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[Dresden Files] [-] Dresden Files' poor trackrecord with Sexism, Racism and Diversity

Phobomancer

Retired User
Disclaimer: I'm of an LGBT persuasion.

I really want to like Dresden Files. I often do when I get lost in the story. Then I look at the larger picture and I'm reminded why I can't love the series. The series is just massively whitebread to the point it's distracting. It's like the author has never been outside a majority white small town in his life.

Chicago is a city that's, 30% white, 30% black and 30% Latino. The lone recurring Black character and the lone recurring Latino are out of towners. Harry also never seems to encounter any Eastern Europeans in Chicago (Polish descended people make up quarter of the cities population alone).

Women who rarely have agency of their own in the series. They are someone's girlfriend/daughter/mother. When they do get to be independent they are often portrayed as femme fatales, leveraging their sexuality to mess with the protagonist's head. And of course lets not forget that the protagonist describes them all as attractive repeatedly throughout the series.
Murphy is/was the major exception to the weak portrayal of female characters early on. But with the ramping up of threats in the series and the increased focus on her relationship with Harry she's getting put in the girlfriend box more and more.

Then there is my own personal bugbear. LGBT representation.
IIRC we've had a one LGT character in the series so far, a evil domineering lesbian (like that isn't a stereotype) who died in Book 3 or so.
Bi characters exist but solely as a male fantasy. They are pretty much all sexed up female vampires who indulge in the occasional threesome or tryst with a female character to titillate the reader.
Then there is the treatment of gay men. I still cringe when I remember the "hilarious" comedy routine that is Thomas or Harry pretending to be gay caricatures.
 
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JustinCognito

Crepuscular
Validated User
Re: [Dresden Files] [-] So I want to like Dresden Files but...

To be fair on one point, the series does have a black character of a Chicagoan persuasion - Rawlins, one of Murphy's fellow detectives in Special Investigations. But... yeah. Butcher's stepped on his share of landmines when it comes to minority representation issues before - there was the "Fuck you Jim Butcher" incident, where a number of readers pointed out he'd painted Hyde Park, perhaps the nicest part of the South Side and the place where the Obamas have a house, as the kind of place you really don't want to be after dark. While the series has had... issues with Chicago geography before (like when he gave Wrigley Park a parking lot), this was one of those that really set off people for not entirely unjustifiable reasons.

And, as a fellow queer-type individual who's gotten 13 novels into the series (but hasn't gotten to No. 14 just yet), I get the sense that Butcher is one of those people who... wants to try? But maybe isn't sure how. Which would be nice, if there wasn't a bunch of talking about how Stereotypes Are Bad (But Good to Play Up for Deception) and Gay People Are Just Like You And Me in one hand, and a bunch of manipulative murderous bisexuals and a scene full of nameless gay guys cruising each other in a park (still the most gay male representation the series has ever seen!) in the other.
 

DoctorDogGirl

New member
Banned
Re: [Dresden Files] [-] So I want to like Dresden Files but...

You're welcome to your opinion and I think you raise very valuable points which are areas which can be room for improvements. Overall, though, I think the Dresden Files are reasonably progressive as a series and if you're on book 3 then you're actually missing out a lot on the progression inside the series.

Perhaps this is because I've been exposed to a lot more Urban Fantasy and the vast majority of them are incredibly whitebread while the Dresden Files have a Black Atheist Russian, a Jewish recurring character, two major female characters with their own agency (and the Rulers of all Fairydom are women), and while eye-rollingly preachy I give the author credit for taking the time to step back and have the main character address that he doesn't think homophobia is cool.

Which, honestly, is a great thing.

Lara Raith is a character which is a poor representations for bisexual women and the "Vamp" but she's still a character who wields major authority in the setting, as does Luccio, Mab, and other women. I'm fond of the character of Elaine as well. The character of Susan Rodriguez is a character I think also deserves credit because her entire story arc is a subversion of the story arc we'd normally get from a woman like her. Despite being Harry's ex and the mother of his child, it's made very clear that her relationship with him is less important to her than the larger cause she's devoted her to. We almost never see a woman choose career over family since this is almost an exclusively male decision in fiction. We see the majority of characters are the wife, girlfriend, or mothers of others because the cast is relatively interconnected. Andi is Butter's girlfriend but she's arguably just as important a character as him.

Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. I don't think the books are as male and white dominated as you think. It's why readers have suggested making one (or more!) of Michael's children gay.

But yes, I cringe when Jim Butcher makes "harmless" jokes like the earring bit.
 
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Phobomancer

Retired User
Re: [Dresden Files] [-] So I want to like Dresden Files but...

I'm as far as Cold Days, can't seem to muster up enthusiasm for Skin Games. I might buy it when it's on sale.

I don't think it's fair to say the Faerie queens are positive female characters. Titania is never seen and Mab was a manipulative sexy seductress who wanted to fuck Dresden and had her way with him. Sure there was a reason that she wanted sexy-times with him. But the sex magic involved in his investiture as Winter Knight felt like cheap titillation to me.
 
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AilphanG

Eventually you'll be dead
Validated User
Re: [Dresden Files] [-] So I want to like Dresden Files but...

There is a scene in Cold Days where Harry (and possibly Jim Butcher by extension) tries to convey that he isn't homophobic, but just old-fashioned in a frontiersy sort of way. It is notoriously ill-conceived and ill-executed.

I broadly agree with your points, and in particular "Harry is constantly aroused because supernatural women are all smokin' hot in a dangerous way" annoys the shit out of me. Cold Days has some really interesting discussion of male gaze, I think, in that we get to both see through the eyes of genuinely predatory sexuality, and we get Harry's explicit statements about what he feels is or is not sexually acceptable behavior. But it's also a book where a power-mad faerie seductress tries to unbalance Harry by showing up to a party wearing nothing but gems glued to her pubis, so.
 

JustinCognito

Crepuscular
Validated User
Re: [Dresden Files] [-] So I want to like Dresden Files but...

Perhaps this is because I've been exposed to a lot more Urban Fantasy and the vast majority of them are incredibly whitebread while the Dresden Files have a Black Atheist Russian, a Jewish recurring character, two major female characters with their own agency (and the Rulers of all Fairydom are women), and while eye-rollingly preachy I give the author credit for taking the time to step back and have the main character address that he doesn't think homophobia is cool.

Which, honestly, is a great thing.
At the same time, I feel like there are expectations when it comes to setting the series in a city like Chicago, rather than a city like, say, Minneapolis/St. Paul (please, Minnesotans, forgive me if the city is more diverse than I think, I am reaching here). It's a city that's 33% black and 30% Hispanic or Latino (mind you, that does overlap with white in some segments). But when it comes down to the series' black and Latino characters (out of a wide, wide cast of characters), three out of the four of them (Martha Liberty, Sanya, Carlos) are from out of town. This is not a problem in urban fantasy alone - it's often been pointed out that The Walking Dead, whose main cast set out from a city where 54% of the population is black, had only one African-American character in said main cast for its first three seasons (and when a new one showed up, the old one died soon after). Or that for years, Friends seemed to be set in the whitest version of Manhattan known to man. No one expects the author to cross-reference the cast list against the 2010 Census until it's down to the second decimal point, but it's good to keep demographics in mind, and at least try to balance the bit characters against that, if not the main cast.

But yes, I cringe when Jim Butcher makes "harmless" jokes like the earring bit.
Yeah, after flipping through a few chapters of Cold Days and not quite feeling it, I was starting to get into the excerpts for Skin Game. And then I hit that joke and just shook my head.

I'm just gonna say what I said in the Skin Game thread, but, I'm really curious now. Would-be or current authors of a straight persuasion, what difficulties lie in writing a gay guy who's just like the straight guys, save he likes dudes, that I don't see?
 

Bira

Registered User
Validated User
Re: [Dresden Files] [-] So I want to like Dresden Files but...

I never got past the first book in the series because I couldn't stand Harry Dresden's "old-fashioned" ways. It came off as prejudiced and condescending towards any female charatcers he interacted with. "I know you're a badass police detective who already knows magic exists because I advertise myself as a wizard for hire. I know more information on the supernatural will save you from a lot of danger in this case we're working on. But I'm an old fashioned gent, and you're a girl, so I'm not gonna tell you anything for your protection and act totally shocked when a demon almost eats you as a result."
 

DoctorDogGirl

New member
Banned
Re: [Dresden Files] [-] So I want to like Dresden Files but...

At the same time, I feel like there are expectations when it comes to setting the series in a city like Chicago, rather than a city like, say, Minneapolis/St. Paul (please, Minnesotans, forgive me if the city is more diverse than I think, I am reaching here). It's a city that's 33% black and 30% Hispanic or Latino (mind you, that does overlap with white in some segments). But when it comes down to the series' black and Latino characters (out of a wide, wide cast of characters), three out of the four of them (Martha Liberty, Sanya, Carlos) are from out of town. This is not a problem in urban fantasy alone - it's often been pointed out that The Walking Dead, whose main cast set out from a city where 54% of the population is black, had only one African-American character in said main cast for its first three seasons (and when a new one showed up, the old one died soon after). Or that for years, Friends seemed to be set in the whitest version of Manhattan known to man. No one expects the author to cross-reference the cast list against the 2010 Census until it's down to the second decimal point, but it's good to keep demographics in mind, and at least try to balance the bit characters against that, if not the main cast.
This isn't a defense but something to note is Chicago isn't really all that important to the Dresden Files. It's a city he chose more or less at random to set his adventures in and didn't start researching until much-much later in the series.

By Summer Knight, it more or less becomes irrelevant except as a staging grounds.

This becomes relevant as much of the series doesn't deal with Harry having "clients" anymore or even dealing with the Police. When we have Martha Liberty and Ancient Mai and so on--it's because they're far more relevant to the story than the people surrounding our hero's house. When Harry visits the faux-slums in Ghost Story, it's the first time he's really visited any place people actually LIVE in the city period.

Graceland gets far more attention than any other area of Chicago.

JustinCognito said:
Yeah, after flipping through a few chapters of Cold Days and not quite feeling it, I was starting to get into the excerpts for Skin Game. And then I hit that joke and just shook my head.

I'm just gonna say what I said in the Skin Game thread, but, I'm really curious now. Would-be or current authors of a straight persuasion, what difficulties lie in writing a gay guy who's just like the straight guys, save he likes dudes, that I don't see?
I am one of those thousands of aspiring writers and when I was part of a book group, I had my first manuscript turned back with a lot of mentions of blind or erroneous spots regarding representation. I wanted to be progressive but I didn't really know how to go about it. I suspect Jim Butcher created the Dresden Files based on Old Noir Films and didn't really bother to try and update the 1940s atmosphere. A large part of the problem with female representation in the books is fans are here for the Urban Fantasy and he's still giving them Noir Femme Fatales.

In short, The Dresden Files problem is at a conceptual level--especially given Harry's sexuality and issues with women are an in-setting THING rather than something that's just a blind spot.

I think you have to take a step back and consciously TRY to change your style. Pause to say, "Why can't Morgan be black?"
 
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Naxuul

Emo hair power!
Validated User
Re: [Dresden Files] [-] So I want to like Dresden Files but...

The main way I get through the books is quickly identifying which parts are going to raise my blood pressure and skimming or straight up skipping them. Like all the femme fatale stuff, or stuff with Molly or stuff with Lash or anything remotely touching on gay people(that speech in the cruising area in Cold Days was just the most gross 'why did you even put this shit in?!' unnecessary bullshit i've ever seen). Especially anything on gay men, when Harry started up his flamer impersonation I was just like 'Jesus Christ, what the fuck?!' and flipped to the next chapter, having lost nothing.

-Naxuul
 
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DoctorDogGirl

New member
Banned
Re: [Dresden Files] [-] So I want to like Dresden Files but...

The main way I get through the books is quickly identifying which parts are going to raise my blood pressure and skimming or straight up skipping them. Like all the femme fatale stuff, or stuff with Molly or stuff with Lash or anything remotely touching on gay people(that speech in the cruising area in Cold Days was just the most gross 'why did you even put this shit in?!' unnecessary bullshit i've ever seen). Especially anything on gay men, when Harry started up his flamer impersonation I was just like 'Jesus Christ, what the fuck?!' and flipped to the next chapter, having lost nothing.

-Naxuul
Yeah, trying to say that you're not homophobic is less effective than putting in a gay character.
 
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