Diversity and the Hidden Value of Ageism: A Weird Theory? Maybe.

Last weekend, I attended the Romance Writers of Australia conference in Melbourne, Australia. To be honest, I didn’t attend this conference with the intention of participating in workshops or sessions that would help me further my career as an author as much as I did to be present at a panel session about Diversity. This session was a long time coming and, frankly, well overdue. The author-panel was made up of a Queer woman, a Black woman, an Asian woman, while the moderator was a white woman who happens to be Chair of the Writers Board of South Australia, as well as an academic currently examining intersections of race and gender in historical romance.

I sat right up front. The panellists were all romance writers, and I was interested in what it was, or is, like for those members of the panel to be, or have been, overlooked as a leads, incorrectly portrayed, rendered to stereotypes or rendered invisible.

If you follow the ranty Sandra Soapbox Mature Content Stockpile stuff I usually post here, what the panel discussed may sound rather like what I ranty Sandra Soapbox about. That’s because being overlooked as a lead, incorrectly portrayed, rendered to stereotypes or rendered invisible it is exactly what I ranty Sandra Soapbox about. All the time.

Imagine then, how pleased I was when, at the start of the panel, slides popped up to INCLUDE AGE AS AN ISSUE OF DIVERSITY! My research and the Seasoned Romance subgenre got a little shout out. I kinda wanted to jump up and down when I saw the slides. I wanted to jump up and down—while simultaneously hiding under my chair because I’m an introvert and everyone was looking at me. But holy shit, there was a nod to my research (Thank you, Amy), and a slide that mentioned my work on the sexist ageism entrenched in the romance fiction industry, and the quote included that line I keep repeating on this blog, the “no one wants to read granny sex,” comment that shows how the industry overlooks, incorrectly portrays, renders to stereotypes or renders invisible.

I felt so validated, yet at the same time, I admit, if that nod hadn’t happened, despite my introversion, I was quite prepared to stand up on a chair (because I am short) and make sure that the room full of people knew WHY it was important to include age in the discussion of diversity, but I didn’t want to hijack the panel. It was vital to hear Renee Dahlia, Nicole Hurley-Moore and MV Ellis convey their experiences, give their opinions, give a history lesson on whitewashing and yellow face, on being portrayed as victims and villains, of having history erased—and then leave room for questions, to generate discussion from the floor, to open eyes and get RWAus authors to think about how they write whole real, human characters of colour, characters of different ethnicities, LGBTQ+ characters when the author is none of those things.

Some people just don’t quite get it, and an hour-long panel discussion plus a short Q&A isn’t enough to educate or have that lightbulb moment. However, I am not under a time constraint here. I can take more time to explain and offer a theory to those who still don’t get why this is important, to those who believe they can’t empathise or identify with or see their life reflected in a Black, Asian, or Queer hero or heroine. It’s because you are a cis, straight, white woman and have never experienced what it is like to be anything other than what you are since you have never—or rarely—seen anything other than what you have been conditioned to see because you have never been excluded from having your story, your truth, your life portrayed. This is what you need to know: One day, perhaps sooner than you think, you are probably going to experience ageism. You are going to experience what it is like to suddenly be seen as “other” and fade into the background or be erased from your own future. If you cannot fathom what it is like to be excluded or erased on the basis of your ethnicity, your skin colour, your gender identity, or your sexual identity, Ageism is there to help you understand.

Wielding my Shield of Smartass

I’m going to make a bold statement and say I have a theory. I believe the key to understanding the need for diversity and inclusion may lie within the framework of ageism—the last acceptable prejudice. Ageism affects everyone. Why? Regardless if you are Black, Asian, White, Queer, Straight, Transgender, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, male, female, transgender, non-binary, ageism is an equal opportunity prejudice. Ageism excludes, renders to stereotypes, and erases. Ageism has a greater, often more obvious impact on women than men; after a certain age, women are more quickly stereotyped, side-lined, devalued as human beings, and rendered invisible. Sound familiar? Do you see the connection?

Ageing is an inescapable fact of life. I am getting older. So are you. You have seldom seen anything other than what you have been conditioned to see. I whole-heartedly believe we need to change what has always been presented as the norm because in reality it IS NOT the norm. Life is not all one colour, ethnicity, or one sex. It never has been. If you don’t think change is necessary, if you don’t want a better reflection of actual humanity, then keep reading your young, cis, het, white leads, the ones you say you can empathise and identify with, and will probably escape back to when you see your older self incorrectly portrayed, rendered to stereotypes or rendered invisible.

Let me know how that works for you.


10 thoughts on “Diversity and the Hidden Value of Ageism: A Weird Theory? Maybe.

  1. Pingback: Episode 11: Happily Ever After – Pod Culture [Oz]

  2. Hi Sandra, what did the panel discuss? Is Black the appropriate term now? I’m assuming it is. I didn’t get to the conference. What is Cis?
    Thanks for your post. Best Cathleen

    • Hi Cathleen
      Thanks for reading!
      Here is a definition of cis from Trangender Educational resources : http://www.transstudent.org/definitions/

      “Cis(gender): Adjective that means “identifies as their sex assigned at birth” derived from the Latin word meaning “on the same side.” A cisgender/cis person is not transgender. “Cisgender” does not indicate biology, gender expression, or sexuality/sexual orientation. In discussions regarding trans issues, one would differentiate between women who are trans and women who aren’t by saying trans women and cis women. Cis is not a “fake” word and is not a slur. Note that cisgender does not have an “ed” at the end.”

      I hope that helps.

  3. Thank you kindly, dear Ranty Sandra… great thoughts… in walking the walk, and in the goodness of moving forward, what solutions to you envisage who’s breaking the ground at this time? I’d love to see (legit, this is not an antagonising question … ). I’m all for pointing out the ‘issues’ of various matters – can’t see them if their not seen. Am also very into seeing the progressive step forward further from shining the spotlight upon if you will. Could you please direct me to some beacons of hope that rise to the cause? Who is making a positive impact as an example? Who is doing the do that you love to be seeing as the do? I would love to explore the progress towards the greater goodness and the people at that pointy edge of positive forwardness. Cheeries, Gab

      • Thanks so much Sandra… will check out post haste… anything going in the film/screen world you like the look of? Is Grace and Frankie to your liking for example? Is it a little to hipster perhaps? Is it spot on?! What are your thoughts on shows like The Kominsky Method which observes the ‘realities’ of ageing… but also has a POV as Kominsky has a romance/intimate
        thing going on in it… the series is still going on so am not sure if it’s Romance or a love story or what at this point Love to know your thoughts… again, this is a great blog post to spark off some meaty conversation that I hope will spur on the discovery of people actually PUTTING THE GOODS OUT THERE… as a progressive step forward. Cheeries Gab

  4. As an older woman, a Romance Reader and a Romance Writer, I totally agree with everything you have said above. I fight to stay valued, to stay heard and to stay visible, in my writing and in my day to day life. I applaud what you are doing.

    • Thank you!
      I try hard to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. I write nothing but older female protagonists/ heroines because we need to give younger women role models to see and aspire to be. I kind of like to think I am the champion for representing women aged 40+ in the media, especially in a female-focused genre like romance fiction.

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