Tag Archives: Ethics

Who has the right to write?

Just lately, I’ve been thinking about gay romances.

I read them. I also read heterosexual romances.

The reason I read the romances I do, and the reason I like reading them, is because both characters are intelligent, sensible human beings. None of this crap about the whole storyline basically being the result of one of them not telling the other one something important. No wilting. No getting pregnant by accident on a one-night stand. (Yes, I know it still happens despite the availability of contraception since the 1960s, but really do you expect me to respect a heroine who has sex with a stranger without using protection?)

Strangely, this pretty much limits my MF romances to historicals – most of the contemporary heroines seem to be wilting violets who run away a lot, or get themselves into stupid situations that require them to be rescued. By a man. It’s the historical heroines who do interesting things, who stand up for themselves or someone else, who won’t be pushed around.

On the other hand, in M/M romances, I don’t have to cope with one of the two protagonists being someone I want to slap some sense into. I like some vulnerability, but M/M romances tend to be a lot better at avoiding wimpy.

So, a story with two guys in it is a lot more likely to have two characters who are my kind of person.

And, a lot of M/M romances are written by women.

But if you look about on the internet a bit, you find that there’s quite a bit of debate about whether women have the right to write M/M romances.

This sounds awfully familiar. Nobody is saying “gay writers have no right to write about straight women”, but, hey presto, we’ve got a bunch of people trying to limit what women are allowed to do… again.

This isn’t universal; gay male opinion seems to be pretty much divided between “Women – get thee to the kitchen/get thee to Mills & Boon” and “I don’t care who is writing romances about gay couples as long as someone is; let’s have some books about gay characters who don’t die in the end.”

Because, let’s face it, until recently, writing realistic fiction about gay couples, whether male or female, probably wasn’t going to be very cheerful – but particularly for men. Not only was there AIDS to contend with, but society has always been much harsher on male homosexuality than female (usually because female homosexuality just gets ignored). But everyone needs some feel-good fiction at some point, and I’ve read several posts from gay men, basically saying that M/M romance may not be incredibly true to life, but they wanted a happy ending. Which gay fiction written by gay men wasn’t providing, being – as far as I can tell – the equivalent of literary fiction, which is not known for being bright and upbeat.

I wonder whether gay men, being men, have the same hang-up about reading romances as straight men? As in, real men just don’t . So although 16% of romances are bought by men (according to Romance Writers of America), gay men were – once again – deprived of something that straight men had. Not only the opportunity to openly have a relationship with the partner of their choice, but also to read about romantic happy endings that featured people like them.

OK, so a lot of M/M romance is read by heterosexual women. Why is that a bad thing? Gay men read about straight couples. Why shouldn’t everyone read what they want? Reading about people who are different from you is supposed to broaden the mind, isn’t it?

Then, of course, there is the politicisation of writing. That straight women shouldn’t be allowed to write about gay men, because it’s not their story.

So how come Oscar Wilde was allowed to write The Importance of Being Earnest? Which, as I recall, was all about straight couples. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander – unless we’re trying to say that gay men can write what they like, but straight women have to do what they’re told? (Again.)

Of course, set against this, we have the calls for ‘diverse books’.

So, on one hand, straight female authors are being told that they should restrict their writing to straight characters; on the other hand, they are being told that the world needs more ‘diverse’ characters, i.e., gay and ethnic minorities (bearing in mind that everyone is an ethnic majority somewhere).

Both cannot be true.

We cannot say, on the one hand, that a straight white author is only allowed to write straight white characters (because anything else is not their story), and on the other, lambast that author for not writing gay or ethnic minority characters.

What is wrong with an author simply writing the story they have in their head? If a character in your head is gay, then they’re gay. You can’t suddenly swap their gender or sexual orientation – it just doesn’t work like that. Why should I have to censor my writing because I’m not gay? And why should I be made to feel guilty on the one hand for including gay character, and on the other hand for not including them?

The “you shouldn’t write about that because it’s not your story” idea, though, is worse than just making writers feel guilty for writing. It means that it limits who is allowed to write about what – it’s censorship under the guise of ‘respect’ and ‘political correctness’. And what happens, when only gay people are allowed to write about gay characters? Well, since gay people are a minority, how many books with gay characters do you think we’re going to get if we rely on gay people to write them all? An awful lot of gay people would have to give up their day jobs in order to write the requisite number of books.

Or, maybe, we should just let people who already want to write get on and write them. Maybe, just maybe, we shouldn’t worry about political correctness, and whether the author is male or female, straight or gay, human or robot or dancing bear. Maybe we should just think about the quality of the writing. Maybe we should just be happy that somebody is including gay characters. Yes, m/m romances are cheesy a lot of the time – but then so is pretty much every m/f romance! The whole point of the romance genre is that it’s boy meets girl (or boy meets boy, or girl meets girl, or whatever), boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, happy ever after. It’s a fun read. It makes you think that there is happiness and love in the world, and that sometimes, love does conquer all.

It’s not meant to be politically correct, it’s not meant to send any kind of message other than ooh, that’s so lovely, and it’s meant to be fun.

Remember fun? That thing you had before you had political correctness? Before you had to worry about diversity and who had the right to write exactly what storylines?

And, to be topical, why, why, why are we praising Charlie Hebdo for publishing nasty, racist, disrespectful cartoons which mock a minority’s culture and religion and calling it “freedom of speech” when at the same time people are trying to argue that women should not be writing books that portray a minority in a generally positive (even if not exactly realistic) light?

I think I’ll let them all go to Hull and I’ll write whatever I like.

Feminism, Ethics, and What I Think

Today I have been reading Caring: Nurses, Women and Ethics (my ingenuity knows no bounds when it comes to avoiding finishing reading Alchemystic).

It’s basically about the development of a specific nursing ethics system, and what form such a system should take. Previous authors have argued for an ‘ethics of care’; Kuhse, the author of this current book, argues that basing nursing ethics on an ethics of care is not only a bad thing in and of itself, as care ethics is a fundamentally flawed approach, but it also contributes to the professional disenfranchisement of nurses (and thus women) by giving them an ethical approach that does not equip them to discuss ethical subjects with others. Kuhse argues for a ‘just caring’ approach. Although she does not utter the words ‘virtue ethics’, she is arguing for an ethical paradigm that combines principlist with virtue ethical approaches.

In her discussion, Kuhse refers to the history of feminist ethical and philosophical thinking, and some rather interesting points are unearthed. Historically, women have been regarded as ‘lesser’ than men – less intelligent, less capable of reason, less capable of rational morality. Women, instead, have been praised for passivity, docility, obedience, and respectfulness. A good woman, say many of the great thinkers of history, is a woman who looks after her husband and children, does what her husband tells her, and provides him with unconditional love and approval. While a virtuous man is brave, honourable and principled, with the intellectual capacity to discern what is right and the courage to fight for it, a virtuous woman is very different. A virtuous woman is gentle, loving, kind, and caring. Her concerns are within the home and family, not directed towards the outer society.

There has been some research done on the way men and women approach moral problems; men, it is said, tend to see moral problems more like a mathematical problem with people: you add up the risks and the benefits and come to a decision. Women, on the other hand, tend to think more about relationships and personal responsibilities.

Certain authors, therefore, have advocated a specific ‘feminist ethics’, based around the ‘caring’ female virtues, whereby the right thing to do is the most caring thing; principles and rules are too restrictive and simplistic, and should be abandoned.

One can see the allure of this: if women are naturally more inclined to a caring-based process when making ethical decisions, surely this should be explored, and even celebrated? As feminist authors have pointed out, the traditionally male rule-based ethical systems don’t seem to have produced a utopian paradise. Maybe it’s time for caring feminine ethics to come to the fore?

Unfortunately, in a blog post, there just isn’t enough room to do justice to the arguments on both sides. So I’ll make the points that occur to me.

As Kuhse says, a pure ‘care ethics’ approach fails abysmally because without principles, how do we know what we are supposed to be caring about – or for whom? To what extent? When? A care ethics approach also assumes that the only persons to whom we have any kind of moral responsibility are those with whom we have a caring relationship, and therefore denies that we have any moral responsibility towards strangers. Additionally, without clearly articulated principles, it’s impossible to discuss ethical theories in any more detail than “I feel…” and “I think…” These are clearly serious weaknesses in a moral theory.

However, quite apart from care ethics’ weakness as a moral theory per se, even more worrying is what it potentially says about women. By marketing care ethics as a suitable ethics for women, its proponents – feminists! – are reinforcing the woman’s role as a caring one, where reason and logic are not only not expected, but not desirable. These feminists simply say that being caring is better than being logical; an emotional decision is better than a reasoned one. Why would any woman want to be logical when she can be caring?

To me, this is simply playing into the hands of the male chauvinists:
MALE CHAUVINIST: “Women are better fitted to caring roles, such as wife and mother, than logical, technical roles like being doctors and lawyers and bankers.”
CARE ETHICIST: “Yes, but caring roles are better; it’s far more praiseworthy to be a nice person like a mother or a nurse than a cold-hearted logician like a doctor or a lawyer or banker.”
ME: “What about me? I don’t want to be a mother or a nurse. I want to be a lawyer.”
MALE CHAUVINIST & CARE ETHICIST (together): “Then you are a bad example of womanhood! You should learn to know your place and relish the caring role for which Nature intended you.”

The care ethicist, then, has bought into the male chauvinist opinion that women are not fitted for logical thinking and reasoned argument, but comforts herself by declaring that logical and reason are not qualities worth having anyway. Fox and grapes, anyone?

This Fox has a longing for grapes:
He jumps, but the bunch still escapes.
So he goes away sour;
And, ’tis said, to this hour
Declares that he’s no taste for grapes.

This way of thinking seems to be found amongst quite a few vocal feminists, and I find it deeply disturbing. Not simply because it perpetuates the image of the Ideal Woman as the wife and mother (with some feminists now declaring that motherhood is, indeed, the highest calling of any human being and women are therefore better than men because men can’t be mothers, poor things) but because it reinforces the impression that women are unfitted for many roles in society – often the most respected or lucrative. It also reinforces the belief that all women think the same way. Feminist ethicists of this type seem to believe that all women want the same things, and can therefore be put in the same conceptual box (labelled ‘CARER’).

Also, almost worse, it drives a wedge between men and women. It perpetuates the existence of the ‘gender war’, where the name of the game is prove one’s own gender superior to the other. Whatever happened to recognising that women and men in general may think differently, but neither one is necessarily superior?

Personally, I’m an equalitarian. I don’t believe that women are better than men, or vice versa. I don’t believe in ‘men’s jobs’ or ‘women’s jobs’; I believe that a person should pursue the occupation for which he, or she, is best fitted by character, intelligence and inclination. I don’t think that there is any such thing as a ‘feminine ethics’ or a ‘masculine ethics’ – there is only ethics; the same system should apply equally to everyone, and should be applied equally by everyone. While logic and reason do not have all the answers, neither does an emotion-based approach; a fusion of both is required, something that is neither masculine nor feminine, but only human.

Ethics: backwards or forwards?

Here is a thought before going to bed: when thinking of the right action to take in a difficult ethical situation, do you think of the action first then reason backwards to why it would be right, or do you think of your reasons first then come to a conclusion?

If a friend tells you something after you’ve agreed to keep a secret, but the secret might hurt someone else – do you tell?

If we are a good little Virtue Ethicist (like in my previous post) we presumably will instinctively choose the ‘right thing’ and be able to explain why post facto.

If we are a Utilitarian, we will presumably think of our options and their consequences, and then choose an option.

I am therefore not as good a Utilitarian as I would like to be, because I find myself going backwards, trying to justify the answer I ‘feel’ is right. But I don’t see myself as a Virtue Ethicist (good people make good decisions) and besides, even if I did, I don’t think I’m that good a person.

I suppose another reason I don’t like Virtue Ethics, (other than the fact that it seems to be telling me how I ought to think, not just how I ought to act) is because if you need to be a virtuous person to make virtuous decisions… where does that leave me? (See, Lowestofthekeys – I admit it. Maybe the reason I don’t like Virtue Ethics is because I’m just not virtuous enough…)

For me, I guess one reason to study ethics is to understand more of the depth and breadth of the possibilities, and maybe apply a bit more thought and logic and a bit less instinct.

At least until I turn into Gandhi.