Briana Lawrence and Jessica Walsh are authors and advocates from St. Paul, Minnesota who participated in Saturday’s Transforming Gender and Society Conference put on by the Women and Gender Studies Department at Iowa State.
Lawrence and Walsh offered their perspective on the work to be done in writing through a feminist lens in their session called, “Diversity in Writing.” The resounding message from Lawrence and Walsh’s talk was the idea that if you want more diversity, you must go create it yourself.
“If you don’t see representation, write something that has diverse characters,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence and Walsh also offered advice to non-writers who see the importance of diversity within media.
“If you as a viewer want more diversity, support it. If there is a diverse book, buy it. If there is a diverse movie, go see it. Your support is invaluable to creative,” Walsh said.
The session also discussed examples of missed opportunities by authors and the ways authors should handle backlash regarding diversity. Among some of the examples were Harry Potter, Black Panther, End Game, Jordan Peele, Kevin Hart and many more.
Lawrence and Walsh offered their opinion as to how writers can respond when their work lacks diversity.
“No matter how much you write or how much research you do, you cannot please everyone," Walsh said. "But, when you get something wrong and people call you out, you have to apologize. Your work can be better, but you have to own up to what you create."
The pair went on to show how some celebrities and authors have given inauthentic or untimely apologies.
“Deleting your tweet is not an apology," Lawrence said. "When people mess up, they need to change their actions and follow through. They can come back and write something new that has diverse characters."
Lawrence, a graduate of Iowa State, shared how becoming a writer empowered her as a gay black woman.
“When I came out in 2001, I didn’t see any queer women of color. There was no one who looked like me. I used to think when I wrote, that my characters had to be white and male because those were the successful examples I saw," Lawrence said. "Eventually, I got to the point where I decided to make characters who looked like me.”
Lawrence and Walsh also shared advice for authors who receive negative feedback.
“Negative voices are louder, but that doesn’t mean there are more of them,” Walsh said.
The Transforming Gender and Society Conference is an annual conference held at Iowa State that welcomes students from all across Iowa. The event features speakers who cover topics such as human trafficking, intersectionalities, gender and masculinity, reproductive rights and many more.