Elitist Asshattery

Sometimes, I just can’t keep my mouth shut. Or my hands off the keyboard. Elitist Asshattery* is one of the things that do that to me.

So, you ask, what is Elitist Asshattery?

Well. You can find Elitist Asshats in most writers’ groups. They pretend to be normal people with a reasonable level of empathy and understanding for their fellow writer, but they aren’t. They’re douchebags with an unhealthy obsession with grammar, spelling, and punctuation. And they make no exception for people who haven’t had access to the same level of education as they have; nor for those who struggle with neurological challenges such as dyslexia.

Before you jump to conclusions about what I’m really saying, let’s be clear:

No, poorly edited books usually don’t sell very well. And yes, you want your finished product to be as perfect as can be.

But —

The people I label Elitist Asshats don’t limit their criticism to the finished product. They attack writers who share their first, tentative efforts at a craft they’ve been told all their life they’ll never be good at. Elitist Asshats say – yes, I’ve recently come across people that actually do say this – that people with dyslexia have no business writing. They make comparisons to people with no legs running marathons. (Which, by the way, some people do.)

Elitist Asshats seem to look no further than to the surface – to what the writing looks like. If it’s riddled with spelling errors and missing punctuation, they theorise, the story must be awful.

But you know what?

There’s a difference between writing and storytelling. In my opinion, any fiction writer worth their salt should be aiming to be a storyteller first and foremost. And storytelling – though a craft that takes skill to do well – is not the same thing as putting letters on a page.

Storytellers have been around for ages. Storytellers gave us our folk tales. Storytellers built the foundations of most religions. You don’t have to read and write flawlessly to be able to tell a story.

Quite the contrary – through most of history, the knowledge of humankind has been preserved only in oral tradition. By storytellers, back when reading and writing were rare skills – sometimes even forbidden to the common people.

To think that people can’t tell good stories just because they lack the quality education the western world’s middle class take for granted, or because they have a brain that’s wired differently, is to ignore generations upon generations’ worth of folklore and tradition.

The brothers Grimm, for example, did in no way come up with the fairy tales we all grew up with. They merely recorded folk tales in their research about the German language. The Grimm brothers could read and write, but the people who told the tales they wrote down generally could not.

Refusing to see the deeper qualities in writing just because it may have spelling errors in it is narrow-minded and not just a little classist and/or ableist.

I’m in no way suggesting that people try to sell their books unedited, with all the typos still in there. But there are resources available to most writers that will even the playing field. Spell check software, beta readers, editors.

There is absolutely no valid reason a person with poor spelling skills cannot write books.

Besides, speaking as someone who’s always had an easy time learning theory, I find that sometimes I’m so stuck in my square, right angle thinking, I have a hard time coming up with anything new. I just regurgitate the same old tropes and settings I’ve been fed all my life.

I do believe there are those who get so caught up in how things ‘should be’ written, they forget how to write.

But be that as it may – I will always stand up for those of my writer friends who write despite challenges such as dyslexia or a lack of education.

Elitist Asshats, on the other hand, I will never endorse. In my opinion, story will always go before grammar.

 

* I’m mixing English accents here, and I do apologise, but it’s for the effect. ‘Ass’ is a decidedly American word: the British equivalent is ‘arse’. But ‘asshat’ has a ring to it that ‘arsehat’ ultimately lacks. So in the case of the word ‘asshat’, I’m afraid ‘arse’ will have to give way to its American sibling.

Going ‘political’

So it turns out I’ve found a soapbox. Some things are just too stupid not to address. *clears throat*

It’s interesting, really, what counts as political these days. Apparently, writing books* and making films about any other kind of human being than just one demographical group, is political. Seeing how this group is very small compared to the other one, which is comprised of all the other categories of humans on this planet, I find it more than odd.

The group in question? Oh, it’s the straight, white, fully abled, cis male. (Cis is a latin prefix meaning “on this side of”. Cis male means someone who was born with a male body and identifies as a man.) You may argue that heterosexuals are not a minority in the world, and neither are cisgender people, or males. And no, they aren’t. Heterosexual people are in a majority to homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, demisexual people and people of other sexual orientations. Transgender people, whether they are male-to-female, female-to-male, genderqueer, intersex or any other named or unnamed gender on the spectrum, are also a minority compared to cisgender people.

Regarding the male bit, the binary man is in a slight majority to the binary woman. The official statistics claim there are 101 men for every 100 women. These data aren’t likely to have taken gender spectrum factors into accountance, but they give a clue as to what the average ratio may be.

Also, we can probably agree that generally speaking, there are probably more fully abled people in the world, than there are disabled ones, even counting invisible disabilities like dyslexia, ADHD, anxiety disorders, and other neurological and/or mental health-related issues.

But then we arrive at the skin colour bit, and this is where things become interesting. White people only make up roughly 18% of the global human population. (Yeah, global. That includes countries like India and China and the whole African and South American continents. No, white people being a minority of the global population doesn’t mean white privilege doesn’t exist in your country.) From these 18% white people, now subtract [white] women, [white] transgender people, [white] non-straight men and [white] disabled men. I haven’t done the maths, lacking reliable data on several categories as well as the overlap between them, but just deducting the half that is — generally speaking — women, takes us down to approximately 9%.

Is is reasonable that writing about characters outside of this group is considered a political statement? Does it make sense that acknowledging the existence of more than 91% of the global human population counts as “promoting a political agenda”?

I think not. I will not buy into this “politicalness”. I’m writing diversity. I’m writing non-white characters and non-western cultures. I’m questioning and sometimes simply disregarding the binary, heteronormative templates. I’m writing disability and I’m writing mental health issues. This isn’t political — it’s plain, common decency.

 

*) I apologise for linking to a blog owned by a straight, white cis male, but maybe other straight, white cis males will listen to him, even though they won’t listen to the people he and I are talking about. I’m also guessing writers outside of this limited demographical group of straight, white cis men don’t receive this kind of shitstorm for writing diversity — simply because their work isn’t considered mainstream enough to be paid any attention. Which, again, is a symptom of this same old problem. Round and round we go.