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RANDOM MUSINGS: IMPLICIT BIAS AND WRITING ROMANCE

What it Means to Have Implicit Bias, and How It Impacts Romance Authors (Including Me)

Quote: Talk with people who make you see the world differently. - The Vibrant Mind
Implicit bias

Implicit bias…We all suffer from it. Though those on the receiving end of our resulting words and actions suffer from it the most.

What is implicit bias?

Having implicit bias towards or against someone simply means you unconsciously have certain stereotypes buried deep in your brain that impact what you do or say. Most likely, you learned them at a really young age due to social conditioning. Then they’ve been reinforced throughout your life.

These biases can be favorable and unfavorable, but what’s most important is that they live in your subconscious and are initiated involuntarily. These unconscious beliefs can be the polar-opposite of what you consciously believe, and they can impact how you perceive, and react to, other people.
Interestingly, you can even have implicit bias against people in your own demographic.

If you don’t think you have any implicit biases, you’re probably wrong. Because we all do to some extent.

If the idea that you might have implicit bias against, say, people of color, fat people, women, LGBTQ+ folks, people from another country or religion, or any other demographic group makes you immediately defensive, you definitely have implicit biases.

How do I know? It’s not because I’m an expert on the subject (that’s for sure). It’s because I recently ran headfirst into some of my own implicit biases. And boy has it thrown me for a loop. Though really, I shouldn’t be surprised.

I’m an almost fifty white woman raised in the deep South. When I think back on jokes and limericks and statements of “truth” from my childhood, I’m appalled by the way they framed women and people of color. When I remember some of the things regularly said about AIDS, gay men, and gay rights in the eighties, I get nauseous.

Even though I never agreed with those portrayals or beliefs, they still squirmed their way into my psyche. They carved out comfy little spaces in my brain that result in me not being able to recognize all kinds of flat out wrong statements and actions for what they are.

Because these biased statements or ideas get repeated so often, it’s hard to even notice them. I’m desensitized, and so are most people.

That is not okay.

Everything we read, see, and hear in our culture can weaken or strengthen our implicit biases.

Sometimes statements, and ideas or behaviors, are perpetuated purposefully in support of the status quo.

The political/media campaigns against freed slaves after the Civil War were designed to convince us men of color would kill, rob, or rape whites, and that the woman were hypersexualized, come to mind. Flyers, op-eds and advertisements were put out by political foes of emancipation and people (mostly white and male) who feared they’d lose money and/or power if those freed slaves were allowed to gain money and/or power.

Sometimes it’s because the creators of that media have implicit bias. Thus certain ethnicities and people from particular countries are often the criminals in movies. And women are often portrayed as weak, ditzy, catty, or emotionally out-of-control.

Either way, without realizing it, certain stereotypes become so common we inherently believe they’re true.

How does implicit bias affect me as a romance author?

Authors, of course, write the books and magazine articles and screenplays we read. Which are then often turned into the movies and TV shows we watch.

I very much want to write romances that reflect the diverse world I live in and include all the people. Because every person deserves to love and be loved. Everyone deserves their own Happily Ever After—whatever that might look like.

I want to write romances that destroy the tired stereotype of the unhappy marriage. I want to show readers healthy relationships built on respect and love, not the shrew of a wife and the lazy husband who fight all the time.

I also don’t ever want to voice or reaffirm negative, untrue stereotypes. And I do not ever want to inadvertently portray people different from myself in a poor light simply because they are different. Or portray them in a way that isn’t true and is hurtful.

Unfortunately, I know I will likely do all of the above, no matter how hard I try. Because, implicit bias.

So, I hold on to the idea that all I can do is strive to be aware of my own implicit biases. To have sensitivity readers anytime I’m dealing with a culture or experience not my own. To listen and learn, and not be afraid to own my mistakes, apologize, and work to do and be better.

What can be done about implicit bias?

  1. Recognize and admit you have implicit bias against someone, some group. And that it might even be a group you belong to.
  2. If someone accuses you of a bias or negative stereotype, and it makes you defensive, recognize that is a sign of implicit bias.
  3. Learn more about where/when your own implicit biases comes into play.
  4. Stop and think long and hard about any knee-jerk reaction or thoughts, negative OR positive (No, not all Asian people are great at math.) reaction you have to a person or group, and work to not perpetuate stereotypes.
  5. If someone tells you that your words or actions are hurtful or wrong, listen to them. Apologize, thank them for letting you know, and vow to do better.

Resources for learning more about, and rooting out, your implicit bias:

The Kirwani Institute offers more information on the nature of implicit bias.

Not sure where your own implicit biases may lie? Head over to the Perception Institute website for more information, and tests to help you determine your areas of implicit bias.

And here’s a terrific list of resources, originally put together by a romance author for other romance authors. But it’s got loads of valuable info for anyone interested in understanding, and rooting out, implicit bias.

Have you discovered any of your own implicit biases? How do you feel implicit bias affects you or the people around you? Please leave a comment below…

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Blog Diversity Love & Relationships

Random Musings: Media Representation, Romance Novels, and Changing Norms

Romance Novels Have the Power to Transform Our Relationships with Ourselves, and Others

The impact of media on societal norms has been on my mind for years, but it was a recent article celebrating Sesame Street’s fiftieth anniversary that made me realize I needed to write about it.

Because, the iconic show’s founders had a bigger goal than simply creating effective and entertaining educational programming for kids. They wanted to support disenfranchised children of color in particular.

That’s why the show so many of us grew with started with the most diverse cast ever seen on TV at the time. That’s why they all lived in harmony on a typical lower-income city street. And everyone treated each other with kindness and respect.

What we see, hear, and read has tremendous power to alter our perceptions, actions, and attitudes.

Psychologists and marketers figured out a while ago that the images we see on the screen or page, and the words we hear and read, make a difference in how we see the world. Human beings are hardwired to learn from stories. And we make decisions based largely on emotion not logic, especially fear.

Add in the social proof so prevalent in advertising and social media, and the simple power of seeing somebody else do something… Well, that makes us believe we can (or should, or have to) do it too.

Pundits have talked a lot about “normalizing” behaviors and attitudes over the past two years, especially when it comes to hate crimes and hate speech. Why? Because the more we see, hear, and read about something the more normal it becomes. We become desensitized to it.

If everyone else is doing it, it must be okay, or even good for us to do it too. Certainly it becomes what’s expected. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing to see here, move along.

When it’s hate crimes that’s bad. When it teaches us to respect others and treat them with kindness, and expect the same for ourselves, it’s fantastic. Like Sesame Street.

When it comes to romance novels, normalizing can be very, very good.

For many years, the vast majority of romance novels had a heroine being saved by the strong and virile hero. While the billionaire who swoops and rescues the poor/naive/virginal young woman still exists, modern romance is also a hotbed of feminism and equality.

Romances have the power to show women, and minorities, and other normally disenfranchised people getting exactly what they want out of their lives, careers, and relationships. Today stories feature successful women (and POC, LGBTQ and disabled and marginalized people) who know what they want and don’t want to settle for less.

They don’t need a hero to rescue them, or sometimes even marriage or a child. But they do want a partner (or partners) who loves, supports, and respects them. And they want great sex.

We all need to see more woman and diverse people having happy, sexually satisfying, mutually supportive relationships. Just like we need to see more diverse characters on screen and on the page so they become normal instead of “other”.

Because while books may be escapist fantasies, they also teach us about other people and other ways to live. They show us what we should expect, and what we should believe. When it comes to getting the love, success, respect, and hot sex we deserve, we need all the examples we can get.

Has a book or movie ever changed how you see yourself or someone else? Has one ever inspired you to demand more from your relationships and life?

Please do comment and share your thoughts below.

Categories
Blog Women’s Issues

Random Musings: Society’s Subtle Subjugation of Women

On Purses and Makeup and Shoes and the Subjugation of Women and Their Dreams

“Abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be bitchy, toxic, or competitive. This myth is like heels and purses — pretty but designed to SLOW women down.” — Roxane Gay Bad Feminist, August 2014

I’ve been watching The Handmaid’s Tale lately (which, if you haven’t seen it, is dark and disturbing and abso-frickin-lutely A-mazing), and one scene from the show has been stuck in my head. It summed up a line of thinking I’ve been following for the past few years in a frighteningly perfect way (Don’t worry. No spoilers).

In the scene, Joseph Fiennes, who plays The Commander, offers Elizabeth Moss, his Handmaid, a contraband copy of a woman’s magazine along the lines of Cosmo or Glamour.

She smiles, unsure, but clearly interested in this item that reminds her of better days, and could provide a tiny escape from the horror of her current dystopian life. He flips through the pages and says something along the lines of, “I never understood why women like these magazines. All they do is tell you, you aren’t pretty enough, or smart enough, or good enough in bed.”

The voice in my head said, “Riiiiiiiiiiight?”

Being Thin Enough, and Fashionable Enough, and Pretty Enough

Women have long been set a higher bar for how we’re supposed to look and act. According to magazines, movies, and social media we’re supposed to be very thin (but healthy, and with nice boobs and a booty), perfectly made up and put together at all times, and able to catch bad guys even in stilettos.

That bar is so high I’m not sure anyone can reach it without photoshop, plastic surgery, or an eating disorder. But damn, so many women keep trying, and then feeling bad about themselves for not achieving these impossible ideals.

So we go through life thinking we’re not good enough, and doing and buying everything we’re told in a vain effort to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. We even think we wear those horribly uncomfortable shoes and outfits for ourselves. Really though, who benefits? Corporations, the already wealthy, and the men in power who’d rather women not have the time, energy, money, or courage to challenge them or the status quo.

How is a woman going to find time to do anything when she’s juggling kids, work, and debt up to her bra straps—and trying to look and act perfect to boot? She’s not. As long as we’re focused on trying to make ourselves thin enough, fashionable enough, and pretty enough to be loved and respected, we’re letting our power be taken away. It’s a way of controlling us.

“Heels and purses are pretty but designed to SLOW women down.”

Carrie Bradshaw famously said she “likes her money where she can see it—hanging in her closet.”  That’s all well and good until your car dies, or you want to buy a house, start a business, or retire. Or you finally decide to walk out on the cheating/abusive SO you’ve been living with, only to realize no one will take a pair of Louboutins as deposit on an apartment.

Having financial freedom means having the freedom to make choices and changes in your life. To move across the country, leave a bad relationship, change careers, get a degree, or write the great American novel. Spending tons of time and money making sure you always have the latest outfit and perfectly manicured nails isn’t moving your life forward. It’s holding you back.

Imagine if women were happy with themselves. If we believed in our innate value, power, and beauty without all the expensive lotions and potions and paints and must-have outfits. Imagine what we could accomplish if we used that time, money, and emotional energy to start a business, fight for a cause, or achieve our dreams.

When women realize we don’t need to waste our precious time and money on all this highly-marketed crap to be beautiful, smart, powerful, and respected (or find true love), we’ll be unstoppable.

What do you think? Do you see a connection between the media’s example of beauty, and product and fashion marketing, and the subjugation of women?

Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.