I’ve even had friends and family members look over blog posts and stories just to make sure that nothing offensive was said when I wrote about a sensitive topic (my Aokigahara post is a prime example of that). Tapping into that fear and what it might be like to face that sort of hatred and rejection for making what you thought was just a stupid joke online really allowed me to tap into the character and relay things from her point of view.

And speaking of inappropriate tweets, coming up with what my protagonist tweeted was really the hardest part of writing the story. It actually held me up for about three days while I tried to figure out what my character would tweet. Obviously, coming up with offensive garbage is pretty easy. You only need to look at what makes the headlines to realize that. But coming up with something that a teenager would think is a joke was actually pretty difficult. Eventually I took the suggestion of someone in one of my online writer’s groups to do something close to me and, as I’m bisexual, came up with something that would upset me and my fellow LGBT individuals. After that, the story was fairly easy to write.

This also happens to be the shortest story I’ve written in years, a mere thirty-six hundred words. I can’t remember the last time I wrote a short story that short! And honestly, I wasn’t trying to truncate it that much. I knew it would be short, and I just wrote it. It just became short on its own, I guess.

Still, I know it’s far from perfect, and there may be issues I don’t see at this moment. I’ll probably get it beta read before I submit it anywhere.

Even so, I’m happy with the story I wrote and I’m glad I got it done this evening. Next time I sit down to write, I’m getting back to a certain story that I left unfinished and tackles themes of prejudice. Surprisingly, it’s not the last Reborn City book.

Goodnight, Followers of Fear! Pleasant nightmares!

I read an article on BuzzFeed yesterday that really upset me. According to the article, emails from the University of Chicago’s chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi, a historically Jewish fraternity, had been released and revealed a culture of racism and Islamaphobia within the chapter. The N-word was used prolifically, Muslims were called “terrorists” or “towel heads”, a vacant lot next to the fraternity’s house was called “Palestine”, and some of the brothers turned MLK Day into “Marathon Luther King Day”, celebrating with drinking and eating at a fried chicken place.

Over the past couple of years, stories about fraternities and some of the disgusting things going on within their walls have been coming out. Every time I’m absolutely disgusted, but this one hit me in a number of ways. For one thing, I have friends who are part of the Ohio State chapter of AEPi. They are good people, upstanding young men connected to their heritage and active in the broader community. To think they are in any way associated with this scandal just horrifies me.

Alpha Epsilon Pi’s University of Chicago branch is in deep trouble for the emails that have been uncovered.

But that’s only one level that this hit me on. Because this story also brought back memories from when I was young:

I went to a Jewish overnight camp from fifth grade to tenth grade. During my last year or two there, I noticed a disturbing trend among the boys in my year. Swearing was a regular part of camp culture–even the counselors swore on occasion–so saying “shit” or the F-bomb didn’t make me bat an eye. In fact, I reveled in it. We were being adult, we were being naughty. It was great.

But then I heard my friends calling each other “n***er”, and occasionally “faggot” or “fag”.

Understand, there were no black kids or staff on the camp, at least not as far as I know. This was also well before I realized I was bisexual. And my friends assured me their black friends were cool with it.

Even if I believed them, I still told them that I wasn’t comfortable with it, that they shouldn’t say it, or at least not around me.

Maybe it’s because I was bullied a lot back in the third grade (most of it verbal) and it left a big impact on me, but I’m sensitive to when people use words to hurt others. Especially those words. As much as words only have meaning if we give them meaning, these words do carry a meaning bred in deep history, and the meanings are not easily separated from the words. Every time a white person uses the N-word, they’re saying that African-Americans are lesser beings, second-class citizens and do not have the same rights as people with light skin. Every time someone calls a Jew a kike (like when, after a soccer match between my all-Jewish high school and a school of mostly African-American Christians, the opposing team began using the word after they lost the game and things nearly came to blows), that someone is calling the Jewish people a strange people, a parasite that takes money and power and killed the Christian God. Every time someone calls someone else a fag, they’re saying that there’s something inhuman or strange or obscene about being LGBT. And every time someone–not just a fraternity brother–calls a Muslim or a Palestinian a terrorist, they’re saying that entire religion is incapable of being peaceful, that their whole goal is destruction. That’s all completely wrong, and there’s not excuse to use those words.

Even if I had been as eloquent then as I am now, I doubt that would’ve swayed my friends, because they continued saying those words without any care to my feelings. Even when the head counselor of our year had a discussion with us one evening about how disgusting we were being. Even after, while on a field trip to the city, my friend said the N-word and it was almost overheard by a passing black man. They just went on saying all those nasty words and by doing so, they were saying it was okay to say words charged with prejudice and not care whom it might hurt.

For the first time today I wondered if any of my camp friends ended up at University of Chicago, and then at the school’s chapter of AEPi. Those camps have the effect of bringing Jewish teens closer to their heritage. Maybe some of my friends went there and brought some of their bad habits with them.

Believe it or not, this is some of the nicer things this sort of uncaring attitude can lead to.

The only time I approve of those words are when they’re used in mediums like literature or film to illustrate a particular time period or mindset, like in Huckleberry Finn or even in my own Reborn City. The rest of the time, there’s no good reason to say that trash. Not only is it hurtful to the people those words denote, they are harmful to the people saying those words, desensitizing them to the effects of these words. At best, that leads to dumb crap from fraternities and doddering old men in front of cameras or near cell phones. At worst, that leads to hate groups, violence, and lynchings or shootings in churches.

My hope that in the wake of this scandal, people–especially students and teenagers–realize that you can’t be blase about saying the N-word or calling people terrorists because of where they’re from or what their beliefs are. They’re hurtful. They’re damaging. And I hope that maybe the backlash these students will get will teach them and others what happens when you’re not cognizant of the feelings of others.

And I hope my friends from those long ago days aren’t members of that fraternity, and that they learned long before this what your words can do to themselves and to others.

This really interesting article was posted on the Huffington Post the other day. This article, which you can read in full here, discusses how many schools in India are implementing gender studies classes at public schools across India, thanks to cooperation between the Indian government and advocacy organizations. The goal of this, according to the organizers of these programs, is to get students thinking hard about how gender roles affect them and make some changes for the better. Maybe even bring down the  rates of domestic violence.

And so far the programs seem to be working, according to 15-year-old Shakir Parvez Shaikh:

“We talk about how boys and girls are equal as human beings, but how we treat girls differently,” he told Reuters. “For example, girls are not allowed to play cricket or watch as much television as boys because they have to do housework or because it is not safe outside for them. I didn’t realize before … I think it’s unfair.”

A lot of activists see these programs as one answer to a very sad problem. According to the National Crime Record Bureau,  India saw a nearly 27 percent rise in 2013 in reported gender violence, including rape, sexual harassment, and other related crimes. And for many the 2012 gang rape and murder of a woman on a bus in India is still pretty fresh in their minds. This has helped to spur the creation of these programs, which might help today’s youth see things in a different perspective and cut down on instances of institutionalized sexism, gender discrimination, and domestic violence.

When I read this article, two thoughts went through my mind. The first was that it was good that so many teens, boys and girls, were being exposed to these classes. With statistics like the ones cited above, these programs could bring down that rate significantly and help to foster a more egalitarian society. And then I thought, “Why can’t we have that here in the United States?”

And then I marveled at how we didn’t have any of those programs in the United States. Generally speaking, gender studies courses are normally only taught at the university level, which means that students might never be exposed to these ideas in the midst of taking science and literature courses. The concepts of feminism and gender equality do sometimes come up in high school or middle school settings, but they are usually in the backdrop of English literature or history classes, and they may not always be given the attention they deserve.

Current statistics suggest that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be victims of sexual assault, though those numbers may be potentially higher due to under-reported. Women still earn only 70 cents for every dollar a man earns, and in fields such as business, politics or STEM, women may face people who believe that women aren’t suited to those fields, that they are only promoted due to their looks or sex rather than their ability, and trying to be assertive is considered “bitchy”. On the flip side, men frequently under-report domestic or sexual abuse and are expected to be tough, virile and sometimes violent to show their masculinity. If you aren’t those, if you’re not depositing your DNA in as many women as possible, then you’re seen as less as a  men, something I see as absurd.

All these reasons and more are why perhaps gender studies courses should be taught in middle and high schools in America. Getting today’s teenagers to engage in these issues may bring down rates of domestic violence, reduce sexism in the workplace, and perhaps get Americans to stop treating the word “feminism” like a swear word. It seems to be working in India anyway, so why not try it over here in the States?

What would it take to get such a program in schools?

Now, I’m no teacher or education major and my formal training in gender studies consists of one class in my first term here at Ohio State (though I’ve informally found ways to expand my training). But even if I’m not, that doesn’t mean I can’t at least get the ball rolling or start a conversation. So tell me, if you’re reading this, have a background in education, gender studies, or anything else that could possibly relate to this, what would it take to create these sort of programs and implement them in a school system? What sort of course materials would be needed? And what sort of obstacles would such a program face? I’d love to hear what you have to say, as well as your thoughts on what I’m suggesting and if it’s at all possible.*

I know that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to change society rapidly or get rid of a prejudice or stereotype. But at the very least that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. If anything, it means we should try harder to eliminate it, looking at every available option. And perhaps this can be one of them.

*However, if you use the comments section to be hateful or say really mean things, I will not approve the comments. We don’t need any of that here on this blog. I’ve already gotten plenty of that from Second Amendment and anti-circumcision advocates. Not really interested in seeing that again.