Diversity, Mirrors and Narcissism

The offensive and debate sparking post of the week comes once again courtesy of Amazing Stories, where Felicity Savage somehow manages to link the current fashion for so-called “selfies”, i.e. self-portraits usually taken with cellphone cameras, to the call for more diversity in speculative fiction. And according to Ms. Savage, both are examples of narcissism and why can’t we all read Stephen Baxter instead?

First of all, though “selfie” is the buzzword of the moment and “word of the year” according to the OED, the phenomenon itself is hardly new. I remember taking “selfies” with my parents’ Polaroid and my own analogue camera back in the 1980s and 1990s. At one point, I even did a “photo duel” (i.e. we both pointed our cameras at each other and clicked) with another girl. And in the early 2000s, I remember putting my face onto my scanner and posting the result (thankfully lost to time) on the web. Staging an image of oneself is a normal impulse, particularly among the young.

But whatever you think of “selfies” (and personally I think they are harmless), the connection Felicity Savage draws between photographic self-portraits deemed as narcissist and the desire for more diversity in SFF makes no real sense, because frankly there is no connection between those things. I suspect Ms. Savage believes that the desire to see people like yourself in SFF or in popular culture in general is narcisstic. This is of course the POV of someone who has never seen people like themselves either relegated to villain status in pretty much every work of popular culture or erased altogether (which I for one usually found preferable to villain status, because that way I at least had the illusion that I could still be a hero in that world). Because guess what? It bloody hurts. And I am still comparatively well off compared to other groups who are marginalized and stereotyped a lot more.

Meanwhile, diversity in SFF is best explored on the species level according to Ms. Savage. Never mind that diversity on the species level all too often degenerates into problematic racial or ethnic stereotypes recast as aliens. Most of the time those aliens are portrayed either as one-note villains or noble savages for the great (white) human saviour to save, which makes the whole thing even more offensive. No, that kind of diversity does not help us to consider “what it means to be human”, unless “human” means a straight white American man or more rarely woman. Sometimes – particularly when it’s Doctor Who – “human” also means a young straight British woman.

The article then veers even further off course and goes into the debate about safe spaces at conventions for women and people of colour, because those safe spaces exclude white men. Now I remember having that debate about the “women’s room” as a student in the 1990s and it wasn’t a new debate back then. Interestingly, the debate about the “women’s room” at university also had a racist dimension, because it turned out that some the white feminists who had fought for the “women’s room” were not all that happy to find a muslim women, including muslim women wearing a hijab, using it.

And as a parting shot, Ms. Savage also gets in the requisite derogatory remark about a female dominated genre/subgenre that is almost de rigeur for articles on SFF related blogs and sites. This time around, “mom lit” gets it in the neck (as narcissist as selfies and wanting more diversity in SFF, because how dare women write about their experiences?), though I’m not certain whether she refers to the actual chick lit subgenre of “mom lit”, to the 50 Shades of Grey inspired erotic romance featuring dominant billionaires that has sometimes been condescendingly dubbed “mommy porn” or to romance and women’s fiction in general. Oh yes, and there is a bonus “navel-gazing lit fic” dig as well.

Natalie at Radish Reviews, Alix at The Other Side of the Rain, Shaun Duke at The World in the Satin Bag and Stacy Whitman all have very good responses to Felicity Savage and her condescending article, as does Silvia Moreno-Garcia, who also points out some inconsistencies between this latest post and some of Felicity Savage’s earlier posts at Amazing Stories.

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6 Responses to Diversity, Mirrors and Narcissism

  1. Man, I hope more awesome posts like this keep popping up, because right now I’m kind of freaking out that Savage’s article hasn’t attracted as much ire as Paul Cook’s “ew there’s romance in my sci-fi let’s call it something else” article did in September. I want internet rioting and editor apologies and stuff, because this article is just…so, so much more awful.

    • Cora says:

      I guess there hasn’t been as much outrage, because at least the American part of the internet has been eating turkey and/or gotten into a shopping frenzy these past few days. Or maybe people have gotten into the habit of clicking right past Felicity Savage’s posts on Amazing Stories, because they tend to be full of fail (she once called me out for saying mean things about poor Vox Day – rolleyes). I only noticed this post when Natalie called it out at Radish Reviews, because I no longer read Felicity Savage. Or maybe people are just tired of stuff like this popping up every couple of weeks.

      Anyway, glad you liked my post. Let’s hope that this truly offensive article gets some more attention.

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