When Representation is Oh So Wrong

/ posted in: Reading

Whenever there are discussions about diversity in books there are always people who wonder what the big deal about bad representation is.  They wonder why people from marginalized backgrounds get so angry about authors getting things wrong.  These (usually) white folk say things like, “Calm down, it’s just a story.”

Ok, people, I have an exercise for you to start to get some understanding.

Think of something that you know about.  It could be a hobby or a job or where you live.  Now think about an author writing about it and getting it all wrong.

I have examples of things that have made me a bit stabby while reading.

Location

Once upon a time I opened a book and started reading.  I found out that this book was set in my hometown.  That stopped me in my tracks.  I came from a literal one-stoplight town.  There are no books set there.  But there it was – town name and state.  Then the author started describing the town in detail.  It seems like a nice place but it wasn’t my town.  It was also specifically set about 200 miles east of my town.  It was weird and disorienting.  It didn’t stop me from reading the very long series but it was unsettling every time name was mentioned.

Job

I just read a book that I absolutely loved.  One of the characters was applying to veterinary school.  She didn’t get in.  That didn’t surprise me since she was doing it all wrong.

  • She forgot to go to college first.  You don’t just apply to vet school when you are in high school.
  • She didn’t apply to the right school.  Vet schools are weird.  They are geographically locked.  You are supposed to go to the school in your state or the school that your state contracts with to allow their residents to enter.  There are some exceptions (I was one) but this person never mentioned the name of the vet school in her state in her discussions.
  • Bless her heart, she thought going to a big name vet school mattered more than anything.  Nope, see geographically locked.  Vets don’t consider where you go to be of any importance at all.  Location of internships and residencies if you choose to do that are different but where you went to vet school is irrelevant.
  • She had all kinds of volunteer work and AP classes and extracurricular activities but none of it had anything to do with animals.  She also didn’t appear to have any pets.  Not vet school material.

This was a minor point in the overall story but it bothered me every time it came up.  It bothered me enough to write that all out.  With a little bit of Googling, the author could have figured a lot of that out.

Hobbies

I try not to read fiction with horses in it.  If there are horses in a book I want to read, it will reassure me greatly to see an author photo with a horse in it.  People get horses all wrong in books.  They are constantly jumping off the horse and just letting it wander about.  That’s a sure way to end up walking back home.

The hero is always riding a huge stallion.  Please.  Stallions can be a total pain to work with.  Most people don’t ride them routinely, especially in books where horses are used as a major mode of transportation.

I really hate it when someone shows women being all liberated because she refuses to ride sidesaddle.  You can ride however you want but don’t talk about sidesaddle being unsafe or unstable.  Modern sidesaddles were developed to let women jump fences or work cattle while wearing dresses.  Once I got used to it, I felt more secure sidesaddle than astride.
sidesaddle

Not me but I don’t have any of my sidesaddle photos uploaded. I took this one in Portugal.  The skirt hides a very secure system for staying on a horse.

My most rant filled review ever was for a Danielle Steel book where she totally misunderstood the Olympic ski team.  It made me insane and I don’t even ski.

What are the minor things that irritate you when authors get it wrong?

If these minor things can irritate a reader then imagine how much more problematic it is to constantly hear your race or religion constantly messed up.