Random Things in Motion #15: Why is Fantasy so White and Straight?

You might wonder what inspired this somewhat random post (hello people, look at the name of the feature). Once upon a time, I was reading a book that made me think and I messaged Allie @ Little Birdie Books, demanding answers and all she had to say was ‘go fish’ (that’s not what exactly happened but you know, lets roll with it).

I adore fantasy, I consider it to be my favorite genres — even if I don’t read nearly enough of it– but the more fantasy I read, the more I realize the one thing this genre seems to be sorely lacking is diversity. This isn’t to say that there aren’t fantasy novels out there that feature characters who aren’t white or straight but it seems to be a general rule that the characters one will encounter in the genre will be white and straight.

And this FRUSTRATES ME.

Do fantasy novels take place in a universe where everyone is white and everyone is straight????*

*I am generalizing here but you get my point (OR I HOPE YOU DO)

I was reading a fantasy novel a while ago and the main character mentioned something about how she thought she was ‘indecently clad’ but that was okay because there were only women around and I don’t think I am exaggerating too much when I say that there were cartoonish question marks hovering over my head.

I think at this point, even if it were mentioned that a certain character was NOT straight or white, it would go so far because at least it’s acknowledging the fact that not everyone is the same. How does a world even work if everyone within that world is straight? Is everyone straight until proven otherwise?

I don’t think all of the blame can be put on the genre but at the same time, books within other genres seem to be getting so much better at showcasing diversity yet fantasy continues to lag behind and particularly adult fantasy.

One of the reasons could be that a lot of mainstream adult fantasy is written by straight white cis men but again, I don’t see that as a good argument because if such wonderful and original worlds can be imagined, I don’t see why the same worlds cannot be enriched by a cast of diverse characters.

A lot of that could be because fiction in general reflects our views as a society yet I don’t think that should be an excuse. If we don’t start somewhere how will this change come about? Will we be stuck in a cycle where we continue to read novels that only reflect the popular opinions in our world? That being white, straight, cis and male makes you better (or at least gives you a fuck ton of privilege).

People of color are also so under represented. As someone who is a person of color, this breaks my heart yet I won’t lie when I say I am prone to white washing characters as well. A lot of this has to do with the fact that growing up, most of the books I read featured white characters. I went through a phase where I didn’t understand why this was a problem yet the more I grow, the more frustrated I become with this issue. Why cannot books, and particularly fantasy books feature non-white main characters? In fact when was the last time you read a fantasy novel that did that?

This frustrates me so much because fantasy is easily my favorite genre yet it is also one that has become more and more lacking in terms of featuring diversity and it’s even harder to find a non straight/white character that plays a lead role in fantasy.

#WENEEDDIVERSEBOOKS

Are you as frustrated as I am? Do you think that something needs to be done to diversify the genre? What do you think can be done? Have you read fantasy novels that feature such diversity? If so, you should totally recommend some to me. 

You should also check out Cait @ Paper Fury’s post about Sexism in Fantasy

The following two tabs change content below.

Rashika

Rashika is a mysterious creature who likes to hide in the shadows. It's impossible to get to know her but if you must know, she is a huge bookworm. She also happens to have a huge sweet tooth so you can always lure her over the dark side by offering her something sweet (or bribing her with books).

Comments

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.

    CommentLuv badge

  1. says

    I feel like I’ve read some high fantasy books with non-white characters, but pretty much all of those have been Asian ones (especially Japanese). I don’t think I’ve really ever come across anything other than white or Asian. As for LGBT high fantasy characters…um. I really don’t think I’ve read ANY books featuring those.
    Yep, just had a look at my GR shelves, and I can’t see any. Except maybe Game of Thrones (although I can’t remember whether the LGBT character was like that only in the show, or whether it was in the book as well)
    This is definitely a worthwhile issue to think about, and I guess the only way to change it is if authors are aware of the issue and actually bother writing some diversity into their novels.
    Nara recently posted…Review: Ensnared by A.G. HowardMy Profile

  2. says

    I think every author should go out of his/her way to show the readers that we all have to accept each other. I know a few people who grew up with homophobic or racist parents and they had absolutely no chance of seeing that their parents way of thinking is all wrong. Books could have helped them, if they only have more diversity.
    I’m not sure the guilt is fully on the authors, at least about the LGBT characters. I think many people still don’t accept, let alone support the LGBT community, at least that’s what I saw here in Hungary. The thing is that young adults can be a lot more accepting than their parents, and maybe that’s why YA and NA novels have more LGBT characters than Adult novels. I don’t understand, though, why there are nearly none non-white main characters in the fantasy genre. This is a huge issue and I think it should be corrected somehow, tv shows and movies are a lot more diverse than books in many cases and that is sad.
    I haven’t read many Adult Fantasies but the ones I’ve read had no non-white nor LGBT characters in them, none at all, and this needs to change somehow.
    Interesting discussion. :)
    Veronika recently posted…Kaitlyn Davis – Gathering Frost (Once Upon A Curse #1)My Profile

  3. says

    YES, OMG YES, I AM AS FRUSTRATED AS YOU ON THIS TOPIC!! IT MAKES ME WANT TO SCREAM. I don’t think it’s fair to “excuse” authors with the “oh well they’re just writing how they know” because, puh-lease. If an author can write dragons and magic they sure as anything can create a more diverse cast. *nods* Almost everything i read features a white protagonist. *Sigh* particularly in fantasy. Although The Lunar Chronicles RULES for this for feature Asian and coloured narrators (hallelujah) and right now I’m reading The Young Elites which has a bisexual narrator. SO YEAH. But it’s such a minority it’s not even okay. I want more diversity. :'(
    Cait @ Paper Fury recently posted…Weekly Fury #46 // a new squishy niece and a lot of booksMy Profile

  4. says

    “Is everyone straight until proven otherwise?” Rashika, this is IT. The “IT” we’re searching (or I am, at least) for. I think this transcends so many levels, because it seems like it is, or has been… the way of things. Unless you come out, you are straight. Which is so very wrong, and I’m really glad you pinpointed that factor for this post. It’s so interesting that diversity and sexuality are so hard to find in fantasy… for me, it’s the genre I adore to visit and the place I go because I want to believe in things I love, like magic and dragons and characters who will always be there for each other, even if and when dreadful things happen, so why is it we are so rarely given the other things we are so clearly yearning for- diversity and a mix of sexualities and genders?
    Fantastic post. Really. This was wonderful. With capitals. Xx
    Romi recently posted…From me to you and back again -1-My Profile

  5. says

    I actually don’t read too much fantasy so I don’t really notice but now that you bring it up, it’s VERY true. I actually have no idea… but it seems absurd that someone can create a fantasy world and make magical elves and people believe that … but they won’t believe that the elf is gay. Sounds legit, right? *sarcasm*

    I have read Marissa meyer’s Lunar Chronicles and Winter is poc but other than that, I don’t think I can think of anyone off the top of my head.
    Nova @ Out of Time recently posted…ARC Review: The Remedy – Suzanne YoungMy Profile

  6. says

    I completely agree with you Rashika. It’s definitely annoying that this is such a trend in YA. If we’re not given a physical description of a character, it makes me sad that the majority of people will automatically generalize them as white and straight without even thinking twice about it. It’s awesome that some authors are promoting diversity – hopefully it becomes more and more common in YA. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post!
    Zoe @ Stories on Stage recently posted…Under a Painted SkyMy Profile

  7. says

    I don’t read much fantasy but I can’t lie and say I haven’t noticed the lack of diversity in the books I have read. i absolutely adore this post Rashika and this is incredibly insightful look into the lack of diversity of such a great genre.
    Lily recently posted…Hit (Hit #1):ReviewMy Profile

  8. says

    This is such a great topic of discussion, Rashika. Given the popularity of YA fantasy lately, I think authors should definitely do a better job with the diversity. One book that has an interracial couple (and a SWOONY one at that) is Storm Siren by Mary Weber. The boy is of African descent and there are some diverse characters. I think Kristin Cashore’s series is also diverse? I can’t remember clearly though. And of course there’s The Wrath and the Dawn this year and also One Thousand Nights that seem to have diverse characters.
    Lovely post, Rashika!
    Nick @ Nick’s Book Blog recently posted…Review : Cold Burn of Magic by Jennifer EstepMy Profile

  9. says

    I was going to say no to your question… but then, when I started thinking about it, I couldn’t come up with any titles for fantasy where the characters were either LGBT or not white… I really wonder why that is, too! I have read quite a bit of UF where characters are very diverse, but plain fantasy seems to be quite whitewashed and heteronormative. I’m going to have to go through my reviews to see if I can find one or two for you…
    I have been very lucky lately with other reads, in which the characters have been very diverse – just like real life – because it makes me happy when stories mirror the real world in some ways, and diversity seems to be one of the easiest ways to make that happen.
    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews recently posted…Review: Made for You – Melissa MarrMy Profile

  10. says

    I have wondered this too! Often. I mean, I don’t expect to go out in the world and see a bunch of straight white dudes standing around. Nor do I want to! I love that we are all so different, and that should be celebrated! I mean, think of the things authors could incorporate into fantasy if they made their characters more diverse? There would be seriously no limit. Also, as a sidenote: I HATE when that thing you read happens (the “indecently clad thing), where the women are like “oh, it’s okay, it’s only women”. For so many reasons. First, the assumption of heterosexuality being standard is asinine at best, and horrifying at worst. Second, if I am uncomfortable being nude around someone…. that has nothing to do with anyone’s gender, sexuality, or anything else, maybe I just don’t want to be nude with a stranger? That irritates me in life AND in books.

    I really love this post because it is SO spot on, especially in fantasy. With all the kingdoms, and magic, and upheaval, why is it so hard to have some diverse characters?
    Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight recently posted…Most Excellent ExcerptsMy Profile

  11. says

    Wonderful post Rashika!This frustrates me a lot as well,especially since I am not white myself.It’s so weird for me to see that almost all characters I read about in fantasy and dystopian books are white and straight.We really need more diversity.
    And I also hate the limitation when it comes to non white characters.It’s either a black or a chinese/korean.Why can’t they have characters from different cultures and countries?I myself am a Tamilian from Sri Lanka,and I don’t think I can even dream of finding a fictional character close to my heritage:)
    Mishma @ Chasing Faerytales recently posted…Rewriting the fairytale || Damsel Distressed by Kelsey MackeMy Profile

  12. Some horrible straight white guy says

    I have to comment because, i’m sorry Rashika, but your article reeks of the cheapest brand of so called “feminism” which is only a bad excuse for anti-white racism and androphobia. Now i’m sure you’re not a bad person but you sure fall easily into those fake, fabricated antagonisms : “white vs black”, “men vs women”, “gay vs hetero”… and i’m sorry but that is SO LAME it makes me want to cry.

    Actually i’m crying right now, really ;_;

    Anyway, to answer your question “Why is Fantasy so White and Straight?” : well no, sorry but this is not because of lingering racism or homophobia or that kind of nonsense. It’s just that writers want to make books that appeal to a maximum of people and a love story is a love story, so why is it SO important to you to know wether the characters put theirs penises -or whatever- into male anuses or female vaginas or transgender ones ? I mean seriously ;_; Maybe you’re a teen with raging hormones -and that’s cool- but you seriously need to open your mind to things other than what people do with their sexes.

    And now about that racial non-issue. Fantasy worlds are modeled on medieval worlds meaning most of the time european middle-ages : knights, wizards, damsels in distress annnnd… white people, sorry, simply because back then ALL societies of ALL countries were ethnically homogenous.

    And frankly, if a story took place in medieval India would you complain about the amount of indian people in it ? If you really have to blame someone then why don’t you blame the gay and the indian for not writing the fantasy stories of your dreams ?

    So there you go, you have your answer. Glad i could help you sorting things out (:

    • says

      Well, you were definitely right when you referred to yourself as a ‘horrible’ guy. Though, I think, unintelligent and belligerent would also have been okay to use also.

      I don’t know why you’re so quick to deem this article feminist, when it’s not so much about women in books, but about other under represented minorities such as gay people and POC. And I’m not sure why you’re using feminism in quotation marks and deeming it as a bad thing. Rashika is a woman and a human being clearly passionate about equality in ALL FORMS. So she should be applauded for her conviction on that.

      It’s hilarious to me that you find the reality of ‘white vs black’ and ‘men vs woman’ and ‘gay vs straight’ as fabricated hostilities. I’m assuming you’ve never watched the news or picked up a newspaper or interacted with any other human beings at any point in your life. Because that’s the only explanation for such a view. Racism is still VERY MUCH prevalent today (just one example being the shooting of many POC by police officers in America), women’s rights and equality is still being debated and discussed and so many women are still seen as mere sex objects or unworthy to men (please, use this thing called Google and brush up on your facts and see about women being raped all over the world, some even executed) and as for homophobia or just general bias toward gay people, that is something that has always existed and, even in our modern and so-called ‘evolved’ world there are still a multitude of horrendous hate crimes and just general hateful attitudes directed toward people who do not identify as straight.

      If your point is that the only thing that sells or, perhaps, what sells most is traditional man on woman, white, relationships and characters, and so that is why writers write that . . . well then surely you can see the fundamental problem there. Society is rich with different cultures and sexual orientations and THAT is the reality. And so we want that to be represented in our literature. Why is it the ‘norm’ for just white, straight relationships to be shown, when that is not the norm for our society? WHY is THAT what sells? Shouldn’t we want a more accurate portrayal of the versatile world we live in? It’s important to have these things shown, not only for that reason, but also to show that it’s not shameful to be something other than white or straight. That it’s NORMAL and is respected and valued just as much as any other relationship. Why should we care? How can we not care when literature is massively neglecting and under-representing key parts of our world and society.

      And fantasy worlds are FANTASY. Though they have a medieval-like setting, they’re clearly NOT set in our world and so why should they follow the laws/past of our world by not representing those characters? They don’t follow the laws of magic. They don’t even follow the laws of gravity half the time. But yet, according to you, the one rule they must follow is that they focus on white/straight people. Because that was the way in the medieval times of the real world? That’s an inherently nonsensical and contradictory viewpoint.

      Glad I could help you sort some things out.
      Allie @ Little Birdie recently posted…Oh, you’re so quotable {Top Ten Tuesday}My Profile

    • says

      Ok, so I’m white and I’m straight but I STILL want more diversity because it shows to people like Rashika, whose skin color isn’t white, or my friend Kerly, whose sexuality isn’t “i’m only into guys” etc etc etc who are looking for books that they can identify more with in their favorite genre. To seek out other magical realms like the Middle East or Brazilian rainforests or Africa etc.

      And what other things should Rashika open her mind to? Ok, maybe she did make a generalization that white cis men write these novels which could be uncalled for, because a lot of white women write white straight characters in their fantasy books. But your reaction is totally uncalled for too. The thing is though that we live in the time of change. WE don’t live in 15th or 16th century. WE live in 21ST century. The kind where these topics Rashika is talking about are important and the kind where a lot of old, traditional things get a new spin so why can’t this happen to the fantasy genre? After all, the upcoming releases like An Ember in the Ashes, The Wrath and the Dawn are DIVERSE.

      And tbh your Indian argument is completely irrelevant, because THE PROBLEM, as Rashika points out in her post, IS that there is not Indian fantasy book. At least not known all over the world that’s so hugely popular that a lot of teens (and grown ups) want to read it. That there is a lack of diversity. And there’s no one to blame for this lack of diversity, but rather to ask why isn’t there more than Nehemiah in Throne of Glass series, Arin in The Winner’s Curse trilogy (which is more of an historical novel and actually not a fantasy as far as I’ve gathered from all the reviews) or, for example, the main protagonist from Exquisite Captive (which, again, isn’t actually a fantasy book but rather a paranormal that even takes place in today’s society).

      The problem is that nowadays we can change things in literature and don’t have to follow strict rules, like it has been the case in the past, and even if things are based on a model of my home continent then why can’t authors change the location still? Fantasy worlds don’t often require realism unless it’s magical realism and even there it doesn’t have to be the real thing that happened in the past. Honestly, your comment kind of offends me, because a lot of us readers want diversity in all the genres and your “straight white guy views” (based on your “name”) come off as extremely rude, because yeah, I don’t need to know where a guy sticks his penis, but I’d like to see two gay people (whether they’re girls or boys) falling in love so that a teen who loves fantasy and is gay sees that THIS IS NORMAL and their feelings aren’t dismissed.

      Obviously my white and lame kind of feminist views on the world are pretty sad so I don’t hope for you to understand the importance of this post or these comments under it. If you had actually bothered to read other comments you’d see that Rashika isn’t the only one who thinks that there’s a lack of diversity, so obviously there IS something wrong in this genre. So, as Allie said, glad I could help you out with figuring out this tough and complicated world we live in.
      Siiri recently posted…Review: Fuel the Fire by Krista and Becca RitchieMy Profile

  13. says

    I think a lot of times it has to do with discomfort. Like you said, there are a lot of white male authors out there – and everyone’s heard the age-old adage “Write what you know.” Maybe authors are afraid of offending people, and don’t want to take the plunge. Maybe every story is the exception – “This story just doesn’t happen to have any POC or queer characters in it, I’m not racist or anything. This is just how I imagined it.” But I do think a lot of it has to do with inherent racism, heteronormativity, and people who can’t see past the tip of their own noses. It’s about ignorance in the same way that a conservative individual may oppose gay rights until they find out that their sister/cousin/son is gay. We don’t see this problem with queer POC authors.
    Writers just need to consciously imagine their worlds differently, especially if the world around them is mostly white. And they need to stop putting it off, as do publishers who overlook the lack of representation.

    But I also want to recommend the book Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, which has a fantasy storyline and a queer protagonist of color. (And Westerfeld is white, so good for him!)
    Shannon recently posted…Kamala Khan, the Mighty MuslimMy Profile

Trackbacks