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.

 

The 3 or 5 Hats of Sandra Antonelli

hatsjpgLast week was a busy one. Like Bartholomew Cubbins, I wore a lot of hats– not quite 500 hats, but  3 or 5, which is a lot of hats when you’re a little over 5 feet tall.

My first hat was a holiday hat. Dr Shrinkee and I flew to Adelaide–a city in South Australia that was NOT settled by convicts transported for stealing a loaf of bread. We rented (or hired as we say here) a Toyota Something Silver Sedan with a giant trunk (boot) far too large for the ONE piece of luggage we shared, and drove around wine country where I took lots of photos of bees doing their bee thing because bees are awesome.Bee1

The holiday hat was put away when I went to attend the Romance Writers of Australia Conference in the seaside Adelaide suburb of Glenelg. I was at the conference to do the sort of stuff writers do at writers conferences such as meet romance industry types, like agents and editors. Hat No. 2 was kind of something of a fedora that I did a nervous Jimmy Stewart-esque fumble with while I pitched At Your Service, the story of a butler, her boss, her dead husband, a missing trust fund, and a deadly toilet brush to an editor at a well-known romance publishing house.

I wasn’t half as nervous about the pitch as I was the fact I had interviewed the editor back in 2012, when I was in the middle of my doctoral research on why publishers wrinkled their noses at older romance heroines. The mind-blowing thing about the pitch was the fact the editor remembered me. The other mind-blowing thing is that she wanted to read the full manuscript about the butler, her boss, her dead husband, a missing trust fund, and a deadly toilet brush.

The third hat was one I shared with Dr Shrinkee as we presented a a workshop together at the Romance Writers of Australia Ain’t Love Grand conference.  The workshop was titled  Personality Goes a Long Way: Is Your Bad Boy a Psychopath or A Dude with ‘tude? As you can imagine, what with Dr Shrinkee being a psychologist at a WRITERS conference, the workshop was all about crafting characters with believable personalities–good guys and bad guys.

Hat No. 4 was one of those English style floppy bonnets university graduates and academic types in the UK and Australia wear because I presented an academic paper at the University of Love conference that ran concurrently with the RWAus’ Ain’t Love Grand.  You know my paper was ALL ABOUT placing women over 40 as protagonists in romance fiction– the stuff that I discovered in my doctoral research, the stuff I go on about ALL THE TIME.  The paper was titled The (Saggy) Bottom Line: Women of a Certain Age and Romance Fiction.

Aside from speakiBee2JPGng a little too fast (I was excited) and not being able to hear the awesome clip from Amy Shumer’s Last Fuckable Day (Go watch it RIGHT NOW), I did rather well. I was surprised by the number of questions I fielded. I still sometimes think that I’m shouting into the wind about ageism, stereotypes, and the need for broader representation of women of a certain in romance fiction. However, the questions I was asked provide more evidence that readers want to see themselves, or people like them, represented in romance fiction. I was very HAPPBEE to learn that.

See what I did there?

Side note: I am grateful that Kat from BookThingo kindly tweeted bits from my presentation. Thank you for that Kat. Thanks also to Kaetrin from Kaetrin’s Musings and Dear Author for giving a wonderful wrap-up of the RWAus Ain’t Love Grand and University of Love conferences, as well as mentioning our ongoing differences of opinion on whether Gone With the Wind is a romance or not–I say yes, Kaetrin says NOOOOOOooOooOo!

I never saw hat 5 coming. It was half hidden by the ENORMOUS mountain of laundry and dust bunnies that had accumulated after a week away from home. I am happy to say I washed (an ironed) everything and vanquished vicious dust bunnies like a badass in a laundry drudge’s bonnet.