Saturday, January 9, 2016

Sportsing (A ramble about objectification and diversity)

I am not a sporty person. I walk, not run. I'm not involved in any team activities except a small walking group that goes for a hike about once every two months. I watch whatever sports my kids are doing. Luckily, my kids don't do a lot of sports.

We also don't watch a lot of sports. In the charter school where the boys went, the PE class was assigned about once a year to watch a football (American football) game and we had to find something on YouTube because we don't have cable and really, who can be bothered to find out what is on and available through our weak antenna? I mean, the years we actually remembered to do it, they watched. Poor dears got dinged on their PE grades a few times. For the last couple years, my (now teenager) boys have gone over to a friend's house to watch the Super Bowl (and ended up gaming with them and occasionally looking up to check the score).

I used to watch baseball as a child--growing up near Cincinnati in the years of the Big Red Machine (gosh, I'm old) and having a baseball-loving older brother did that. Even on summer breaks from college and grad school, I would turn on a Reds game in the background and do other stuff. There's a sort of Zen to sitting and watching something that is sooooooo slooooowwwww.

I also like high school and college basketball because it moves fast. Not so much pro basketball, because it seems to be: Easy shot, other team makes easy shot, first team makes anther shot. Oh look! Slam dunk! Final score: 120-110.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered I liked books with sportsing people in them. Mostly romance novels, of course, since that's my type of book.

I'm a fan of my local-author-friend, Kristina Mathews' baseball books. Not so much Susan Elizabeth Phillips' football books, though they have their moments. I recently finished Slamdunked by Love by Jamie Wesley on the recommendation of...someone (I thought it was the Smart Bitches blog, but can't find it there now. So this is my oops and a correction. Sorry!) and loved it. Interestingly, the hero is the point guard and only 6'3" or so and not 7' tall.

What I want next is a WNBA player. And then a massive linebacker on the football team, not one of the slim, trim guys like running backs and quarterbacks. I want the massive blocker, the outrageously tall Big Man under the basket, the major league pitcher with a belly, the women's soccer star, the tiny jockey, and the people who are not beautiful...

If we're going to talk about diversity, let's talk about them, too.

I mean about us. Those of us who aren't "perfect" and "ideal."

There are lots of romance novels about women who are overweight. Some hinge on the woman losing weight so the hero will love her, which is a less-satisfactory plot device. Some, like Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me, hinge on the woman being overweight and the man liking her a lot and convincing her she's beautiful the way she is.

There is a growing movement toward diversity in books: people of color, disabled people, LGBTQ people, in other words, people who aren't mainstream white people, all deserve to see themselves and their lives. Publishing needs to open up more. With the rise in small presses and self-publishing, this is rapidly coming true, and yet the biggest, richest publishing houses are still hesitant. They don't want to spend money on an author who might not earn out, so they're trimming their mid-list authors anyway. Why add someone whose base audience is 10% of the entire population? Never mind that all the POC, LGBTQ, disabled, etc people are expected to want to read books about straight, white people, we should not expect white people to read about anyone else. Or something.

There's often some lighthearted confusion and laughter among my British friends when they talk about seeing the name "Chris Evans" and thinking of the UK radio and TV personality and not the guy who played Captain America. And yet I'd like to see someone who looks like the "wrong" Chris Evans get his romance novel, too. Is that weird of me? Perhaps.

Which made me think of the objectification of men. 

I know women have it a lot worse (having been dismissed all my life by so many people for not having a tiny butt and big boobs, being too tall, too tough looking, not pretty, etc., I know this from personal experience. And yet I'm not so extreme that people laugh at me... much... as far as I know. OMIGOD, They're looking at me right now, aren't they?). There's something a bit off about drooling over a man's chest and arms and legs. Believe me, I take a good, long look, too, because I am female, but as I get older, it feels more awkward to stare for long at some 20-year-old's massive pecs and defined abs. My kids are a little younger, but I have friends whose sons are that old. Just babies, really.

There's a growing discomfort among men as more pictures of Hot Guys show up all over the place. There's more anorexia among young men, more guys who date the gym, and guys who give up because they're never going to look like that.

There's an episode of The Simpsons where Marge goes in for liposuction (and is accidentally given breast implants) because she thinks Homer has lost interest in her. In one scene, the truly awful plastic surgeon looks at a picture of Homer and is SHOCKED that she could ever hold on to him, looking the way she does.

That one little scene broke my heart for all of us.


  1. Thanks for the shout out. I starting reading not because of the sports, which I love, or the shirtless guys, which I have mixed feelings about, many similar to your own. Plus, I do have a son who could be on many of those book covers. So, Yeah, weird.

    Anyway, the main reason I clicked on the blog when I should be writing was because of diversity. An issue I am interested in, but don't know how to fix. My baseball books contain Latino characters, but the one where he's a main character has sold the least. I don't know if that's the reason or not.

    I want to write more diverse characters then I start to overthink things, like I can't use chocolate or caramel or coffee to describe skin tone, someone might take offense. And look at what happened with the whole Hermione thing.

    So I think many authors play it safe, and write what they know. Or what they think readers will accept.

    Maybe we should just write the characters that come to us as they first show up. Let them unfold on the page as they are, no matter how flawed, hairy, too-tall or too-short, with more or less pigment in their skin as is fashionable in certain people's minds. My favorite thing about a romance is when the hero/heroine finds that one person who loves them exactly the way they are, not in spite of, but because of that thing that makes them different from the perceived beauty of popular culture.

    1. I agree we all should be writing the characters that come to us, not force ourselves. But I also think that I need to stretch myself, make sure I include other experiences, read more diverse books, and advocate for more inclusion.

      I have no desire to be the White Savior, but if my skin color can help me direct attention at talented authors who should be heard, then fine.

      Sort of like Patrick Stewart when he said that if people are going to listen only to white males, then he was going to use his white maleness to advocate for women and against domestic abuse.

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