Showing posts with label ableist. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ableist. Show all posts

Sunday, February 5, 2017

How to Recognize Ableism in Books: The Sufferer, Magical Disabilities, and Cures | Book Blogging Etiquette (#8)

Consider this post a follow-up to my post about recognizing racism in books. 

Here are some tips to help you recognize ableist narratives and hopefully make you more aware of these tropes when reading. 

Note that disabled people are not a monolith. I can't and won't speak for all disabled people out there. Make sure to read posts about topics like this by as many disabled people as you can to try to get an idea about the things you should avoid.

Wait, what is ableism? 
Ableism means discrimination against disabled people. It's basically racism for disabilities. There you go. As with the other post, I'll underline words that I think you should learn. If you don't know what they mean, google is your friend and savior.

Example 1: The Magical Cure

What it is: 
A disabled character gets cured either right at the start of a narrative or as a goal throughout the story or is on a quest to find a cure for their disability. 

Why it's harmful: 
Disabled readers pick up books about disabled characters because they want to feel represented. When you're reading a book about a disabled character that might have your exact disability, reading about them getting cured is extremely harmful. It also perpetuates the idea that disability is a burden and getting cured is a gift that all disabled people strive for, which really is an ableist statement in itself.

How to recognize it:
Books like MAGONIA for example are pitched with the disability and end up curing it. You can pretty much tell from the blurb in most cases and it's fairly easy to recognize. If the disability magically vanishes, gets healed through a wishing well/sorcerer/quest/whatever, or turns out to be actually the result of something paranormal/supernatural, it's ableism.

Example 2: The Faux-Disability

What it is: 
A disabled character that is just disabled on the page, but their portrayal provides no actual representation. Their disability is neither addressed nor is their experience realistic or relevant to the story. I like to call these characters faux-disabled. You could make the character able-bodied and nothing about the book would change.

Why it's harmful: 
Why add a disabled character to your story if you aren't aiming to represent? Usually these characters are just added to make the premise more interesting and sell the book. This fairly obviously isn't done with the intention of giving representation to disabled people. 

How to recognize it:
This is difficult if you're able-bodied and/or not familiar with the exact disability. Here are some good questions to ask

  • Does their disability limit them during the novel? Is any of their experience different than that of an able-bodied person?
  • Are there reflection passages where the character talks about their disability? Usually able-bodied authors with faux-disabled characters shy away from that because this would obviously show how little they know about disability. Not a bullet-proof way to tell, but it's something.
  • Is their disability a plot point? Is it necessary or convenient for them to be disabled just because of a specific plot point?
  • Is their disability cured/turns out not to be real? Think of books like EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING.

Example 3: The "well you're out then"

What it is: 
Writing a character out of the story or shifting them from a main character to a side character or a side character to off the page after they acquire a disability.

Why it's harmful: 
An easy cop out for an author who clearly does not care about disability. Just delete the character instead of representing. It's extremely disheartening to finally see a disabled character in your favorite book, but then they end up getting written out of the story. Disability is reduced to a shocking or dramatic plot point.

How to recognize it:
You'll surely notice when a disabled character disappears or gets degraded to a side character.

Example 4: The Magical Disability

What it is:
A magic ability as an attempt to make sense of disability. Blind characters who have visions, characters with schizophrenia that can hear the voices of dead people, things like that.

Why it's harmful: 
It's very important here to check whether the author draws a line. This magnificent post from Disability in Kidlit explains quite nicely that disabled characters can have magical abilities without making it an ableist narrative IF their disability is not invalidated. Their example is THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER, in which the protagonist has PTSD and magical abilities that aren't related.

In most cases books who utilize this don't necessarily want to represent the disability. Their magic ability, if it's tied to the disability, is often a way to say "hey, so that's why people have schizophrenia/are blind/have PTSD." This can easily come across as a way to try and make sense / justify the existence of disabled people, which is just horrific to think about. Do those disabled people who don't have magical abilities in real life then have no reason to exist? Authors who use this trope aren't aiming to give disabled readers characters to relate to but want to use it as a plot device, which again ventures into ableist territory.

How to recognize it:
If you ask yourself - could the disabled character with magical powers also be able-bodied? If the answer is no it's quite likely that it's an ableist story. Check whether it's a plot device.

Example 5: The "Sufferer"

What it is: 
A disabled character whose disability is a burden, it's just suffering with virtually no good aspects, their life is miserable and they hate it and are longing for a magical cure, maybe even actively pursuing finding one.

Note that not all disabled people think alike and this may actually ring true for some disabled people, but if the author of a book like that is able-bodied, they have no business telling a story like that. If we're talking #ownvoices, any disabled author can write about this. This is very much an issue of staying in your lane.

Why it's harmful: 
This is a classic example of suffer porn. Able-bodied people often are entertained by the suffering of disabled people. Look at books like ME BEFORE YOU. The limited representation we get in media will usually be centered around our suffering. Imagine how you'd feel if the only books about able-bodied people were about how much they wished they were disabled and how horrible their life is because they are able-bodied? Well, it's not quite the same, but you get the picture.

How to recognize it:
A book that centers around the suffering, while not being #ownvoices, and possibly also centering around finding a cure. It's quite easy to recognize if you're aware of this trope's existence.

I recognized one of these things in a book. What do I do now?

  • Rate and review. It's very important to prevent more marginalized readers from being harmed
  • Mention the harmful tropes you recognized in your review while also mentioning that you're able-bodied
  • Inform people who recommend the book of its ableism
  • Make sure to check if it's an #ownvoices book. Don't come for #ownvoices books by disabled authors if you're able-bodied. Stay in your lane.
  • Promote and link reviews of people who have the disability that is portrayed poorly and don't back down when someone tells you that it's just an opinion

More on problematicness:

HOLD UP if you plan on commenting: 

Please do not ask advice about specific books or examples in your own writing. I will not answer them. This post took an immense amount of emotional energy to write, so let's be respectful, okay? If you have detailed questions, feel free to submit them to my Patreon, nothing's off limits there. 

If you want to say thanks, consider buying me a virtual coffee through ko-fi here.  It's a nice gesture and will make this feel appreciated. Also will contribute to me taking the time to make more posts like this.

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Monday, January 30, 2017

[Review] Magonia (#1) - Maria Dahvana Headley: Bird Humans and Ableism

In MAGONIA, Aza has a chronic lung disease and suddenly hallucinates (or not?) a ship in the sky.

What intrigued me: Chronic illness and magical realism! Sign me up!

Strange narration and no structure

MAGONIA immediately surprised me with an incredibly unique voice. Aza's narration is very reminiscent of a stream-of-consciousness. It's hard to keep up with the plot, with her thoughts, with everything really, because there is hardly any indication of scene changes. I struggled a lot with the narration, even though it is undoubtedly very memorable and unique. 

MAGONIA uses the justification "it's magical realism, I don't have to explain anything" way too much. It desperately lacks descriptions to even begin to create images in the reader's head. This book can't hide that it has no structure whatsoever, doesn't make sense, and is absolutely weird. The weird thing isn't necessarily something negative, but it isn't a good kind of weird. I had no idea what was happening half of the time, and struggled to even understand the scenes because of the strange narration. It's really a novel that you have to pay attention to very closely to even be able to keep up, and I find that extremely unappealing and not very entertaining at all. 

Disabled people are not your plot device. Stop.

The problem with this book is that it starts out with a fantastic chronically-ill character and instead of celebrating the character's disability - decides to cure them. Could we just not do this generally. [highlight for spoiler]
  Yeah, I get it, she dies and ascends to another plane of existence and then it all makes sense why she was disabled in life because she's secretly a superhuman bird humanoid. Can we just not.
[end of spoiler]

What's the point in writing about disability if you magically cure it halfway in? Imagine how chronically-ill people feel when reading this book. Why couldn't Ava remain sick? This would've made for such a powerful read and I would've celebrated the crap out of this!

Even though MAGONIA technically doesn't deserve such a low rating because of the sheer skill, creativity, and unique voice, I am not supporting this behavior. Don't cure disabled characters for your plot, in fact don't even write about disabled characters at all if you only think it would make for an edgy blurb and brownie points! Just because it's fiction, you aren't allowed to write whatever you want, especially not if it involves marginalized people. Disabled people are not your plot device. Don't write about them if you just think it'll make for a good pitch.

Well, I should've known from the blurb. Describing chronically-ill people as "weak and dying thing[s]". NEXT!




Overall: Do I Recommend?

Absolutely not, I would even go as far as to actively advise against reading it because it's so incredibly, incredibly insensitive. MAGONIA lures with an interesting idea, but is absolutely ruined through its insensitivity and ignorant ableist message. So, at what point do real-life chronically ill people get invited to Magonia so everything will be rainbows and butterflies again?

Additional Info

Published: April 28th 2015
Pages: 309
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: YA / Magical Realism
ISBN: 9780062320520

"Aza Ray is drowning in thin air. 

Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live. 

So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn't think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found, by another. Magonia. 

Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—and as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war is coming. Magonia and Earth are on the cusp of a reckoning. And in Aza’s hands lies the fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?(Source: Goodreads)

Have you read MAGONIA?

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

[Review] Angelfall (Penryn & The End of Days #1) - Susan Ee: Angels and the Apocalypse

In ANGELFALL, the world has been destroyed by angels and people are forced to hide in the ruins of their cities. 

What intrigued me: Angels. I missed the angel hype a couple of years ago and am now in full obsession mode.

A typical post-apocalyptic dystopia

The setting of ANGELFALL isn't much different from what you'd expect from a dystopia, and the only thing that makes this world differ from the usual apocalyptic wasteland in YA, is the occasional angel flying above their heads.

It's a survival story at the core, a lot of walking, a lot of stalling time. Naturally, this isn't always easy to read, I caught myself skimming the generic descriptions of building ruins and empty streets and litter. The scenery is so generic that it almost doesn't need any descriptions at all if you've ever seen a post-apocalyptic movie in your life.

I longed for every little bit of explanation about the angels that didn't quite come. With novels with supernatural elements that are out there in the open in the real world, it's very important to me to understand how this happened. The only glimpse we get is that Penryn mentions that the messenger of God Gabriel came down to Earth and was immediately shot. That's it. Very frustrating, generally the book just throws things that happen at you and doesn't explain a lot, probably a technique to make people buy the second book. And yeah, I shamefully have to admit, it works.

Thank the heavens (or not?) for a realistic romance plot

Ee absolutely had me hooked through the character of the angel Raffe. Penryn's and his dynamics are hilariously wonderful and his dry humor and arrogance incredibly entertaining. Of course we have some obligatory side romance, but it's very subtle. 

The first time in a long time that I actually thought to myself that this story could really happen. It's very realistic, they actually take time to even just not be awkward in conversation. No premature declarations of love here. They don't even really care about the other one surviving this whole ordeal until 60% in. It's refreshing to see a relationship and friendship(!) develop at a realistic pace.

Another thing that absolutely needs to be mentioned is the ableism in this one. I was so happy to see a wheelchair user in the form of Penryn's little sister. This is a magical cure narrative. If you're a wheelchair user looking for representation, this isn't the book to pick. I'm extremely disappointed with Ee making that decision and it severely impacts my rating and opinion of this book.




Overall: Do I Recommend?

ANGELFALL is easily one of the better dystopias out there, however it could use some more world building and is ableist. Leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Additional Info

Published: August 28th 2012
Pages: 288
Publisher: Skyscape 
Genre: YA / Dystopia
ISBN: 9781444778519

"It's been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back.

Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel.

Raffe is a warrior who lies broken and wingless on the street. After eons of fighting his own battles, he finds himself being rescued from a desperate situation by a half-starved teenage girl.

Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they have only each other to rely on for survival. Together, they journey toward the angels' stronghold in San Francisco where she'll risk everything to rescue her sister and he'll put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again."(Source: Goodreads)

What's your favorite book about angels?

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