From Writer Unboxed:
Last month’s post on book bans opened with a quote from historian Thomas Zimmer, which I’ll repeat here for reference:
There is indeed something going on in America, and it does make a lot of people…really uncomfortable. We are in the midst of a profound renegotiation of speech norms and of who gets to define them. And that can be a messy process at times. But it’s not “cancel culture.” From a democratic perspective, it is necessary, and it is progress.
I believe this is an accurate statement of where we are culturally, and that one of the most apparent arenas undergoing renegotiation is publishing. One specific example of that is the increasing role of sensitivity readers, especially in YA fiction, though the practice is extending to adult fiction, film, and TV.
The major impetus behind the implementation of sensitivity readers was publishing’s recognition of the obvious fact that it was overwhelmingly white—and that white writers, in the wake of the social justice movement that emerged in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, wanted to address that imbalance by writing across racial and ethnic lines.
The results were, shall we say, mixed. White authors were taken to task for patronizing, stereotypical, or harmful representations of minorities or for resorting to racial tropes in their work.
In September 2015, author Corinne Duyvis created the hashtag #OwnVoices as a way to recommend books on Twitter that featured authors who shared the diverse identity of their main characters. At the same time, publishers and agents began subtly (or not so subtly) discouraging white writers from “straying from their lane” in writing about protagonists or even secondary characters outside their personal realm of “lived experience.”
The sensitivity reader emerged as a possible solution to the problem of authors needing input into the lives of members of diverse communities different from their own race, ethnicity, gender identity, faith, and so on. This was done to help prevent any more representations deemed “problematic,” a euphemism that rather quickly became a new term of art.
The Term “Sensitivity” Itself is “Problematic”
In a Writer’s Digest article titled, “The Problem with Sensitivity Readers Isn’t What You Think It Is”), author Anna Hecker remarked:
“Sensitivity” … is a loaded word if there ever was one. It suggests thin skins and easily bruised emotions—a potentially dangerous combination if one perceives these readers as the gatekeepers to publication (which, it should be pointed out, they are generally not).
No wonder the censorship watchdogs are wringing their hands. The term “sensitivity reader” may be triggering to the very people who loathe the term “triggering.”
Consequently, some have chosen to use the terms “authenticity readers” or “diversity readers” instead.
There. Solved it.
For a distinctly contrarian view, we can turn to author Larry Correia, self-described “Writer, Merchant of Death (retired), Firearms Instructor, Accountant.”
A Sensitivity Reader is usually some expert on Intersectional Feminism or Cismale Gendernormative Fascism or some other made up goofiness who a publisher brings in to look for anything “problematic” in a manuscript. And since basically everything is problematic to somebody they won’t be happy until they suck all the joy out of the universe. It is basically a new con-job racket some worthless scumbags have come up with to extort money from gullible writers, because there aren’t a lot of good ways to make a living with a Gender Studies degree.
It’s pretty obvious that the problem from this perspective isn’t so much what but who. That will become a theme as we press ahead.
BTW: It isn’t just opponents of sensitivity readers who get testy when this subject comes up. Anna Hecker in her WD article makes little effort to hide her disdain for those who voice doubts about sensitivity readers, referring to them as handwringing “censorship watchdogs” (see above) and “polemicists”—the latter term being used to describe Francine Prose, a stalwart progressive who nonetheless has doubts about the role sensitivity readers play.
Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed
PG was triggered when he saw the word, “problematic,” in the OP, but after spending an hour in a zero gravity tank listening to nature sounds, he recovered somewhat. However, there will definitely be a permanent emotional scar on the inner PG, like when he saw a rodent as a child.