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Feb
15
2017

How to Critique Diverse Writing: A Practical Lesson in Tolerance and Acceptance -- by jlgfellers

It’s Wednesday! Yay! That means new stories are up on Critique Circle! Excited, you scroll through the queue. So many choices, but nothing catches your eye except—wait. Ooh, this looks good. You begin to read. One paragraph. Two. This is good stuff that you can’t wait to critique—no. You scroll to the top of the page and hover your curser over the author’s profile Sigh. You hit the back button and begin searching for something that you’re more comfortable with, but why? We’ve all done it, and not because of the story itself. Not because there are technical errors or a plot hole big enough to drive a minivan through. No, it’s something deeper—something within you and nothing that the author has written.

Admit it. You’re uncomfortable because the writer is different than you. He or she doesn’t fit into the comfortable little box that’s your reality.

Quit your squirming and don’t back away from this blog post. Instead, take a deep breath and keep reading. I’m not trying to indoctrinate you into anything. On the contrary, I’m trying to educate you on what to do when you come across the unfamiliar here on CC or anywhere else. I want you jump headlong into the world outside your comfort zone. I want you to embrace the unfamiliar like your favorite childhood stuffed toy. I want you to read, to understand, to squirm and be uncomfortable at times.

 I've been writing for over twenty years and publishing for over a decade, and I've come across a problem, a real problem with sharing my work in critique groups. Some critters don't know how to respond and, inevitably, shut down when they come across other ways of being besides their own. I’ve recently had this happen to me on CC, but this time I'm not giving up and going home. (I gave the critter, a dedicated critter at that, an opportunity to escape before he completed the meltdown he’d already started—but that’s a different story) I'm tired of dealing with such ignorance. People need to know how to respond to the unknown, how to work past their personal discomfort without sounding like something they probably don't want to be known as—a bigot.

That’s right. I said it. We think we’re not capable, but we all have the dark, ugly bigotry beast lurking within in us, so I’m going to give you a process to work through whenever you come across writing that takes you outside of your comfort zone, thereby negating the bigot beast.

But, before we dig deeper, we need to understand what diverse writing really is: The Midnight Publishing website includes a great definition. (NOTE: I am in no way associated with nor do I promote Midnight Publishing or their services. Rather, I am merely sharing a good definition) Per their page “Diversity in Books and How to include it,” some “of the most popular subject matter in the publishing industry right now involves the all-encompassing term of diversity. Characters who are part of the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) community, as well as differing religious and cultural beliefs and protagonists of other races all gaining vast amounts of exposure and inclusion in modern-day fiction.” This is a great overall definition, but our problem lies in something deeper. How do we, as writers, critique diverse content?

Here's your list of how to navigate and critique through diverse writing no matter the genre.

When you encounter diverse writing:

  • Keep reading. Read. Embrace writing from outside your personal realm before you ever critique it. In other words—be well read. Read some well-written erotica—Fifty Shades does not qualify as good erotica any more than Twilight qualifies as good vampire fiction. Read some award-winning gay romance. Read some feminist Sci-Fi. Read stories by Latinos, Africans, Asians, Muslims, Jews—read from minority groups—and more than the sprinkling you were force fed in school. You’ll learn something about society. You’ll learn something about humanity. But, most importantly, you’ll learn something about yourself.
  • Identify the problem. Know that how you feel is how you feel, but is what you feel fear of the unknown or is it something else? Does your discomfort when you read Muslim authors derive from your unfamiliarity with the culture, or is it because you’re Islamophobia? Did you drop that Sci-Fi chapter submission like a hot potato because it contained bad writing, or because the protagonist wasn’t a straight, white man like you are? Become aware of your own prejudices and work past them. If you can’t you’re missing stacks of good stories.

How to critique a diverse story:

  • Critique the story and not the author’s culture, religion, lifestyle or anything else. If is not your place to say what’s right and isn’t. Now, if you’re a part of said culture, you can identify yourself then politely delve a bit deeper into the diverse aspects of said group, but if you’re not, leave it alone. If you don’t you’ll be labeld a bigot and rightly so.
  • Don’t think your way of thinking is the only way of thinking. Bigotry denotes ignorance.
  • Call a spade a spade when necessary. For example: if a story is misogynistic or misandrist, call it such, but be aware of how such things fit into different cultures. Is the female protagonist forced to work inside the guidelines of such a culture? If so, understand this and leave it alone. Sometimes survival speaks stronger than resistance. Case in point: Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a novel where protagonist is forced to work within the confines of the extreme misogyny her world has descended into. This does not make the work misogynistic. Rather, the story is a feminist tale.  Personal Note: I’ve come across a few stories here on CC that were actually violent, misogynist fantasies hidden under the label of erotica. I called them what they were and would do the same for a story containing misandry. Don’t be afraid to do so, but know why you’re doing so and be prepared to articulate and defend your position with sound evidence. Hate is hate. Abuse is abuse. Don’t be afraid to call it out, but know who the real hater is before you do so.

Still ucomfortable? Here are some graceful work arounds that will still let you critique:

  • Heed warning labels. Even if there's no reason in your eyes, the author posted the warning because she/ he thinks there's good reason.
  • Ignore the content in question. If the story is great except for that one part that makes you uncomfortable, work around it. It’s very easy to do.
  • Admit that you aren’t familiar with the culture, religion, community or lifestyle and will be not critiquing that story aspect for that reason. No one will fault you for it. Don’t go into details why you aren’t—no “I don’t believe” or “I don’t like”—it doesn’t matter. Just say you aren’t because you have no basis for comparison and get on with it.
  • If all else fails, go ahead hit that back button, but it should be your last resort. If you feel that strongly about the content, say nothing and go do something else. Don’t try to set someone “straight.” Don’t try to make someone agree with you. Don’t get in a tizzy. Don’t gloss to the end, call the writer a name, and stomp off. You’re bigger than that.
  • Never, ever attack an author personally. Period. That’ll get you thrown out of every critique group I’ve ever been a part of, and, if you want to write, you need somewhere to share your works in progress.

So there you have it. Read. Critique. Write. But most of all, Learn. When we learn, we can accept. When we can accept, we can understand. When we can understand, we can embrace. When we can embrace, we become a part of a something greater, something we can all write about so even more of us can learn so the cycle perpetuates. We’ve taken a few cultural back steps lately, especially in the U.S., but it shouldn’t keep us from progressing as readers, writers, and insightful, confident critters.  

Posted by jlgfellers 15 Feb at 00:57
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Responses to this blog

Inkpuddle 18 Feb at 10:34  
I once put a story up for critique about a boy struggling with an eating disorder. A girl commented that she liked it until she found out it was a guy, and that gave her a grossed-out feeling she couldn't get passed for the rest of the chapter. I asked her nicely if there was anything I could do to change that feeling, and she said plainly "change it to a girl". Sounds pretty bigoted, if you ask me....

Bluewave 18 Feb at 14:41  
I'm very new here and have only written a few critiques. However, It never occurred to me to critique (or not critique) a story based on the author's bio.

If I feel the story is really good, I'll check to see if there is anything else he or she has written so I can read more. If the content is unique, I may see where the author's from to better understand the perspective.

Honestly, I can't imagine anyone on here basing a decision to crit on anything other than the story itself. If the story is interesting, well written, or unique in the eyes of a reviewer, why would he or she otherwise withhold a review based on who wrote it?
Chaine 18 Feb at 15:46  
The first thing I thought about when I read this was if I really knew what a bigot is. I think I have a fairly good vocabulary but how often do we assume that we know the meaning of a word because it is common place? I think many writers fall into this trap. I decided to look it up and found that according to the Cambridge Dictionary it's:

A person who has strong, unreasonable beliefs and who does not like other people who have different beliefs or a different way of life

What are strong, unreasonable beliefs? There was a recent incident on 14 October 2016 when

A SCHOOL bus driver has been accused of putting children’s lives at risk after he stopped on a busy main road – and climbed out to say Muslim prayers.

It could be argued that the bus driver has strong, unreasonable beliefs and it could be further argued that he did not like the children because he put them at risk. It could also be said that he did not like the families of the children he put at risk because he put their children in harm's way. Note there is no mention that he disliked them merely that his did not like them.

Looking at it from the perspective of the bus driver, he may have thought that a society that prevents him from doing his sacred duty as a Muslim is one with strong, unreasonable beliefs. He may well think that when he is instructed by his boss not to stop the bus to pray that his boss is a bigot. But is this true?

The way we act and react in certain situations is to some degree determined by the culture we live in and our own personal experience. I know people that have undergone deep traumatic experiences that have left them so scarred that the way they react in some situations may make them seem to be bigoted. If someone has been terrified for their life because they have been treated viciously by a certain section of society it is not understandable that that person may not like the people that caused him to suffer?


Pat Glass, the shadow Europe minister had this to say about how to engage people in a debate about trying to influence people to support the campaign to remain part of the EU:

Go and speak to your mother, your grandmother. Don't speak to your grandfather, we know the problem are older white men.

Would you consider this to be a bigoted remark?

The newspapers we read, the friends we have, the television we watch, the things we buy all re-enforce our own beliefs. This makes it very easy for people in positions of power and influence to exercise an amount of control over what we think. This is part of what is known as social conditioning. We are all being bombarded by people telling us what to think. I think the greatest hope anyone has to avoid being a bigot is to have independent thought and that is by far the most difficult course of action for the individual. Read this article on Social conditioning to discover why that is.

I will never know the facts, but I do wonder how many of our members were afraid to respond to this blog for fear of being labelled a bigot.

Trust and use your own independent judgement to decide what you read and what you critique.

Jlgfellers 18 Feb at 16:51  
That’s right. I said it. We think we’re not capable, but we all have the dark, ugly bigotry beast lurking within in us,


Not respond for fear of being called a bigot? Interesting, considering I stated early in the article that we're all capable of being bigots. It's in all of us—it's what we do with it that's important. And I wasn't talking about greater situations such as personal safety (school bus driver) or any other such situation, I was discussing critiquing and how to recognize and handle our bias within ourselves—not what defines someone as a bigot or when to call someone a bigot. That had absolutely nothing to do with the blog post.
Bluewave 18 Feb at 18:13  
Quote by: Chaine
...

[Two anecdotes that had about as much to do with bigotry or this blog entry as the price of tea in China]

...

I will never know the facts, but I do wonder how many of our members were afraid to respond to this blog for fear of being labelled a bigot.

...


Well I responded to this blog. In fact, I disagreed with it's premise. I don't think anyone will accuse me of bigotry over it.

You also said this...


I know people that have undergone deep traumatic experiences that have left them so scarred that the way they react in some situations may make them seem to be bigoted. If someone has been terrified for their life because they have been treated viciously by a certain section of society it is not understandable that that person may not like the people that caused him to suffer? [emphasis mine]

I feel sorry for your friend. Whatever trauma he or she suffered was at the hands of individuals within a society, not the society itself. I am also sorry to say that if your friend now fears people that he or she has never met, then that person is allowing those same individuals to inflict further trauma.

I don't know if that is bigotry or stereotyping or both. I do know that it's wrong.
Susieq 18 Feb at 18:58  
Frankly, I'm really tired of words like bigot being thrown around in an attempt to shut up the people who don't agree with you (Ironic, that.) (And that's a general "you" not directed at any specific person.) I'm not here to satisfy the SJWs of the world. Call me a bigot if that's what floats your boat, but there are far more stories on CC than I have time, so I'll stick to the ones that appeal to me.

__________________
Suzie Q
Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference. ― Mark Twain

Jlgfellers 18 Feb at 19:02  
You're welcome to disagree with the blog, but please examine why you do. And no, no one is calling anyone a bigot here. This is about not letting our internal bias leak out when it shouldn't.

Also, please be careful separating who's saying what. Different people are speaking their minds so let's not lump them all together. Defining the individual voices is necessary for an intelligent discussion.

If I caught your attention and made you think, this blog has served its purpose.

Catesquire 18 Feb at 19:06  
To join the slow reply train to this blog, I'm just gonna point out what made me hesitant to get the discussion rolling, even though I was super excited when I initially read the title:

Quote by: Jlgfellers
You scroll to the top of the page and hover your curser over the author’s profile Sigh. You hit the back button and begin searching for something that you’re more comfortable with, but why? We’ve all done it, and not because of the story itself. Not because there are technical errors or a plot hole big enough to drive a minivan through. No, it’s something deeper—something within you and nothing that the author has written.

Admit it. You’re uncomfortable because the writer is different than you. He or she doesn’t fit into the comfortable little box that’s your reality.



[Emphasis mine.]

That is, uh... makin' a lot of assumptions about me. About everyone who reads the blog post. Might be unintentional, but using second person to write it sure does make it feel personal. I speak only for myself, of course, but seein' these assumptions made about myself was distinctly off-putting. I can say with honesty that I have never done that. In fact, I don't know that I could do it, even if I wanted to—most people on CC don't put enough in their bios for me to tell their physical sex, much less their race, religion, gender, political views, etc.

Implied accusations to my personal character aside, it's a topic worthy of discussion. I know people in RL who avoid books because "there's a girl on the cover," "there's a black/hispanic/white/race-not-mine person as the lead," "I don't read gay novels," etc, which I assume is the heart of what you're gettin' at, here—folks who are uncomfortable readin' outside their own experiences, which includes the critters here. I personally haven't experienced this at CC, either on my stories or the reviews of others, but I'm sure it happens. As a mathematically inclined individual, I'd love to see the stats on it, actually. I'd hypothesize that the CC criting audience is more tolerant/welcoming of outside perspectives than readers at large, but I'd love to play in that data set.

On a related topic, what are folk's takes on "sensitivity readers" and "appropriation"? They're the flip side of this, I think: instead of being uncomfortable about reading diverse stories, writers are sometimes hesitant to write diverse perspectives due to the growing debate over whether it's "appropriate." I'm personally in Lionel Shriver's camp on the issue; I like writin' diverse perspectives (and readin' 'em, too), and don't feel that I should be constrained by to my RL sex/gender/religion/ethnicity, but the heightened internet debates on the subject have me double-guessing elements in my stories like I never would have before. "Is it a stereotype to write X, even if my friend's family is this ethnicity and they totally do this?", "Is it all right for my villain to be Y, even if that's contributing to a history of this person's gender being treated as mentally deranged in media?", etc. I'd be fascinated to see where others stand on the issue.
Jlgfellers 18 Feb at 19:36  
I'm not making assumptions about anyone, rather, I am speaking widely. Again, everyone has bias within them, even the most open-minded individual—even me. To say you don't have them means you might well be engaging in what psychologists call the false consensus effect/ bias.

Our perspectives, for the most part, are limited to our own experiences. Therein lies the problem. If it doesn't fit into our existing paradigm...

I expected people to have visceral reactions to my post.

But we're getting way off course from the post's intent. The original intent was to give critters choices, to suggest a road map, a way to handle the unfamiliar.

When you come across something new, the tendency is to attack without thinking deeper. A bit of self-reflection is necessary.


Bluewave 18 Feb at 20:03  
Quote by: Catesquire
...I speak only for myself, of course, but seein' these assumptions made about myself was distinctly off-putting. I can say with honesty that I have never done that. In fact, I don't know that I could do it...

I'm sure you speak for the majority of CC members. Any author worth his salt needs to write about things outside of his comfort zone. Crap...I'm no author and still I know that. Sure...I know some people who are bigots. None of them are writers; none are my friends.

It's unfortunate that the blog author assumes most people won't critique a story from an author different from them. I find this truly hard to believe. While there are people who are that unreasonable, I would say these are a minority. If any of us want to crit a story, we will do so without regard to who or what the author is.

About "cultural appropriation" or "sensitivity readers" - I believe in neither. The former dismisses two very powerful tools in the author's toolbox: research and perspective. The latter is simply mild censorship, which has no place anywhere near modern literature.
Bluewave 18 Feb at 20:23  
Quote by: Jlgfellers
I'm not making assumptions about anyone, rather, I am speaking widely. Again, everyone has bias within them, even the most open-minded individual—even me. To say you don't have them means you might well be engaging in what psychologists call the false consensus effect/ bias.

The first sentence is incongruent with the remainder of the paragraph.

Quote by: Jlgfellers

Our perspectives, for the most part, are limited to our own experiences. Therein lies the problem. If it doesn't fit into our existing paradigm...


This site is filled with authors, both successful and aspiring. They had better know what it's like to look at things from different perspectives. As I've said before, one cannot be a good (or even mediocre) author without that tool in her kit.

Quote by: Jlgfellers
I expected people to have visceral reactions to my post.

And you got mostly analytical ones. Sorry to disappoint.

Quote by: Jlgfellers
But we're getting way off course from the post's intent. The original intent was to give critters choices, to suggest a road map, a way to handle the unfamiliar.

What if we already know how to handle the unfamiliar? Most people (authors in particular) are far more adaptable than you give credit for.

Quote by: Jlgfellers
When you come across something new, the tendency is to attack without thinking deeper.

You are hanging out with the wrong people. None of my friends behave like this.

Quote by: Jlgfellers
A bit of self-reflection is necessary.

I've broken every mirror I've looked into.
Susieq 18 Feb at 20:24  
What I find offensive is the idea that not critiquing something your not familiar/comfortable with makes you a bigot. (You use the word five times in the blog post, so acting like it isn't at least one of the points of your blog is disingenuous.) I also find it hypocritical to apply the word to people who don't agree with you because, well, isn't that what a bigot does? Judge people who aren't like them?
Trevose 18 Feb at 21:23  
No, I don't agree with much in your post. That does not make me a bigot. In fact, when it first came up, I read the first paragraph and went on to other things not because I'm a bigot but because of the sweeping assumptions and flawed logic. But given the number of responses, I've now read it. I agree with much of the feedback: Not only is the tone righteous, but the lack of a credible argument and assertions as fact is rather annoying. And the entire premise, which you set up with a single line for emphasis that we stop reading because "the writer is different than" we are is simply not true. Many writers here carefully disguise who they really are, so there is often no way to know. There are a lot of stories I decide not to read here because they are poorly introduced, have too many grammatical errors in the first paragraphs, are genres that don't interest me or are in genres for which I don't think I can provide constructive feedback. One thing I am developing a prejudice against is crappy writing that is presented as "diverse" that authors think should get special dispensation in regard to the requirements of good storytelling.
Cindykougr 18 Feb at 22:27  
There is a great deal of irony here. Most of these reactions are visceral. They are defensive. I don't see much objective pondering here. I do see a lot of defensiveness. I started to quote, but I won't call out individuals. Look at your posts. Most of you are very concerned with defending yourself or a group with which you identify (authors, mainly). In doing so, you are completely missing the point. In fact, I would even argue that you are reinforcing it.

Defensiveness is not a sign of an open-minded individual. Open-minded individuals acknowledge their bias, acknowledge their potential to avoid what is different. Research is very clear that we all do this (I even included a link at the bottom), and that acknowledging it (not claiming to be above it) is the solution. Authors' very well may be well versed in various perspectives compared to others, but that doesn't make us immune.

Please, goodness, don't accuse me of calling you a bigot. Let's forget the word entirely. The word "bigot" was inflammatory, clearly. Look past it and see the message: question your own biases and motivations and encourage others to do likewise. Why would any of us put down this message, especially if we are as "open-minded" as we all claim to be? This is a good message, not an attack.

The defensive reaction shows me only that the message was far more necessary than some of you realize. We all have bias, often subconscious bias that we may not be aware of. Those who would like to believe they don't simply aren't acknowledging theirs, and unacknowledged bias is the most dangerous.

I say again. If you are as open-minded as you claim, why attack this message?

Before you rip me a new one, check this out. Even people spending their lives studying and combating bias are not immune.

archive.boston.com/news/science/blogs/science-in-mind/2013/02/05/everyone-biased-harvard-professor-work-reveals-barely-know-our-own-minds/7x5K4gvrvaT5d3vpDaXC1K/blog.html

If you really don't believe me, take some of Harvard's Project Implicit Tests. I guarantee you will find bias in there somewhere.

implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html
Susieq 18 Feb at 22:34  
What I object most strongly to is the blatant manipulation of the post. The idea that "if you don't do it my way, you must be a bigot." I was raised by a very manipulative mother, so it's really hard to get this crap by me without me noticing. So the whole idea that "if you object, it just proves the point" is also BS.
__________________
Suzie Q
Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference. ― Mark Twain

Cindykougr 18 Feb at 22:55  
Quote by: Susieq
What I object most strongly to is the blatant manipulation of the post. The idea that "if you don't do it my way, you must be a bigot." I was raised by a very manipulative mother, so it's really hard to get this crap by me without me noticing. So the whole idea that "if you object, it just proves the point" is also BS.<br>


No need to accuse people of manipulation for stating their opinions. Also no need to assume me of being full of bulls***. I'm sorry about your mother, but I doubt the post was meant to manipulate. You take issue with the idea "if you don't do it my way, you must be a bigot." That isn't what the post said. In fact, the author called herself a bigot, and the implication was that everyone has the potential to be a bigot sometimes, not that any who disagree are bigots. Again, forget the word. Replace bigot with bias and you have the meaning, which is what we should be focusing on. Everyone has bias.

The author, based on my reading, wasn't bossing people around. The post was, also based on my reading, meant to ask people to be aware of their biases when making decisions. I'm not sure how asking someone to be self aware is being manipulative.

As for my post being BS, your summary "if you object, it just proves the point" isn't sufficient. The crux of my argument is that the existence of bias in just about everyone is a belief based in science. We aren't really talking about different opinions here. If you'd like to object to science, I have nothing more to say other than to show you the studies that have been done. Since defensiveness is often a sign of unacknowledged bias, I think its fair to say that the many defensive reactions do reinforce the idea that there may be some issues with unacknowledged bias in the community, more than some may realize. It doesn't make anyone evil. I don't really think it makes anyone a bigot either. I do think that only good things can come from finding out what biases we do have and acknowledging them.

I'm not sure what exactly you're objecting to.
Trevose 18 Feb at 23:30  
The author of the post asserted: “Critique the story and not the author’s culture, religion, lifestyle or anything else.” Has anyone ever – ever – seen an author’s culture, religion, lifestyle or anything else critiqued here? Just curious.

And I am curious as an author of “diversity” stories as defined in the post, although I don’t slather it up and down every page or advertise my work as such.

Finally, this is Political Correctness at its finest: “There is a great deal of irony here. Most of these reactions are visceral. They are defensive. I don't see much objective pondering here. I do see a lot of defensiveness. I started to quote, but I won't call out individuals. Look at your posts. Most of you are very concerned with defending yourself or a group with which you identify (authors, mainly). In doing so, you are completely missing the point. In fact, I would even argue that you are reinforcing it.” So because we object to being slandered, we have proven that we are guilty of the charge? Ponder that.
Cindykougr 18 Feb at 23:41  
No one was slandered. Who was being slandered? Is being told you "have bias" being "slandered"?

I'd say you're guilty of the charge of "having bias" whether you object, agree, or stay neutral. That's because everyone does it.

I'd go on to say that if you feel the need to defend yourself and claim that you don't "have bias", then you probably have "unacknowledged bias."

That's what I'm saying. The next paragraph after your quote explains that. I'm not saying that anyone who objects to being slandered is proved guilty. I don't even think anyone was slandered. Even so, I'm not talking about objecting to slander, I'm talking about objecting to something that is founded in science. If everyone "has bias" and some people claim "not to have bias" then it goes to reason that there must be some "unacknowledged bias" going around.
Cindykougr Yesterday at 00:27  
I just think it is a shame to dismiss this post without a second thought. Yes, the word bigot was probably a poor word choice if the goal is civility, but I think too many people are assuming this can't possibly be an issue. Maybe it isn't a huge issue, but it is worth thinking about.

Let me start. The first reply here, about a critter suggesting that women, not men, can have eating disorders or it is gross. This is an example.

I don't want to make it a discussion about a particular story, but only one story in the queues right now has no crits and it happens to be a lesbian romance. This might mean nothing, but who knows. Maybe some people felt squeamish or uncomfortable.

I clicked out of a story a few weeks ago myself because I was uncomfortable with its religious take. It was a good story, I just fell victim to my bias. It's not the end of the world or anything, but I certainly wish now that I'd stuck it out and overcome my discomfort. Could have helped me grow, and I definitely feel what I did was a little unfair, even it it isn't the end of the world.

I guess the point is that I'm concerned people are so offended, that they are dismissing this without a second thought. We aren't perfect. CC isn't perfect. Falling victim to bias probably happens sometimes. And we likely all have some biases that it never hurts to be aware of.

Instead of taking offense, try to look at the intended message and see if it is really that offensive. I think it's a good thing that we all consider our biases. It was a good reminder for me to consider mine.
Susieq Yesterday at 07:43  
You need personal growth, join a twelve-step group. But suggesting that others make that a priority here or they've got a "bias" is presumptuous. And whether the author of the post consciously thought about being manipulative or not, when you use inflammatory words without provocation, that's exactly what you're doing. And since we're all writers here, we understand the subtext of word choice. This wasn't an accident. This was an attempt to shame people into following your social justice agenda.

You want to know what the number one thing about an author is that makes me back away from a story? An author who hides their history. So I guess I'm a bigot about people who are... what? Paranoid? Ashamed of their critiquing skills? Don't return critiques? Whatever.

Calling people you don't know bigots or saying that if they object only proves the point is a form of bullying and I hate nothing more than I hate a bully. Guess that makes me a bigot about bullies.



__________________
Suzie Q
Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference. ― Mark Twain

Trevose Yesterday at 08:03  
I don’t think anyone here has disputed that we all have bias. In fact, as writers, we count on it. That is why we come to Critiquecircle. We all look forward to different views and different perspectives in the feedback we get to help us make our work stronger.

But “bigot” was the bogger’s word of choice and used with dramatic emphasis. I don’t believe the word “bias” is used even once. Bigot shows up repeatedly. There is a world of difference between the two words and accusations. I appreciate that you are trying to soften and rewrite the post, but it is too late for that, and not yours to do.

It is also worth noting the blogger was “…not trying to indoctrinate you into anything. On the contrary, I’m trying to educate you…” Riiiiiiiiiiiight. This kind of “education” (whether intended or not) stifles dissenting opinions and effectively throttles creativity. I suspect that this is why this post has gotten such a strong reaction, even more than the repeated use of the word "bigot".

And ref this comment: “…it is a shame to dismiss this post without a second thought.” This is simply at odds with the facts. This post has gotten more responses (and well-written and well-considered responses) than any other post I have seen here.

In the spirit of being constructive, alternative thoughts on how to write critiques is here at Emma Darwin’s site.

Cindykougr Yesterday at 08:08  
Quote by: Susieq
You need personal growth, join a twelve-step group...I hate nothing more than I hate a bully. Guess that makes me a bigot about bullies.<br>


You claim to hate bullying, but you've had no problem leveling some awfully personal insults at me. You've accused people of being manipulators, bullies, and of being full of BS. You told me to join a twelve-step group. You repeatedly talk about the things you hate.

It isn't presumptuous to say that everyone has "bias." It is science.

You're welcome to reject that, but I'm basing my statements on scientific study, not on blind presumption.

I think I'm done here.
Abhyastami Yesterday at 08:17  
Quote by: Cindykougr

I clicked out of a story a few weeks ago myself because I was uncomfortable with its religious take. It was a good story, I just fell victim to my bias. It's not the end of the world or anything, but I certainly wish now that I'd stuck it out and overcome my discomfort. Could have helped me grow, and I definitely feel what I did was a little unfair, even it it isn't the end of the world.



Is this always bad? There's a fine line between not reading things from diverse viewpoints and not reading things for which you are not the target audience. I'm not sure how different this is from me not weighing in on the romance queue. It's just not my genre.

I'm replying to this one because this is the closest I come to doing what was described in the blog post. If a story is overtly evangelical Christian, I will give it a couple of paragraphs to catch my interest, but after that I'll probably click away. Not because it's different: I grew up around that; I'm familiar with it. But it doesn't have anything to say to me and my critique isn't going to be very useful to the author, so I part ways. I feel I get to make that choice for myself without it becoming a moral issue.

Now I am guilty of making assumptions about the author based on how I feel about the writing, especially for whatever reason about gender. I think because of dear old binary English pronouns, which force us to make that choice with incomplete information. Having some information about that person in profiles has been really useful to me in catching myself at that and realizing when I've made bad inferences and training myself not to in the future.

Allenhs Yesterday at 08:18  
Even if we don't agree with someone's opinion or lifestyle, we still should treat them with respect. For many people, the best (or at least easiest) way to do that is to follow the advice of 'if you can't say something nice don't say anything at all'. So if you just can't contain your emotions about the author or subject of a post, then it's probably best not to crit it.
Honestly though, I find it hard to believe that many people ponder the personal traits of the author before critting their work. Then again, I can only speak for myself. Maybe it is more common than I would think.
Cindykougr Yesterday at 08:26  
Quote by: Trevose
I don’t think anyone here has disputed that we all have bias. In fact, as writers, we count on it.


I wish this were true. There were responses specifically stating an opinion of no bias, and even more stating that they didn't believe bias might affect the actions of critters, although you're right that quite a few probably only took issue with the use of the word "bigot" and other inflammatory segments of the blog.

Quote by: Trevose
And ref this comment: “…it is a shame to dismiss this post without a second thought.” This is simply at odds with the facts. This post has gotten more responses (and well-written and well-considered responses) than any other post I have seen here.


Good point! I didn't think of it this way, but you're right. There have certainly been a lot of responses. I will say, though, that based on the responses, I do think some want to dismiss the message of the post because of the language and writing. That's what I would like to encourage people not to do. Even if the there were some things that were inflammatory, I think its a cool message to consider. (Not that anyone cares much for my opinion though, eh?)
Luvrofinfo Yesterday at 08:31  
Wow!
Susieq Yesterday at 08:38  
Quote by: Cindykougr
Quote by: Susieq
You need personal growth, join a twelve-step group...I hate nothing more than I hate a bully. Guess that makes me a bigot about bullies.<br>


You claim to hate bullying, but you've had no problem leveling some awfully personal insults at me. You've accused people of being manipulators, bullies, and of being full of BS. You told me to join a twelve-step group. You repeatedly talk about the things you hate.

It isn't presumptuous to say that everyone has "bias." It is science.

You're welcome to reject that, but I'm basing my statements on scientific study, not on blind presumption.

I think I'm done here.


I'm not disputing that people have biases, but CC isn't the place to deal with them.

And yes, I attacked back. Because when you say "oh, you object to name calling. Well, that just proves it's true," I'm not going to slink to the back of the bus. I don't really care what you think. I'm not standing up to you because I think I'll convert you. But I don't want the silent people who read this to think your voice is the only one here.
__________________
Suzie Q
Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference. ― Mark Twain

Cindykougr Yesterday at 08:48  
Quote by: Susieq
Because when you say "oh, you object to name calling. Well, that just proves it's true," I'm not going to slink to the back of the bus.


I'm happy to have you share your voice. I'm happy for all the voices here. I never intended for you to feel as if I was asking you to keep quiet, but, please, I didn't say that. I've explained what I said. It isn't, and never was, that.
Susieq Yesterday at 09:04  
Quote by: Cindykougr
Quote by: Susieq
Because when you say "oh, you object to name calling. Well, that just proves it's true," I'm not going to slink to the back of the bus.


I'm happy to have you share your voice. I'm happy for all the voices here. I never intended for you to feel as if I was asking you to keep quiet, but, please, I didn't say that. I've explained what I said. It isn't, and never was, that.



Then what was it intended to do? Because there's never any reason to drag that "argument" out except to say "you'll only prove how right I am by objecting further." Please, explain to me how it achieves anything else.

__________________
Suzie Q
Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference. ― Mark Twain

Brinker Yesterday at 09:30  
Quote by: Cindykougr
There is a great deal of irony here. Most of these reactions are visceral. They are defensive. I don't see much objective pondering here. I do see a lot of defensiveness. I started to quote, but I won't call out individuals. Look at your posts. Most of you are very concerned with defending yourself or a group with which you identify (authors, mainly). In doing so, you are completely missing the point. In fact, I would even argue that you are reinforcing it.

Defensiveness is not a sign of an open-minded individual. Open-minded individuals acknowledge their bias, acknowledge their potential to avoid what is different.



Defensiveness is also a sign that you don't do something and are offended by the implications that you do.

At risk of using an extreme example, if I said, "when you dream about molesting children" and you responded with, "I don't dream about molesting children" that would be a defensive reaction. By the logic above, I could then make the argument that you need to examine yourself more closely because you need to acknowledge it.

As others have noted, no one is arguing that we don't have bias. Many people are arguing that they don't choose not to read/crit something because the author is different.

When I look at a story, the factors I take into consideration are:
-Whether the story looks interesting
-whether I owe the person a crit (Obviously I crit people who I don't owe also, but tit-for-tat makes me more likely to crit a story which I otherwise might not, for example, if it's in a genre I don't prefer.)
-whether I have time to crit. (Sometimes I have time to crit a 1000 story, but not a 4900 word story.)

There are a handful of people I won't crit. These people are:
-people I've critted in the past and who haven't sent thank you notes (yes, I am biased there,)
-people who have complained on the forums about crits they've received in the past,
-the extremely small handful (2) of people who I genuinely dislike from repeated/a lot forum posts they've made which I think demonstrates they are not nice. (Generally, someone gets put in that category by repeatedly attacking others.)

I haven't ever not critted a story because of something in someone's bio. This isn't me being closed-minded or refusing to analyze myself. It's simple me stating facts. I'm not saying I don't have any bias, but I am denying bigotry to the extent of not being willing to read a story because of something someone said in their bio.
__________________
Faith manages.
-Michael Straczynski

Cindykougr Yesterday at 09:46  
Quote by: Susieq
Then what was it intended to do? Because there's never any reason to drag that "argument" out except to say "you'll only prove how right I am by objecting further." Please, explain to me how it achieves anything else.


I wrote a longer post, but there is no need. Suffice to say that I'd prefer not to be misquoted.

To very directly answer your question: the purpose of pointing out that defensiveness is a red flag of unacknowledged bias was not to prove who was right or wrong, but to try to get people to think about why they were being defensive in the first place, and if a desire to not be a "bad guy" might be preventing the acknowledgement of bias.

I wasn't talking about objecting to the use of the word bigot. I was talking about the idea that bias isn't or couldn't be an issue here on CC.

Susieq Yesterday at 09:54  
Quote by: Cindykougr
Quote by: Susieq
Then what was it intended to do? Because there's never any reason to drag that "argument" out except to say "you'll only prove how right I am by objecting further." Please, explain to me how it achieves anything else.


I wrote a longer post, but there is no need. Suffice to say that I'd prefer not to be misquoted.

To very directly answer your question: the purpose of pointing out that defensiveness is a red flag of unacknowledged bias was not to prove who was write or wrong, but to try to get people to think about why they were being defensive in the first place, and if a desire to not be a "bad guy" might be preventing the acknowledgement of bias.

I wasn't talking about objecting to the use of the word bigot. I was talking about the idea that bias isn't or couldn't be an issue here on CC.



You want the direct quote? Here it is.

Most of you are very concerned with defending yourself or a group with which you identify (authors, mainly). In doing so, you are completely missing the point. In fact, I would even argue that you are reinforcing it.
So again, how is that saying anything but "if you argue further, you're only proving the point"?

__________________
Suzie Q
Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference. ― Mark Twain

Blandcorp Yesterday at 09:55  
I think the lines of the original questions have been well enough traced that I don't have much to add to either position. So how about a little speculative exercise of "find the line".

When is it ok to stop critting, or not crit at all? A lot of people don't want to crit Romance or Erotica, or Hard SF, or ... Ok, those are genre things, and no abstract genre is going to get emotionally hurt by your disinterest. But let's go further. Suppose you do want to crit Romance, and there's a Boys Love style romance and another one with het, and you only got time for one. There'll be a choice to make here, and personal biases will weigh on the selection.

I'm not suggesting that living in a bubble is the right thing to do, but let's imagine a world where you, an author interested in otherkin romances, is instead forced to read and crit historical novels about the Mexico-US war for social brownie points. Doesn't this situation look slightly absurd? I mean, surely there are enough people who actually care about the nuances of the Alamo; they can do their thing, while I *cough* I mean you can read and crit about that steamy dragon-on-vampire action that you (yes, you) prefer reading.

Now, I for one do believe that every once in a while looking away from dragon-vampire boinking, and at least trying to get an appreciation for the intricacies of late XIXth century battle tactics, is good for the soul, but I think there are better ways to sell this than guilting people into it with the bigot accusation. It really is about being a more well-rounded, more understanding— or at least more attempting at understanding— person, one more appreciating of the world as a whole. So in that sense, one should include more things in their information and fiction diet.

Except for Literary. All Literary is a universally snobbish and pretentious waste of cellulose.

Cheers.



__________________
Cindykougr Yesterday at 10:05  
Susieq: I already answered that question above. I also think there is a difference between defensiveness and stating a point of view.

Blandcorp: I think this is a good new discussion, and as I think I've obtained a bit of a negative reputation for myself here with my opinions, I'll step out.
Bluewave Yesterday at 11:02  
Quote by: Cindykougr

I don't want to make it a discussion about a particular story, but only one story in the queues right now has no crits and it happens to be a lesbian romance. This might mean nothing, but who knows. Maybe some people felt squeamish or uncomfortable.


More likely the title was a turn off. The title suggests a fairy tale retread or werewolfism {there's a Latin word for that I cannot spell). I made a similar mistake with my last title.

Even if a critter did't read it because he knew the content, so what? I write lousy sci-fi. I don't accuse anyone who won't read my stories of being a Luddite.

What bothers me most is the accusation that a lot of us won't crit a story because of what's in the author's bio. Even worse, I have to "admit" to it. Well...I've flaws in my logic, yet they do not run nearly that deep. To be told I have to acknowledge behaviors I would never do is an insult - and just plain wrong.

BTW...If you feel the author of the orphan story has been treated unfairly, perhaps you should crit it.
Bluewave Yesterday at 11:45  
Quote by: Cindykougr
There is a great deal of irony here. Most of these reactions are visceral. They are defensive. I don't see much objective pondering here. I do see a lot of defensiveness. I started to quote, but I won't call out individuals. Look at your posts. Most of you are very concerned with defending yourself or a group with which you identify (authors, mainly). In doing so, you are completely missing the point. In fact, I would even argue that you are reinforcing it.

I'm pretty sure this was about my response, so I'll bite.

If you think these are visceral reactions, you've not seen the real thing. The responses have been largely analytical. We've been telling you the criteria we use to crit a story and you don't believe it. That's where the "defensiveness" comes in. Nobody knows my noggin better than I do. So if someone online claims otherwise, he or she is wrong. That's not being defensive; it's stating a fact.

Finally...I was defending a group (authors) I'm not yet part of. I want to get there, and realize that I need to acquire different perspectives to do it right. So how is that missing the point?

Quote by: Cindykougr
Defensiveness is not a sign of an open-minded individual. Open-minded individuals acknowledge their bias, acknowledge their potential to avoid what is different. Research is very clear that we all do this (I even included a link at the bottom), and that acknowledging it (not claiming to be above it) is the solution. Authors' very well may be well versed in various perspectives compared to others, but that doesn't make us immune.

The word she used was "bigot". That's a ton stronger than "bias".

Quote by: Cindykougr
Please, goodness, don't accuse me of calling you a bigot. Let's forget the word entirely. The word "bigot" was inflammatory, clearly. Look past it and see the message: question your own biases and motivations and encourage others to do likewise. Why would any of us put down this message, especially if we are as "open-minded" as we all claim to be? This is a good message, not an attack.

Calling someone a bigot was the attack. We are simply responding to it.

Quote by: Cindykougr
The defensive reaction shows me only that the message was far more necessary than some of you realize.

Or far less necessary than some of you realize.

Quote by: Cindykougr
We all have bias, often subconscious bias that we may not be aware of. Those who would like to believe they don't simply aren't acknowledging theirs, and unacknowledged bias is the most dangerous.

Hyperbole painted with a broad brush.

Quote by: Cindykougr
I say again. If you are as open-minded as you claim, why attack this message?

Because the message is deeply flawed.

Quote by: Cindykougr
Before you rip me a new one, check this out. Even people spending their lives studying and combating bias are not immune...

The tests factor in the speed of one's answers; that can lead to mistakes. Sorry...I would rather think than react.

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