Tag Archives: Sexism

Sensitive Readers – Insensitive Writers?

26 Jun

The Bookbaby site recently discussed authors using ‘sensitivity readers’ and the comments from authors were largely negative (and, I must say I’m in accord with the feeling that stories shouldn’t pander to the easily offended). But, one interesting point struck me – that the term ‘sensitivity readers’ was being used for both actual ‘sensitivity readers’ and what we might call ‘accuracy readers’, and that most people were fine with the latter, but not the former.

For clarification, a ‘sensitivity reader’ exists to check for issues in the story (whether words, stereotypes or situations) that could cause offence. Of course, this can prove useful (if you’re writing what is intended to be a positive portrayal of black people, you don’t want to find you’ve propagated offensive stereotypes or used terms that will offend) and may be necessary for certain markets (books aimed at the schools market need to be appropriate to their intended readership). But, too much caution can stifle good writing (after all, the best writing will challenge and risk offense), and an over-reliance by editors on ‘sensitivity readers’ may cause them to reject books that tackle difficult subjects for that very reason.

What I’m calling an ‘accuracy reader’, on the other hand, is someone who checks for factual errors. Although, in the context of ‘sensitivity’ I’m discussing, this may mean asking a transperson to check that everything related to your transwoman protagonist is accurate, this is no different to asking an expert for assistance in ensuring the accuracy of your work. Of course, there may be an overlap between ‘sensitivity’ and accuracy (“yes, that word is used correctly, but it is very offensive and not suitable for a children’s story”), but the aim is primarily to get the story right, not mollycoddle.

While I wouldn’t advocate setting out to offend for the sake of being offensive (or attempting to gain publicity through outrage), I have little time for editors who would neuter a story in case it offends someone. There will always be a need for stories that take risks, ask difficult questions and present awkward truths and we shouldn’t fear them. But, we should strive for accuracy.

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Goodbye, Doctor Who…

17 Jul

So, the new Doctor is a woman. Apparently, she’s very good, so it may be that the BBC genuinely chose the person they thought was best, but, given a couple of decades of raising the prospect, it can’t help but wonder if it’s been done to chase headlines or burnish their inclusivity halo (unless it’s just cost-cutting, given the claims they underpay their female stars).

Of course, there have been howls of outrage of the ‘they’ve changed it, now it sucks’ sort, so my personal disgust at the decisions may seem like more of the same, but it’s not. (If it helps, as far I’m concerned, it reached the ‘they’ve changed it, now it sucks’ point a few seasons back and my views on this decisions are more fundamental. I won’t be watching the new series, but I’ve seen only a few episodes across the last three or four, so it’s hardly a great protest.)

Between the huffing of those who hate change and those crowing about a feminist victory, a couple of key points seem to have been overlooked as the BBC betrays a generation of boys and girls. (My apologies to any regular readers who will have seen all this before.)

Why the boys have been let down should be obvious to anyone who can see past issues of continuity and gender revolution: the Doctor represents a rarity amongst the role-models presented to young boys. He is serious (but not stuffy), clever, asexual and non-violent, yet still exciting and brave, a character that taught boys they didn’t have to grow-up to be a thug, a fool or a sex addict. It’s ironic that, as people supposedly become more accepting and inclusive, that boys should have their horizons circumscribed.

Why the girls have been let down might be less obvious given the cries that this represents a feminist victory. You could call it that, but only if your idea of a victory is a pathetic one built upon a foundation of over fifty years of men playing the part. Given that the BBC stands accused of underpaying its female stars, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that they don’t believe a genuinely-female creation can be a success. If they wanted a female equivalent to the Doctor, they could have created a series based on, for example, Romana – no awkward baggage, no irate fans, no depriving boys of a role-model (Sarah Jane proved a success, in this regard – better even than the revived Doctor Who). Even better, create an entirely-new ‘verse without any male-lead hangovers. I’d actually like to see that. But, I don’t hold out much hope of the BBC or anyone else providing it. And, unless the novelty of a female Doctor can be translated into a much-better series, the declining viewing figures may well kill off the series altogether and we won’t have a female Doctor, either.

Locum Who?

8 Feb

Peter Capaldi is going and it’s time to find a locum to fill the famous Doctor’s shoes…

Along with a black James Bond, a female Doctor Who with a male companion is the most common ‘politically-correct’ change to an established character that crops up. I’ve advocated a black Doctor in the past – not for any reason other than because there have been some excellent black actors who would be perfect for the role. But, a female Doctor wouldn’t sit right with me.

Let’s tackle the male companion first. There’s no reason a male Doctor cannot have a male companion. In the first half of the original series, there usually was a mixture of male and female companions, and often of age. By the end of the original series, there was usually only one companion, who was female and this has been common since the revival. While it originally arose from the idea that a ‘bit of totty’ would attract the dads, I think the reason it was retained was because, especially with the example of the final original-series companion, Ace, a strong female companion made a good counterpoint to the male Doctor. But, there’s no reason why the companion must always be female, young, or in the singular. The companions offer plenty of opportunity to mix things up.

But, the Doctor is a constant.

Of course, we’ve had a female incarnation of the Master (‘Missy’), but that twist worked because the Master has a history of running out of regenerations, stealing bodies and meddling with his biodata. That he would transform into a woman is almost a logical outcome of his adventures in identity. Yes, the Doctor has run through his regenerations quickly and seems to have messed with his biodata, but not to the same extent – and making gender a choice raises all sorts of questions of why he always chose to be male before, but has changed his mind now.

But, more than my feeling that it doesn’t really fit in with the established continuity of the series, is my view that the demand for a female Doctor is horribly sexist. There’s no need for the Doctor as a female role model – if people wanted a female Timelord, why not produce a series featuring Romana? – while the Doctor represents a male character who doesn’t pander to typical male stereotypes. He’s rarely violent, he’s intelligent, academic and quirky, he’s tolerant and kind. In a world where too many male role models are the opposite, he’s a welcome alternative.

Introduce a Romana series, by all means (after all, The Sarah Jane Adventures were excellent), but don’t deprive boys of the wonderful role model who is the Doctor.