Links: Saturday, April 26th

April 26, 2014 Links 19

A grey cat wears a crocheted hat that looks like a shark's mouth.Cat in a hat.

  • Le Sheikh C’est Chic? Not So Much! – Suleikha Snyder gets on her soapbox and lays into the sheikh romance. I’ve never been comfortable reading them and she puts her thumb right on it.

    Why aren’t sheikh romances tagged and shelved as interracial romances? Because, to a large extent, they aren’t. They are a white, Judeo-Christian woman’s fantasy as much as a sparkling vampire or an alphahole billionaire, largely written by and for that market. In essence, a sheikh is not real. Stripped of all true cultural markers — namely practicing Islam — pale on the book covers, bowled over by the first fiery western woman they see… this is the rhetoric. This is the narrative. And it serves only one audience — certainly not the pseudo-minority culture it portrays.

  • Should white people write about people of color? – This beautiful essay by Malinda Lo should be required reading for everyone, writer and reader alike. The way she talks about her Chinese name and the way white USians react to it versus how Chinese speakers react to it is a perfect illustration of the issue.

    When white writers come to me and ask if it’s OK for them to write about people of color, it seems as if they’re asking for my blessing. I can’t give them my blessing because I don’t speak for other people of color. I only speak for myself, and I have personal stakes in specific kinds of narratives.

    It also feels as if they’re asking for a simple answer, and frankly, there is no simple answer. Writing outside your culture is a complicated endeavor that requires extensive research, being aware of your own biases and limitations, and a commitment to delving deeply into the story. However, writing any fiction requires this. There are no shortcuts to writing fiction truthfully and well. There really aren’t. The writer must put in the time so that they become confident in their decisions, and there are a million and one decisions to make when writing a novel.

  • Guest Post: Writing in Color by Jill Sorenson – I liked this post from Jill speaking to white readers and writers interested in more diverse fiction.

    How can we break this cycle? I would advise white readers to broaden their horizons. I think this shift is already happening, but it takes generations. There are more mixed couples and multiracial children every year in America. I believe the landscape of publishing will change with the times. Until then, why not read more authors and characters of color?

    My advice for white authors is to do the same. Support diversity however you can. Cross-promote with authors of color. Consider including some multicultural selections in your anthology. Read outside of your comfort zone. Be the change you want to see in the world. But also be aware that you aren’t central to this issue, just as men are peripheral in the feminist movement.

  • Diversity, Authenticity, and Literature – Preeti Chhibber talks about insider vs. outsider narratives and how things like an all-white (and one cat) lineup at Book Con reinforces white supremacy.

    Here’s the thing. I work in publishing. And what I know is that when books sell well, more of those kinds of books get published. So then we have a New York Times bestseller list full of wonderfully talented white men, but not a whole lotta color happening. This worries me. Then you have the even more recent news of ReedPop’s Book Con inviting only white authors and entertainers as guests (and yes, yes a cat).

    We here at Book Riot have written time and time again about the importance of diversity among our authors, and the importance of being aware of and making prudent reading decisions. But we’re just one voice. If one of the biggest and most representative book conventions in the world didn’t look at their guest list and see a problem, then that’s a problem. It’s a very telling look at the mindset of people who are tastemakers. Book Con is a consumer day, it’s for people who like to read, and those people are not going to be see any people of color on the stage. How can we expect to get a writer of color onto a bestseller list if our industry doesn’t even realize that they’re shoving them to the side?

  • The Hugo Awards, Vox Day and Apologetics for Bigotry – “Judge the work, not the person” is getting a workout this week and this Fangs post beautifully disembowels the argument.

    By urging us to focus on the quality of his work, you are asking us to discard his bigotry. You are telling us that his bigotry is less important than his work. You are telling us to ignore the fact he has deeply dehumanised marginalised people – adding to a society of dehumanisation that continues to cost us in every way.

    You are telling us the stories he writes are more important than our status as full people. You are not only ignoring the loud message that we are not welcome in the SFF community, you are adding to it. You add your voice to the chorus saying “we are indifferent to the awful treatment of marginalised people” and that this genre is not a place where we belong and that it is a place where abusing us is acceptable.

    Stories are important, but we are worth more than stories.

  • Women in SF&F Month: Barbara Friend Ish – I have problems with this essay in that she seems to see “strong female character” as “female character who can overcome every challenge and defeats oppression with her fists.” Which, no. There’s a difference between a book that shows patriarchy/misogyny’s effect on women and one that justifies it or takes it for granted.

    I think it’s time to take a good look at the limitations we’re putting on ourselves as readers and writers. I suggest that female characters, like male characters, should come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of kickassery. If a male character is weak, no one decries that character as an insult to men everywhere. Instead we examine his role in the story and what it might mean. Male characters are allowed to be real.

    I think it’s time we accorded female characters the same courtesy. I think it is our job as feminists of every gender not to place and attempt to enforce yet another set of unachievable standards on all women, but to recognize that some are kickass, and some are heroic in other ways, and some are just not heroic at all. And that they can fulfill all the roles in the story that we can imagine for them, and their presence in those roles can teach us about being human, rather than simply about how we are supposed to be as women.

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An ice hockey fan from north of Boston and the genre's most beloved troll, Ridley enjoys reading contemporary and historical romance, as well as the odd erotica novel. As someone who uses a wheelchair, she takes a particular interest in disability themes.

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19 Responses to “Links: Saturday, April 26th”

  1. Laura Vivanco

    “They are a white, Judeo-Christian woman’s fantasy”

    I wonder why there’s the “Judeo” bit in there: I’ve yet to see a romance featuring a Jewish heroine finding love with a sheikh.

  2. Ridley

    @Laura Vivanco: That would be a different sort of story, for sure. I’m not actually sure religion has much to do with the sheikh fantasy. I’ve never seen it come up.

  3. Laura Vivanco

    No, religion doesn’t often come up (though I do recall one in which the sheikh’s country was presumably Christian since, as was apparently traditional for people in his family, the marriage ceremony was celebrated in a church). So I’m left wondering what Snyder meant by “Judeo-Christian woman.” How many readers of sheikh romances are Jewish and Christian?

    It’s a pretty problematic term in general, I think. I’ll just grab the first explanation that popped up via a quick search:

    First, as a theological term it is based on what is called the supersessionist or replacement view of Judaism and Christianity. By this I mean that Christianity is regarded as a religion that has superseded its (outmoded and irrelevant) precursor, and consequently, a redundant Judaism is regarded, in condescending fashion, as a religious anachronism.

    Second, both scholar and major US Jewish theologian Arthur A Cohen, in his 1969 The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition and US Rabbi and author Jacob Neusner in his 2001 Jews and Christians: The Myth of a Common Tradition have pointed out at great length that the idea of historic Judeo-Christian harmony ignores, amongst other matters, a 2000-year narrative of theological antipathy and a millennium long narrative of violent persecution of Jews in the name of Christianity. (Tony Taylor)

  4. Roslyn Holcomb

    FakeSheikhastan is the funniest thing I’ve read in days! BWAH! I’ve never read a book with a Jewish heroine, and yeah, that would be a different kind of sheikh story! A friend is working on one with a Jewish hero, and I’ve been brainstorming one, but nothing yet.

  5. Nu

    Re: Malinda Lo, my advice to white authors would be, don’t start with a foreign setting or first generation immigrant if it’s your first attempt at a COC. Also, some day, I’m gonna write a rant about the criticisms of kickass heroines, lol.

  6. Suleikha Snyder

    @Laura Vivanco: I’ve been away, so forgive me for not addressing this earlier. By “Judeo-Christian” I mean the largely western religious/cultural tradition that does not include faiths like Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism and is based on the Old and New Testament. That’s always been my interpretation of the term, as someone who grew up outside that tradition. If it’s actually a pejorative toward Jewish people, I apologize for the misuse.

  7. Laura Vivanco

    @Suleikha Snyder: It seemed a bit of a weird conflation to me but it was explained to me on Twitter that “Judeo-Christian” is a common term in the US so I hopped over to Wikipedia and it seems to have a rather varied history which has seen it used in a variety of ways (e.g. to oppose anti-Semitism in the 1920s and 1930s and currently by Conservatives to cast Muslims as “other”) and “the response of Jews towards the ‘Judeo-Christian’ concept has been mixed.”

    Forgive me if this is telling you something you already know far more about than I do, but re “the largely western religious/cultural tradition that does not include faiths like Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism and is based on the Old and New Testament,” I have the vague impression that actually Jesus is a far more important figure in Islam than he is in Judaism. For example,

    Jesus reinterpreted by the Qur’an is singled out, again and again, as a prophet of very special significance. Uniquely among prophets he is described as a miracle of God, an aya; he is the word and spirit of God; he is the prophet of peace par excellence; and , finally it is he who predicts the coming of Muhammad (pbuh) and thus, one might say, is the harbinger of Islam. (Khalidi)

    By contrast, the Jewish author who contributed to the same BBC series as Khalidi didn’t see Jesus as a figure of much relevance to him at all, although he thought

    it’s fairly easy to see Jesus as a Pharisee from the Liberal wing, probably heavily influenced by the Messianic fervour that was current and, apparently deeply impressed by John the Baptist who may have been associated with the Essenes or some other such separatist sect. He was deeply bothered by the Temple excesses of the time, didn’t want to get involved in the politics, and wanted the people to be take themselves seriously as being able to bring about God’s kingdom on Earth by right living.

    But I can’t see Jesus as the Messiah we Jews are waiting for. (Lawton)

  8. Suleikha Snyder

    @Laura Vivanco: Jesus may be a more important figure in Islam, but that hardly matters much to westerners — particularly white westerners. Pointing out that Jesus is revered by Muslims as well would, no doubt, cause no shortage of outrage and clutched pearls.

  9. Laura Vivanco

    Pointing out that Jesus is revered by Muslims as well would, no doubt, cause no shortage of outrage and clutched pearls.

    No doubt you’re right that that would be the reaction of a great many “white westerners” but I was looking at this from the viewpoint of theology and, in recognition of the elements that are shared by Judaism, Christianity and Islam, there have apparently been moves to speak about “Abrahamic religions” instead of “Judeo-Christian culture.”

  10. Suleikha Snyder

    @Laura Vivanco: I’ve heard the term Abrahamic religions used frequently. Of course, as neither a theologian nor an academic, I’m not as versed in the minutia of what terminology is used when and where and what the implications are.

    And this is an issue I seem to keep coming up on a lot in my interactions with many Romancelandia personalities: my word choices being plucked out of a given argument and analyzed. Whether you intend it this way or not, it diverts attention away from what I was actually talking about in my blog post and turns the lens onto me: in effect nullifying any point I was making…which is that sheikh romances are deeply problematic.

    The only viewpoint I have is my own. I can’t back it up with quotes, with research, with polished rhetoric.

  11. Laura Vivanco

    @Suleikha Snyder: Unlike you, I’m not an American, so the word you used was strange to me and I wanted to enquire about it because, when I read your blog post, it was a word which (albeit only temporarily and partially) diverted my attention away from what you were actually talking about. Because it’s a word I’m unfamiliar with, I took it at face value and it made me think about Jews and the state of Israel in relation to the fake sheikhs and their fake sheikhdoms, which led me on to wondering whether there were many Jewish readers of sheikh romances. And I know there aren’t many Jewish heroes and heroines in romance, so I couldn’t get my head round the idea that there was a “Judeo-Christian” culture in the romance genre.

    Yes, I’ve used quotes on this thread but Wikipedia and the BBC are not exactly esoteric sources. I don’t think I used polished rhetoric and, as I acknowledged, I’m not well-versed in the theology of either Islam or Judaism.

    I deliberately didn’t make any comment about this word at your blog, either the first time I read your post or when it was linked to here at LitM, because I felt it would be derailing and detract attention from the points you were making about sheikh romances.

    However, the word was included in the quote used here and so I felt I could raise the question here without derailing the discussion you were having on your blog.

  12. Meoskop

    Well in answer to “are there Jewish readers of the sheik romance” the US answer is absolutely, yes. In fact in my own family.

    As to terminology, Suleikha’s term is used commonly here. While the conflation of the faiths has theological issues it doesn’t resonate in the same manner culturally. Israel is considered by many to be an entirely separate cultural environment, where J/C is often used as a short hand invocation of White & Western.

    It may be an interesting question from a standpoint of word origin but I certainly see why it may feel like tone policing as well.

  13. Sunita

    @meoskop: I think you mean Suleikha. ;) But while I’m here …

    Laura, I can’t remember whether I replied to you on Twitter, I remember the conversation and I know that Emily Jane, Liz, and a couple of other people tried to explain the American social (not only political) context in which the term is used. It is a common term, it’s one I heard frequently after I came to the US and it recurs in political science and sociological works I use in research and teaching.

    While it may have been reclaimed in the 1990s as the Wiki article suggests, and while it may be causing some dissent and pushback in Australia, those are different contexts from the ones those of us over 30 grew up with here in the US.

    “Judeo-Christian” is a way of describing the majority social and political culture. It’s not about theology per se, and it’s an attempt to incorporate Jewish culture (practice more than doctrine) into the larger American culture. There was a similar movement to elide the differences between Protestant and Catholic culture before that. The 1990s and onward reclamation of the term seems to be about creating a common political movement between Jews and Evangelicals, but that is a separate process.

    I also used to hear “people of the book” which actually included Islam, but that was less common and is pretty archaic at this point.

  14. Meoskop

    @sunita .Yes, I did! Apparently I’ve typed your name often enough that my phone has learned it, my apologies to all for not scanning my comment before posting. I read your response and wondered what the heck you were talking about until I scrolled up.

  15. Jill Sorenson

    @Laura Vivanco: When you call out a woman of color for using problematic language, you should probably 1. not or 2. be absolutely certain you know what you’re talking about. I’ve seen this happen to Suleikha more than once and it’s starting to look like a pattern. Even a silencing tactic.

  16. Laura Vivanco

    Jill, the phrase jumped out at me when I read the original post and I found it upsetting. To give a bit of background, I ceased attending Church when one of the elders seemed to suggest that Jewish converts to Christianity might need to atone for killing Christ.

    However, I deliberately did not ask my question on Suleikha’s blog because I did not want to derail the conversation taking place there. It was only when it reappeared here some days later that I asked about it because (a) it seemed an appropriate place to ask, given that the focus of the blog is about diversity and the posters here are knowledgeable about matters such as this and (b) I am not an American and I wanted to ascertain what connotations this phrase has in the US.

    I was then educated about its US meaning and connotations on Twitter and, subsequently, here. Sunita tells me that the Wikipedia entry is not entirely accurate, which kind of illustrates why it’s helpful to get information about US usage from people I know rather than rely solely on what I can learn via Google.

  17. Jill Sorenson

    @Laura Vivanco: From what I understand the word she used is not offensive. She apologized, even though it was your mistake. Perhaps you meant to come back and acknowledge the error and I jumped in too soon. If so, my bad.

  18. Laura Vivanco

    @Jill Sorenson: At no time did I accuse Suleikha of being deliberately offensive. I could tell from the context that that was not her intention. Nor did I derail the discussion taking place on her blog. So I’m really not sure what you think I need to apologise for: I was upset by the phrase so I asked what I thought was a polite question, I was given various answers, I appreciated them and I’ve now been educated in the US usage of the phrase.

    Am I supposed to apologise for being upset by the phrase itself?

  19. Jill Sorenson

    @Laura Vivanco: Okay Laura. It wasn’t really my place to get involved and I’m sure no one meant any harm. I just agreed with Suleikha’s point about her words being under the microscope thought it deserved consideration.