*Maybe the “I have no strength” is tiredness. I’m fuzzy enough I almost posted half a novel here, instead of this blog. Fortunately I noticed before I pressed publish.*
Sorry to be so late with this. I didn’t exactly wake up tired or in pain, which is an improvement over the last few months, just scattered and feeling rather as if I didn’t have any strength in my arms, which is odd.
So it took me a while to get to this.
Yesterday my friend Dave Freer blogged on stereotypes, and I’ve been mulling on what he wrote while I cleaned.
Stereotypes are of course a tool of the trade for writers. We have to know what the stereotypes are in people’s minds, and therefore use them to suggest things we can’t thoroughly describe. (No one can thoroughly describe everything, even in a long book. Nor would you want them to. It would get truly tedious.)
Sometimes I fail at this, the same way I have trouble picking fonts for covers, because the stereotypes in my head are not the same as in most of my readers’. Take Irishmen for instance. I actually know something about the stereotype here, because it’s all over the books everywhere. However, if I’d tried to write an Irishman (or woman) when I came here, and assumed that my readers knew to round out the character with extreme politeness, drive and organization, it would backfire, and at best people would think I was being creative. At worst it would be a “wait, what?”
I suspect the Portuguese stereotype for Irish tells you rather more than you want to know about Portugal, but also about the sort of Irish we got in Portugal. Here you go people looking to make a new living, perhaps not drawn from the higher echelons of society. There you got either rich people, or people who came over as upper servants to British residents. In either case, the unruly Irishman stereotype doesn’t apply, even if both agree on song and poetry.
In the same way I often disappoint on the Portuguese stereotype, because my family runs to relatively tall, I haven’t been in the sun much the last few years, and oh, yes, I fail to be outwardly and loudly pious.
Partly it’s because most of the Portuguese you get here are from the isles whose culture is about 100 years older than the continent. So my grandmother would be more like the rest of the Portuguese here.
For instance at Liberty con years ago, while I was sympathizing with a writer who is – I think – 1/6th Portuguese, I said my shoes were lovely but were killing my feet. (I have since ditched them. It’s a pity. Very steam punk, but painful.) She asked if my granny would have said I deserved it for my vanity and that it was the devil torturing me. I honestly can’t remember my grandmother ever threatening me with the devil for anything, and her only comment ever on vanity was that if I kept looking in the mirror I’d neglect the true beauty which was inside. (I was about five.) But more than that, if someone had said that, openly, in our circles, people would have looked at them like they’d grown a second head. It’s simply not something you talk about in public, unless it’s as a joke.
Anyway, so as with me picking fonts for covers, if I use national stereotypes I have to check that I’m not misfiring. (Historic fonts for me often read western or horror to Americans.) For instance, recently an Indian fan explained to me that yes, there is a stereotype for Indians in the US and it’s NOT as I’d have assumed from the ones who have worked with my husband “unholy intelligent, mathematically gifted, ambitious and hard working.” Who knew? I certainly didn’t.
So I’m not going to rely on stereotypes too much, of course. And sometimes the stereotypes I use are those of the character’s time, not mine. For instance a character in Shakespeare’s time would expect every Italian to be aggressive and possibly a poisoner.
However, as Dave put it, some stereotypes exist because they’re true. Not in the particular, of course, because each individual IS individual. But if you’re writing a Spaniard and make him small, black haired, voluble, and excitable, people will get some of those qualities even if not very well sketched out. (This leaves Jason Cordova right out, as he’s not like that at all, but again, it works in general.)
I prefer to use stereotypes for my secondary characters, which prevents my having to draw everyone fully out.
Anyway, so, what is this about other than writing?
The problem with stereotypes is not in writing – unless you populate your entire world with them, of course or use stereotypes only a few people share – it’s in life.
I find a lot of people think in stereotypes. I’d like to say it’s just the left, but you know that’s not true. Or at least I know. It took a long time for some people on the right to stop treating me like a leper because Latin, graduate degree in Liberal arts, writer. They KNEW I was one of them crazy European SJWs and they kept waiting for me to show it. (They probably are still waiting.)
However the left, particularly the left in my field, are particularly prone to stereotyping and completely unaware that they’re doing it.
It’s been somewhere between funny and sad to watch people like Madame Butthurt trying to fit me into their mental map. Having taken off after me, in the complete conviction that I was a white American woman who had never travelled outside the country (and a lot of them having made comments to that effect to me, Amanda Green AND Kate Paulk) she was thrown off base at finding I was Portuguese. Then she tried to say I fled to the US to escape the revolution and was therefore an evil fascist (which would have required me to pack really slowly, as I came over in 1985, at least permanently.) And then she wandered in circles, and for all I know is still wandering in circles (I don’t know. I have a life), making the perma Tourette’s-like accusations of “racist, sexist, homophobic.” None of which make any sense in my particular case, but never mind.
Then there are flowers like the persons who invaded my facebook page, the screenshot of one of which Cedar posted yesterday. First, the guy, who apparently has an history having managed SOMEHOW to make himself persona non-grata at HWA and who seemed to think that anyone not agreeing with his choice of (socialist) candidate for the presidency was a “fascist” and longed for a “fascist” dictatorship (Those libertarians, always longing for dictatorship.) He also seems to be a dyed in the wool anti-Semite (and here allow me to put on my stereotype hat and say “of course he is.”)
Then there was the woman who posted “Hilary 2016” and when I said “Yes, she does have a vagina and got where she is on the back of a man, what a fine example for our girls” she said what I’d posted was “ew” (really? I could be a lot more “ew”) which seems like the objection of a two year old, and as we piled on the reasons her skankiness the carpetbagger SHOULDN’T be president, she said we were very angry people and that she’d have to block us and ran away.
The second one is more indicative of the type of non-reasoning I see involving stereotypes. The people most addicted to stereotypes learned them in college (which is why they think they’re the truth and not stereotypes. Hint: Marxist classifications of victim classes are NOTHING but stereotypes.) They not only learned these stereotypes, like that anyone who doesn’t agree with them or their professors is “racist, sexist, evil, doubleplusungood” but they have learned that if they find themselves agreeing with those people on the slightest thing, then you become one of them.
And this is why my colleagues on the left try to find ways to dismiss me (“Oh, the Portuguese were colonialist” – um… yes, but not as bad as the Belgians. All human breeds were colonialists. “The Portuguese are just Europeans.” “Fascinating. Perhaps you should share that wisdom with the bars in France who as little as ten years ago had ‘No Portuguese or dogs’ signs.”) or ways to make what I have to say irrelevant. “She’s just angry” (yeah, and? I actually am not, or at least only at some specific publishers, and not for anything public. But what if I were. Since when is being angry a reason to dismiss someone. Take the woman who came to yell at my mom because I’d bit her son (for good and sufficient reason but never mind) if my mom had said “oh, you’re just angry” instead of explaining why her son had come by his just deserts, the fight would have escalated to blows. Yes, the woman was angry. She thought I’d attacked her precious son for no reason. Which, were it true, would make anyone angry.) Or applied to everyone who disagrees with them “You’re jealous. You’re a bad writer.” Even if we were – and honestly, give us evidence, please, evidence we can’t cherrypick out of your darlings too – why would that dismiss arguments that have nothing at all to do with envy or our quality of writing, such as when I say that most books pushed and promoted are boring and incredibly predictable to anyone who studied Marxism as much as I was forced to?
I am admittedly jealous of some people’s writing skill. I have for instance, been studying P. F. Chisholm’s way with an historic mystery, because that how I deal with jealousy of another’s craft. I learn.
I am occasionally a bad writer, particularly in these blogs, which are unproofed and often written early morning or late night.
None of which means my opinions on stories or writers are therefore invalid.
And if I say something in a repulsive way, it might make you recoil, but a reasoning human being won’t say “that’s just ew” and dismiss it that way.
People, however, who are afraid to see real human beings behind stereotypes WILL. Because they can’t think of real people or of issues individually. They see only categories. And they KNOW that if they step outside the reservation they’ll find themselves BECOMING the stereotype they dread.
When they call us names, it’s a sort of incantation to make the bad thought go away.
Which is why when they (by which I don’t mean liberals, but people so impaired in reasoning that they respond illogically to any challenge to their world view. Not all liberals are like that, and some conservatives are) produce art it tends to be flat and lifeless.
Piers Plowman by any other name.