Hallie O'Donovan hallieod at indigo.ie
Tue May 15 12:02:45 EDT 2007


>Stereotypes are something else: they are locked in characteristics which
>"automatically" go with certain attributes. So the fat kid will be greedy
>and a bit dumb; the red headed kid will have a hot temper; the black kid
>will be Cool and sporty (don't you just *love* Pratchet''s Yo-less?). In
>fantasy they lead to trite ideas that Jews/Ferengi are moneylenders who'd
>sell their grandma for a profit, That immigrants/gnomes infesting your
>street/garden can be evicted in interesting and creative ways.
>Avatars are powerful tools for children.  They damn well don't need to be
>taught stereotypes unless you are actively planning to encourage playground
>bullying and life-long prejudice.

This is very interesting, and it got me thinking about when a 
stereotype becomes a stereotype and not just a sort of one-off thing. 
Rowling and the fat = "nasty in a variety of ways" is pretty clearly 
in the first category (though where were you all when I seemed to be 
the only person in the universe complaining about it??).  This 
particular stereotype seems to be one about which people are aware 
enough these days that you'd expect not to get cheerful use of it, 
unquestioned, and yet there are still far too many examples of it 
floating around.  Case in point (those who read my LJ can look away 
now, for fear of death-by-tedium) is Sally Gardner's *I, Coriander*: 
it got love, brilliant reviews a major award and I have seen *one* 
other person mentioning the fact that ugliness, specifically combined 
with fatness in female characters, inevitably equates with evil in 
it.  One. (That was a comment in response to Farah's unfavourable 

However, it seems a bit OTT to think that one could never write a 
character who happened to be fat and who was lazy, greedy or a bully 
or whatever without being accused of pandering to stereotypes. 
(Might be going in the opposite cause and effect direction, of 
course, in a realistic treatment.)  My own lack of self-restraint 
doesn't show with respect to food, but it's not because I'm admirably 
restrained at all.  (Ask Charlie how hard I hyper-ventilated last 
weekend when he took me to the *biggest* yarn shop in the UK!  And 
how long he sat on the pink, pink sofa while I wandered around 
fondling yarn...  Nor do we need to mention my glorious TBR pile and 
my continued acquisition of more books.)  A 'normal' body weight 
character without a shred of self-restraint would be fine, and even 
funny or sympathetic if it was a lack of self-restraint you shared 
with the character, but it becomes offensive if that's a fat person 
without the same.   What's clear when there is a large weight of 
stereotype built up in the past (no pun intended) might be less so if 
there's less.

Can you have a not-very-frequently-used but still stereotypical 
stereotype? Looking at a specific of relevance here - I found the 
feminist, neglectful mother in *Conrad's Fate* quite offensive.  But 
is this warranted?  Does it make a difference that in over 40 books, 
she's the only self-proclaimed feminist character?  I know it doesn't 
make any difference that she was based on a real person.  But for all 
the many, many times I've heard people dismiss feminists as merely 
men-haters (sometimes bitter because unattractive ones at that), I 
haven't come across that many saying that all feminists are rotten 
mothers.  Only other one that comes to mind immediately is Mrs Banks 
in the film version of Mary Poppins, and she's sweet and silly, which 
isn't quite the same. Yet it still seems a very cheap use of 
something *like* a stereotype.

Just pausing for a moment of extreme admiration for John Green's *An 
Abundance of Katherines* and the brilliant fat, Muslim hero's best 
friend character.  (OT but not on the question of stereotypes!)


More information about the Dwj mailing list