Sunday, August 6, 2017

WITMonth Day 6 | Rethink your PC

There's a common trope response against anyone arguing for inclusiveness: "this PC [politically correct] nonsense!" Or variations on a theme. People who - typically, but not always -  belong to the non-oppressed/over-represented group rush to tell those who do belong to (or champion voices within) an oppressed or under-represented group.

This has happened, of course, with WITMonth as well. Most egregiously, however, it happened on a totally harmless tweet: a totally lovely collection of photos that people have shared on social media detailing their favorite women in translation. The response - dismissing the collection of critically-and-reader acclaimed books as mere "twaddle" - demands to know why The Poetry Translation Centre isn't focused on "simply promoting good literature, rather than PC quota-like obsessions regardless of merit".

Ah yes. "Good literature". "Merit".

I've written extensively about the ways in which women's writing is dismissed and ignored. More importantly, Joanna Russ has written a brilliant book about it, too. The terms "good literature" and "merit" are heavily influenced by inherently gendered concepts, twisted by the bias we all have. No reader can disconnect their perception of works by women writers and their admiration for works by men, when almost all of the literature children read in schools (and in university) is by men, while women's writing is often limited to specific units or "women's studies" courses. And of course, this is not merely true for books by women writers, rather it represents a disturbingly pervasive fact when it comes to representation of writers from marginalized backgrounds (and especially those who represent an intersection of several marginalized identities).

Here's the cold, uncomfortable truth: Having WITMonth isn't about being "PC". It's not about reading women for the sake of women, to mark a checkbox and feel progressive. It's because we want the best literature, and you simply aren't going to get it if all you're reading is the same men again and again, and only ever from English. If we truly went by merit, I honestly do not believe we would ever have such a severe imbalance between men and women, nor between English-language authors and those in translation, nor between white authors and non-white authors, nor between straight authors and queer authors, nor between able-bodied authors and disabled authors. Excellent writers exist in all stripes and come from all backgrounds. We must always remember that, as well as recognize the additional hurdles writers from marginalized backgrounds must overcome in order to have the privilege of being heard.

Reading only English-language, white, straight men? Now that's just trying to be politically correct. The rest - WITMonth included - is just reality.

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