Discussion: Writing About Controversial Topics

On Monday I published an article called “The Game of Thrones Rape Problem“.  I was honestly expecting death threats for daring to a) criticize a much-beloved show and b) to criticize it while being female.  Thankfully that has not been the case and it’s probably helped that my post really hasn’t received that many random views from search engines.  Controversial topics aren’t really all that new to me as a blogger, as you guys probably know from my (in)famous rants and these discussion posts.

However, I know that some bloggers deliberately avoid topics like sexual assault, race/diversity issues and gender inequality in fiction because it can bring down the wrath of the darkest corners of the internet down on your head.  I completely understand that because let’s face it: it’s really no fun getting rape or death threats from total strangers.  (Understatement of the year, I know.)  After my little confrontation with a certain author I am probably the last person to judge any blogger from shying away from controversial topics.

So what I want to discuss is this: Do you find yourself shying away from controversial topics?  If so, why?  If not, why?  And please, no judgment against fellow bloggers here.  We should all write within our comfort levels and I feel it’s important to discuss why or why not we feel safe talking about some topics but won’t touch others with a ten foot pole.

While I do talk about diversity, gender inequality and sexual assault in fiction I personally try to stay away from religion because in school I was bullied horrifically for daring to not be Roman Catholic.  I still find I have that particular hang up today, even when talking amongst family and friends because I’m so used to be told I’m going to hell for not worshipping the correct god or worshipping the correct god incorrectly.  Do you guys have any hang ups about similar topics, even in real life amongst close friends/family?

10 comments

  1. Ana Claudia Antunes

    Serendipity is playing a major role here, for I too had to deakl with this topic, of being rejected for saying things my own way. And actually just a day before you posted this, I was really letting the words out to express my feelings about this subject, of writing about controversial matters. I recently published a book where I pour down many topics that touch us maybe a bit too deep. The blog where I´m talking about these issues is this: http://dance-as-one.blogspot.com.br/ I don´t see many people “liking”, “reading” or even discussing about it. Not many dare being in the frontline like this. Many kudos to us who are brave enough to do so. Those are the ones who make the wheel turn. Congrats to you for being daring enough to let the words out loud.

    • Carrie Slager

      Thank you. I think it’s important to talk about controversial topics, especially when they relate to topics you discuss on your blog regularly. For example, I’ve taken on rape in Game of Thrones because I really do love the series and how it sometimes follows the books and sometimes not. I believe discussing tough topics is an important part of book blogging but I know many other bloggers aren’t speaking from a place of privilege like myself where they feel free to discuss such matters.

  2. katherinereads

    I think that it is really important to talk about controversial topics openly, but also to be respectful of other’s opinions. Of course, this is the Internet so there will always be a least a little bit of backlash. I review and read books with controversial topics, but when I do review them, I make sure to be careful about reviewing the writing style and not the character’s actions (something that can be easily confused). Plus, there are so many different topics that need to be approached carefully. I think as long as we stay a respectful community, topics like this should be fine – as long as there is some boundary of respect and carefulness in approaching these types of topics.

    • Carrie Slager

      Exactly! Like I say in all my rants, I don’t care if people disagree with me (I really try to encourage it) as long as they’re respectful of me as well as other commenters.

      As for the character’s actions, I think that is an important part of reviewing a book. You can talk about them and how their actions affected their character. You can also certainly talk about whether the writing style seemed to be condoning or otherwise supporting the awful actions of the main character. I don’t think the actions of characters are untouchable, personally.

  3. D. Morgenstern

    I really don’t think avoiding controverial issues in fear of what others may say is good for anyone. Now there is a difference when you are in a position of privelege and not speaking up because it is not your space to do so. (For instance a male identified person cutting into a female led discussion on sexual assault and explaining how he sees the issue from his priveleged position ie “mansplaining”. Or a white person telling a black person how “they should feel” about police conduct in recent events.) At those times it should be your time to LISTEN.

    Of course knowing the difference can be subtle and takes a genuine effort to learn. Nevertheless willingness to listen why you may be told you are wrong is most conductive. Pretending some things don’t exist because you’re afraid of what others may say stifles the chance for constructive dialogue which is the greatest chance to co-educate and THAT above anything else is what moves us on the right direction.

    As for potentially triggering topics, that’s your perogative I think. And something totally unrelated to instances stated above. I won’t discuss child death due to my own life experiences unless I find something so exploitive I literally cannot hold my bile in and I will happily take off heads of those who try to justify it. (See: Nationwide Super Bowl Ad) You have the right to protect yourself.

    In short ignoring controversial topics for fear of argument is a disservice to yourself and others as you deny all that chance to grow as a person. However there are also circumstances where Passing Go is understandable and justified. Like do much in life a person needs to be able to asses each stituation as it presents itself.

    • Carrie Slager

      Yes, this is so important: if the issue doesn’t really directly affect you, your best choice may be to just listen to people who are being directly affected. Your examples are spot-on.

      Being told you are wrong sometimes is an important part of growing as a person, which is why I do encourage discussion and debate here on my blog. I do have a fairly strict commenting policy but that mostly pertains to swearing and hating on other commenters or myself. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with respectful disagreement.

      At the same time, you’re right because there are also times where speaking up can endanger your safety (i.e. Gamergate). It really all comes down to the person and how much heat you’re willing to take for your opinions. Totally ignoring topics for fear of controversy would be doing myself a disservice because there are things I believe in passionately that I feel are relevant to the book mandate here on my blog. But I’m also speaking from a position of relative privilege and I can absolutely understand why some people choose not to or actually cannot speak out. It’s really up to each person’s judgment.

  4. Topaz

    I absolutely love the fact that you’re talking about this – it’s something I’ve wanted to ask quite a few well-known (and even not-so-well-known!) book bloggers, but never really dared to. At the risk of sounding rather cheesy, I try to follow my heart when it comes to controversial topics. If something really fires me up, it’s probably going on my blog – because that is how I deal with topics. I write about them and I talk about them with other people and that helps me sort through everything I’m feeling about them.

    However – if something is being widely talked about but I have little to no experience or knowledge or opinions about it, there is about a 200% chance that I’ll keep my mouth shut. I love reading others’ posts on their stances, but I hate to force posts just because everybody else is speaking out, you know?

    • Carrie Slager

      That’s not cheesy at all and it’s really the best advice in these circumstances: follow your heart. If you’re truly passionate about something, there’s nothing wrong with putting your opinion out there and taking heat for it. You may lose followers but at the same time it’s better than keeping silent on issues you care about like gratuitous sexual assault or even something as simple as the characterization of women in fiction.

      Yes, that’s also important! Sometimes the best thing you can do is listen to what people are saying, especially if you don’t know about the topic and aren’t really intimately involved in it. Listening is okay too.

  5. charliegirlteachergirl

    I don’t think I’ve ever brought up a controversial topic in a review, except for religion. That is my hot button, and I make no qualms about stating I do not support organized religion based on multiple bad and damning experiences in multiple branches of religious institutions. I’ve stated I do not like preachy books, and so when religion comes up in a book I always make mention of that and how (based on my personal standpoint) I felt about it being preachy or just an incorporation of the writer. I feel that if we have something legitimate and valid to say on a point, to state it and hopefully foster a productive conversation. However, I know how terrible this can go – look up any blog about the realities of teaching public school and read the comments. You’ll see what I mean. 🙂

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