Things in Speculative Fiction That Would Be Unforgivably Offensive If Only Everyone Was Human

Treating the Character as Subservient Just Because They're Not Human

The film version of Eragon contains a scene where Eragon declares, "I'm the rider! I say where we go!" to Saphira, after the latter voices her differing opinions. Put a human woman in Saphira's place (there is no functional difference; Saphira is as intelligent as a human being), make them a married couple, and change Eragon's line to "I'm the husband! I say where we go!"

HOLY MOTHER OF PEARL. Don't you just want to slap the little brat across that smug mouth of his? Probably. But nobody ever thinks about it that way because Saphira's a dragon, not a human.

Episodes Focusing on Non-Humans Focus Only on Differences From Humans

Star Trek: Voyager was a horrible offender. Every time there was an episode that focused on one of the Vulcans, it was almost always about an emotional crisis and/or Pon Farr, something which most humans don't really encounter. They even managed to shoehorn in a Vulcan emotional crisis into one episode via flashbacks where Tuvok was sent to a special tutor to reign in his emotions as an adolescent. (Look at that - they even managed to send their only black Vulcan to a correctional school for violent behavior!)

Okay, let's change "humans" to "men" and "Vulcans" to "women." Now let's say that almost every time they did an episode about Tuvok, it always focused on PMS-related mood swings and the annoyance of trying to work with menstrual cramps. I don't think that kind of tripe would pass today.

Fantasy Cultures Who Define Themselves From An Outside View

Fairies who put the word "fairy" in front of everything they do - eg, "fairy tag," "fairy theater," etc. Minature people who actually name their city "Tiny Town." A realm of monsters where you fill your monster car with monster gas and buy a monster doughnut before heading off to watch monster football.

It's almost as if the stories were being written by someone who thinks of themselves as the "normal" race/species and everyone else as outliers... oh... wait, that's exactly what it is.

Real cultures don't work that way. Kids in Japan don't refer to a traditional game extremely similar to marbles as "Japanese marbles" - they call it ohajiki. Kids in Nigeria don't call a game similar to tag "Nigerian tag" - they call it "Catch Your Tail." Students in Canada don't go to Canadian school; they just go to school. English folks don't attend English theaters; they just attend theaters. And so on and so forth.

Now, British people may refer to "British football" and American people may refer to "American football" upon occasion, but it's only done when they need to be clear on which game they're talking about, since they're so different. The rest of the time, they just call it "football."

Humans as Jacks-of-All-Trades; Everyone Else Specializes

In some settings, humans are treated as the jacks-of-all-trades with "average" stats or abilities, while everyone else has some kind of specialty they excel in.

Now replace "human" with "white people" (because fantasy humans are pretty much always white) and any other species with any race of your choice. Say, "gnomes" with "Asians" and "elves" with "Indians." (East or West, either one works.) Holy frak! Suddenly, the biases of the writer become crystal clear - they think of their own people as the "average," or "normal" people, and it's every other culture that's the outlier. White people can do just about anything they put their minds to, but everyone else has predispositions toward certain skills and abilities.

It gets even worse when the fantasy races are thinly-veiled stand-ins for real-world peoples, because then you know that the problem has crossed the line from subconscious to conscious.

Irrevocable Psychic/Mental Bonding With Sapient Non-Humans

When Anne McCaffrey introduced the concept of bonding with dragons in her Pern series, nobody really batted an eye. When Eragon ripped off the concept and made it even worse (dragons who lose their riders will die, period), most still didn't care. But when Twilight brought in bonding with humans, people threw fits - as well they should; it was absolutely appalling.

But nobody really gave it much thought when it was dragons. Online roleplayers never really gave it much thought when it was sapient wolves, panthers, dolphins, griffins, and any other number of creatures. It was just accepted without any real question that it was perfectly natural for non-humanoids with humanoid intelligence to form permanent and irrevocable psychic bonds with humans.

Back to Responsible & Socially-Conscious Writing
Go to a random page!