7 MORE Offensive Mistakes Well-Intentioned Writers Make

Getting Mental Illnesses & Different Neurologies Wrong

Want to create a chilling plot twist? Just the killer the hero's evil alternate personality! That's called schizophrenia... right?

Wrong. And this type of thing is incredibly insensitive and offensive.

First of all, schizophrenia doesn't create multiple personalities. The closest thing to that is found in dissociative identity disorder, and even then it's usually pretty harmless. Yet thanks to this being constantly portrayed in fiction, many people expect people with schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder to be dangerous, which makes their already-difficult lives even more difficult.

Occasionally, some people go the other direction and portray these people as innocent or even mystical. That's positive discrimination, and that's also bad because it creates unrealistic expectations.

Whether it's schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder, autistic spectrum disorders, psychopathy, sociopathy, or anything else, you're going to use a mental disorder or alternate neurology of any kind, make sure you research it. And whatever you do, NEVER give your character a mental illness just to make xir more "interesting," because that's ableism.

Trying to Create an Aesop About Discrimination Without Actually Understanding the Discrimination in Question

Most people think they have a pretty good bead on what racism is all about - it's about segregation, ugly slurs, and pointy white hats. Same goes with sexism - women can get jobs and vote now, so it must all be over, right? Well... it's not quite that simple, unfortunately.

In real life, discrimination isn't necessarily overt or even obvious to the offender because it's so taken for granted, but nonetheless can be very discouraging to the recipient. Sure, it's not on the same level as some of the stuff that people have had to deal with in the past, but it doesn't mean it's not bothersome. Even though none of it on its own might be a big deal, it can get wearing when it happens day after day on a regular basis. Kind of a "death by a thousand cuts" deal.

Some examples of subtle discrimination:

Trying to Satirize a Thing Without Understanding Why it's a Thing

The film Death Becomes Her satirizes the perceived vanity of performers who spend mind-blowing amounts of money on beauty products and plastic surgeries to stay young. Funny film? Yes. But it's rather sexist in that it treats this perceived vanity as something that just happens to some women for no real reason. It ignores the fact that we live in a society obsessed with youth and that our consumerist culture has commodified it and tries to make us feel inferior every day for not buying it from them. It ignores the fact that the executives in control of the entertainment industry constantly pressure women into getting plastic surgery and enhancements, even flat-out refusing to hire women who don't meet their exact standards of beauty, regardless of their talent.

Killing Off LGBT/MOGAI Characters to Make an Allegedly Non-Hateful Point

There's this thing that some writers do - they introduce an LGBT/MOGAI character, try to build some some sympathy for xir, and before you know it they've killed off this character in a manner that's reminiscent of that old and noxious "too good for this sinful Earth" trope that pervaded Puritan literature.

This sends an absolutely terrible message to LGBT/MOGAI people - that the only way they can escape the shame and the hate that so often comes with being LGBT/MOGAI is if they die. LGBT/MOGAI youth are at a higher risk of committing suicide already - clearly, this is not a message we want to be sending.

Forgetting Non-White Women in Female-Oriented Entertainment

Especially when it's set in an area with diverse demographics. Charmed, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Sex and the City for example, were all set in very diverse areas, yet both had curiously monochrome casts. Sure, the main characters of Charmed were sisters so you have some justification there, but even then there was still room for non-white women in the form of recurring characters.

Multi-Racial Groups Always With a White at the Helm

This wouldn't be a problem if it didn't keep happening all the time. But invariably, whenever there's a multi-racial group or team of some kind, the leader will invariably be white. The implication is that while non-whites are good enough to have on a team, they still aren't leadership material.

The Fairytale Gypsy

You know the character type - they live in wagons, wear colorful clothing, read fortunes, and play a mean fiddle.

The trouble is, what you see in fiction is a romanticized version of a very ugly reality: "Gypsy" is actually a racial slur for the Roma and Dom people. The reason they're nomads is because people have a habit of routing them out whenever they try to settle down due to racial prejudices, and their eclectic fashion comes from having to wear whatever they can get. Also, they're no more magical than you or me.

Their portrayal in many fantasies perpetuates the myth that these people are fairytale creatures who vanished along with Long Ago And Far Away, rather than real people who suffer systemic oppression today.

See Also:

7 Offensive Mistakes Well-Intentioned Writers Make
Basic Tips To Get More Racial Diversity In Your Writing
Basic Tips To Avoid Tokenism
Basic Tips To Write Subcultures & Minority Religions Better

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