Erroneous Beliefs and Myths Influenced by Superstition and Stereotypes

UNIn 2013, The United Nations Human Right council adopted a resolution making today, 13 June, International Albinism Awareness Day.CHIN NextToYou1920_1920x3022_1024

My book Next to You features a romantic lead with albinism and a deep abiding love of 70s Bubblegum pop songs. The book is due for release on 25 July, but is available for preorder on Amazon, review on Netgalley, and is also up on Goodreads.  Yay, right? Okay but why did I write a character with albinism?

A rather obvious parallel. Read on and you’ll see what I mean.

The un.org information regarding International Albinism Awareness Day states, “The physical appearance of persons with albinism is often the object of erroneous beliefs and myths influenced by superstition.” Even in the western world, images of albinism are often based on myths and superstition. Naturally, this is something William Murphy, the silver fox hero of Next to You understands. Will tries hard to educate other about the genetically inherited condition that affects his skin and, to less of an extent than many others with albinism, his vision. By the way, Will’s silver foxy because he’s 56, not because he’s albino.

I tried hard to dispel myths about albinism in Next to You, because when I began writing the story, so many years ago, I was surprised by how few accurate representations of persons with albinism there are. When was the last time you saw a person with albinism portrayed onscreen, in a book, comic, or graphic novel in a role that wasn’t a stereotype of evil or comic relief?

That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Usually I soapbox about the representations–or lack thereof–of women over 40 in romance fiction. I write women of of substance, not tokens, comic foils, secondary characters, or worst of all, stereotypes: the crone, the crazy cat lady, the granny, the cougar. I write for a female audience that can see themselves, not as cat-ladies, crones, or knitting-cookie-baking grannies, but as regular women—who just happen to be older. Next to You is no different. Caroline is over 45, Will is older and just happens towitch have albinism.

Have a look at the UN’s statement again: The physical appearance of persons with albinism is often the object of erroneous beliefs and myths influenced by superstition.

Modify the statement slightly: Older women (or Older people) are often the object of erroneous beliefs and myths influenced by superstition. 

There you have my reason. Marginalised populations.

Appearances are deceiving. Myths, superstitions, and stereotypes are appalling. Like any man, Will has life baggage, but it has little to do with his skin and eyes. Like any woman, Caroline has life baggage. While Will’s less-than-perfect vision does play a role in the story, I did my best to write an accurate representation of a man and a woman finding unexpected love a little bit later in life, leaving out the erroneous myths and stereotypes of albinism and age.

The UN notes that the erroneous beliefs, myths, and superstitions about albinism foster marginalisation and social exclusion. The beliefs and myths about albinism are centuries old, are present in cultural attitudes and practices around the world. You see this marginalisation in TV, film, books, advertising. The same can be said about older people. However, stereotypes, myths, and superstitions about albinism put lives at risk, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Here is information about International Albinism Awareness Day from the UN website:

Albinism is a rare, non-contagious, genetically inherited difference present at birth. In almost all types of albinism, both parents must carry the gene for it to be passed on, even if they do not have albinism themselves. The condition is found in both sexes regardless of ethnicity and in all countries of the world. Albinism results in a lack of pigmentation (melanin) in the hair, skin and eyes, causing vulnerability to the sun and bright light. As a result, almost all people with albinism are visually impaired and are prone to developing skin cancer. There is no cure for the absence of melanin that is central to albinism.

While numbers vary, it is estimated that in North America and Europe 1 in every 17,000 to 20,000 people have some form of albinism. The condition is much more prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, with estimates of 1 in 1,400 people being affected in Tanzania  and prevalence as high as 1 in 1,000 reported for select populations in Zimbabwe and for other specific ethnic groups in Southern Africa.  

Violence and discrimination against persons with albinism: a global phenomenon?

While it has been reported that persons with albinism globally face discrimination and stigma,  information on cases of physical attacks against persons with albinism is mainly available from countries in Africa.  

Persons with albinism face more severe forms of discrimination and violence in those regions where the majority of the general population are relatively dark-skinned. … In other words, a greater degree of contrast in pigmentation often gives rise to a greater degree of discrimination. That appears to be the case in some sub-Saharan African countries where albinism is shrouded in myth and dangerous and erroneous beliefs.

The manner in which discrimination faced by persons with albinism manifests itself, and its severity, vary from region to region. In the western world, including North America, Europe and Australia, discrimination often consists of name-calling, persistent teasing and bullying of children with albinism. Little information is available from other regions such as Asia, South America and the Pacific etc. However, some reports indicate that in China and other Asian countries, children with albinism face abandonment and rejection by their families.

Getting it Right: Avoiding Stereotypes

WMMand card]There are times I stand upon my soapbox and roll out the words about stereotypes. Usually I discuss ageist and sexist stereotypes of women. It’s easy for me to do that because I’m a middle aged woman and I see the rampant sexist and ageist bullshit all around me, but truth be told I’ve been championing women over 40 before I was even 40. I’ve been at it for so long that it’s second nature for me to be anti-ageist and anti-sexist, for me to present an accurate portrayal of a woman in her 40s, 50’s and beyond in the stories I write. But this time, in writing my forthcoming novel Next to You, I faced three additional challenges with stereotypes.

Challenge One, the hero: William Murphy is in his mid fifties.

I tend to focus on the older heroine, but OK, right. He’s middle-aged. Boom. I’m all over that mid-life thing. I’ve got that covered. I know how to do that. He’s a human being and I tell his story.  Simple. Only…my battle with a persistent stereotype comes from how William Murphy looks.

Challenge Two: William Murphy has albinism. In other words, he’s albino. Uh-huh. How do I present a realistic very un-stereotypical portrayal of an individual with albinism unlike all the usual bullshitty evil albinos and bullshitty comic relief albinos, and bullshitty magical albinos one usually finds onscreen and in fiction?

There was a very nice man named Mike in the UK. Mike’s beautiful daughter Bianca has albinism. Mike and Bianca were both very kind in answering my questions and teaching me about albinism.  As I wrote Next to You, I tried to be as accurate as possible while presenting an “Adult Contemporary Romance” (sounds better than a Mature romance). I also tried to be respectful of people with albinism. And now that the book is about to come out in July I am having a quiet panic attack, which for me means I pour a cup of coffee and only drink half whilst staring at my computer screen thinking, ‘what will Mike and Bianca think of me if I really fucked this up?

Challenge Three: Mental illness. How does one write mental illness and address the stereotypes and stigma associated with mental illness in a romance novel??

It helps (I hope) that I have a shrink husband and know lots of mental health professionals. I consulted them–and others who have experienced mental illness–for insight. As I wrote, I made sure to point out the stereotypes and stigma associated with mental illness. I avoided Fatal Attraction boiling bunny mental illness and Jane Eyre Mr Rochester-keeps-his-looney-wife-Bertha-Mason-in-the-attic mental illness. I tried to be accurate, respectful, and have a sense of humour.

Whether I pulled off these challenges will come to light in July, when Next to You is released. Maybe by then I’ll have drunk a full cup of coffee.

 

 

Ageism, Romance, and You: A Sliding Scale?

hollywoodJust when I think Hollywood is starting to ‘get it’ I come across a bone-headed article that proves otherwise. When in being considered for the role of ‘the wife” in The Wolf of Wall St, Olivia Wilde, who was 28 at the time, was deemed to be ‘too old.’ A 28 year-old actress was considered too advanced her years to play that ol’ standard role of ‘the wife to a nearly 40 year-old actor. Hooray for sexism. Hooray for Ageism.

Hollywood Old is now 28.

We’re all aware of Hollywood Old, but, as, I keep observing in the industry, there’s also Romance Fiction Old. While Hollywood Old develops at 28, in romance fiction the continuum of old appears to be on some kind of sliding scale. Honest, there is a sliding scale of old.

I belong to a Facebook group that champions ‘older’ heroines in romance fiction. This isslide-rule a vibrant group started by an author who, like me, is weary of the idea that reaching a certain age means women are invisible, heartless, and dead below the waist. The group, Seasoned Romance (fab name, innit?) consists of authors and readers who want to challenge the status quo of Hollywood Old and Romance Fiction Old. The thing is within this group of like-minded challengers the sliding scale of old is obvious. What is considered ‘mature’ shifts. There are members who think that 35 is mature. There are members (like me) who think that any age over 40 is the real mature, particularly when I have no trouble finding a 35 year-old heroine in romance, but struggle to when it comes to finding women 40 and beyond depicted as leads in romance fiction.

While mid-twenties remains the age norm for a romance heroine, there are heroines pushing 40—but few romance heroines have crossed that magical number that leads to invisibility. The 40-something heroine is becoming more popular (YAY!), more authors are writing heroines who have hit 40, or are just over 40, yet those books are not easy to find, which is why I have my list of Contemporary Romance Older Couples and keep adding to it.

Have you forgotten about my BOOK LIST? Keep your suggestions for the list coming, as many of you have—but please, no Women’s Fiction. I want romance, where the love story is central and the leads are both over 40.

Just spit-balling, here, but I suspect this sliding scale may be related to the age of the writer/reader. The variation is part of looking at age through the eyes of youth—when you’re 16 anyone 30 is ‘old’, and 30 year olds having sex is so gross, but once you reach 30, you wonder how you ever thought 30 was old because it’s 50 that is really old, and people in their 50s don’t have sex because they’re almost dead, and that’s so gross, and so forth… Hello ageism.

skeletalWhat do you think? The sliding scale; I’m curious to find out if there is a generally accepted idea of ‘old’ in romance fiction. Do you set a limit to what is ‘old’ depending on how old you are, or do you, like me, think that people, women fall in love at all ages, and those stories deserve to be told? If romance publishing is discussing diversity across the board, there needs to be dialogue regarding sexism and ageism in romance fiction, doesn’t there?

You may say I’m simply bellyaching. You may say, Look, Sandra, it’s happening. Sally Field is 69 and playing a romantic lead in Hello, My Name is Doris. That’s way, way , way past Hollywood Old! Be grateful Hollywood said yes to a 69 year-old actress having a younger man love as her interest.

Yes, I’m grateful that an amazing actress other than Meryl Streep is playing a woman of a certain age.

Yeah, kudos for Sally being THE OVER 40 LEAD! I love Sally and she needs a hell of a lot more roles. However, did Doris have to be an ageist stereotype, did she have to be just another version of kooky older lady? Okay, okay. I’ll leave that for another time.

But COME ON.

My Next Big Thing, Next to You

Writing takes time. Lots of time.

Getting published takes time. Lots of time.

Submitting queries and manuscripts takes time. Lots of time.

This book’s taken time. Lots of time.

And by lots of time, I mean this books’s taken me 12 years to get accepted for publication.

This doesn’t mean the book that took me 12 years book is published. It means it took me 12 years that consisted of 9 months of writing it, a week where a well-respected and very dear author friend of mine read it and thought it was better than the first book I wrote (Bless you, Megan for getting through that piece of shite), a year of sitting on it, a week of my very lovely one-time critique partner Gabrielle reading it, and 9 years of sitting in a box under the bed before a writers’ weekend at Rachel Bailey’s house made me think to drag it out to see if it could be resurrected, followed by rewriting, editing and rewriting, and submitting and pitching, and submitting pitching, and submitting until….

Yes, kids, my Next Big Thing is about a motorcycle-riding albino hero who loves 60s Bubble Gum Pop. it’s called Next to You Don’t know about a release date, seeing as I just got the ‘we’d be delighted to accept Next to You for publication’ email,  but you know publishing is all about waiting.

And I can’t wait for you to meet William.

NTY1