liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
[personal profile] liv
So it's fairly topical in social justice circles that media representation of "non-default" people is important. I absolutely agree that it's important and I am totally on the side of the people who want more and better representation, and have no truck with the curmudgeons who think that political correctness is ruining good stories. The thing is, though, that what the SJ blogosphere says about representation doesn't really match with my personal experience. This might be because I'm weird, because I'm not American, because my identity isn't just one thing? It might also be because the clamour for more representation is focusing on one aspect of the issue and not on the aspect that's important to me.

This came out of some conversation I was having with [personal profile] kaberett a while back, and I've kept returning to it mentally so I think it needs to be a top-level blog post. Actually I think it's probably two posts, one about being represented in stories a Jewish person, including responding to [personal profile] rachelmanija's exploration of (the lack of) Jews in fantasy lit. This is the other post :-) Though I'm sure that being Jewish colours my impressions here.

So, on one level, ok, I'm white and able-bodied and physically fairly normative in appearance. So I have lots and lots of media representation of people "like me", and perhaps that's why I don't fully understand where some of the under-represented groups are coming from. But one thing I keep coming back to is that, particularly in visual representations (more than in the text of novels specifically), the people I'm supposed to see as reflecting my reality are not very much like me at all. Like, even characters where it's a plot point that they are fat and ugly are nearly always thinner and prettier than me. Even real people, as opposed to fictional characters, on TV or in magazines and so on, are nearly always much more conventionally attractive than I am; the ones who aren't are seriously exceptional people like Angela Merkel.

It's a common item in privilege checklists that you regularly see people who look like you in the media. But I feel like I don't really have that "privilege", because I don't think of myself as looking like a typically photogenic white woman. Maybe this is partly due to the fact I don't identify very strongly with my female gender? I certainly don't want to claim that I suffer from a lack of representation in any way comparable to, say, trans* people, people with visible disabilities and people whose skin colour and features make them much more visibly racialized than me. Still, it rings false to me when people tell me that as a white and normatively bodied person I see like people like me everywhere in newspapers and on TV and in stock images and in fiction that has a visual element (which includes books too because you never see people "like me" on the cover image of novels). Even in text, there aren't a lot of people like me unless I assume that all white able-bodied women are basically interchangeable; not many scientists, not many bisexuals, not many people who approach the world the ways I do.

At the same time, I'm not actually convinced this is a bad thing. If you take white women who are also exceptionally thin, exceptionally good-looking, dressed and coiffed and groomed and made-up to a standard I could never even come close to, then ok, yes, you see lots of them in the media. Lots of real people doing publicly visible jobs such as TV presenters, lots of fictional characters who are if not the protagonist then very often the most important secondary character. Sure, women are still under-represented compared to the fact that we make up half the population of the world, as pointed out very memorably in the Bechdel test, but there's certainly plenty of images of exceptionally attractive women out there. The thing is, though, it feels to me like most of this representation is awful. Maybe awful representation is better than no representation, and many people have argued that exact case with great emotional force. For me, though, I would in many ways rather not be represented as an object for the presumed-male viewer to lust over.

The very fact that I don't relate much to Hollywood-attractive types seems like primarily an advantage to me. I don't want to think of myself as the person in the shots and costumes carefully constructed to give as good view of my breasts as possible. I most certainly don't want to think of myself as the person subjected to violent attacks constantly presented in a sexy or titillating way. Or indeed as the trophy who confers reward and status on the hero, or the person who does all the thankless emotional work to help the hero grow as a person. I am far more comfortable relating to the hero or the side-kick or any number of people who actually have an agenda of their own, and the fact that they have different genitalia and a different skeletal structure and a different endocrine makeup from me is from my perspective a minor detail. (Yes, there are some men who have genitalia, skeletons and hormones like mine, but they have essentially no media representation at all, so they're not the people I'm talking about.) I don't find it particularly harder to relate to characters with dark skin than characters with pale skin, though I appreciate this is not at all the same thing as people from ethnic minority backgrounds being forced to relate to characters with my skin tone because they have few or no other options.

I most certainly think that greater diversity of representation is highly, highly desirable. I suppose I just want more diverse stories, not just a greater range of minority identities? I suppose they go together in some way, because if you're only ever represented on the rare occasion when someone wants to tick the minority representation ticky-box, you're a lot more likely to appear in cliched and annoying storylines that are all about stereotypes of your identity. Whereas if stories were more like reality, people with various sorts of identities would have a much better choice of non-awful role models.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-03-28 01:53 pm (UTC)
kaberett: Overlaid Mars & Venus symbols, with Swiss Army knife tools at other positions around the central circle. (Default)
From: [personal profile] kaberett
[Hah -- sorry for lack-of-memory! I like this post and will try to engage with it more when I have more focus...]

(no subject)

Date: 2014-03-28 02:15 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
It seems to me:

1. There's a ladder of representation. One rung is being represented AT ALL. Another rung is being represented reasonable positively. Another rung is being represented in multiple ways. The top rung is being represented so often it's not noteworthy any more. And someone who's in a group stuck on a lower rung can't really see the differences between two rungs higher than them, even if the differences are actually really important.

2. Following up that last sentence, it seems to be a matter of intersectionality. "Non-able-bodied people", "non-white people", "not-conventionally-attractive people" are all groups which don't get much representation at all. Someone who is eg non-white is likely to lump together everyone who looks white and say "you get more representation than people like me", without stopping to consider that some of those people fall into groups which are nearly as marginalised, or equally marginalised, or more marginalised, like "rarely seeing someone with your religion" and "rarely seeing someone with your level of attractiveness", whether those problems are larger or smaller than "rarely seeing someone with your skin colour".

3. It's funny what is "like me". In some ways, it's determined by what OTHER people think is important about me as much as what I think is important about me. If I don't care much about characteristic X, I'll be happy to identify with characters who do or don't have characteristic X and not even notice a potential problem. But when I DO notice, I'll suddenly realise that lots of people think people with characteristic X are not normal, and not an obvious choice for being family members, protagonists, managers, etc, and then every time I see a protagonist without characteristic X I'll be reminded of that. And even if I don't care about characteristic X for itself, if lots of other people are anti-X, I want to make the case that X is normal and positive, even if my ideal world, no-one cares about X at all.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-03-28 03:03 pm (UTC)
ironed_orchid: pin up girl reading kant (Default)
From: [personal profile] ironed_orchid
I like the way you broke this down. Especially the metaphor of a ladder.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-03-28 08:26 pm (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
It's funny what is "like me". In some ways, it's determined by what OTHER people think is important about me as much as what I think is important about me. If I don't care much about characteristic X, I'll be happy to identify with characters who do or don't have characteristic X and not even notice a potential problem. But when I DO notice, I'll suddenly realise that lots of people think people with characteristic X are not normal, and not an obvious choice for being family members, protagonists, managers, etc, and then every time I see a protagonist without characteristic X I'll be reminded of that. And even if I don't care about characteristic X for itself, if lots of other people are anti-X, I want to make the case that X is normal and positive, even if my ideal world, no-one cares about X at all.

This, so very much.

I, who am female, spent my childhood identifying almost exclusively with male characters. And why shouldn't I?

I have never particularly needed female characters to identify with.

But it rankles, the endless implication by absence that people of my sex are not considered candidates for various roles, especially positions of authority or interest. I see the slight, and I am unamused. I see the disrespect it reflects, the disrespect it expresses, and the disrespect it cultivates. I do not care for immanent insult.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-03-29 04:12 pm (UTC)
wild_irises: (Default)
From: [personal profile] wild_irises
And why shouldn't I?

To me, the question is whether, when identifying with male characters, you thought/felt you could do everything they did, or whether some part of your psyche was going, "Wow, if I was male, I could do everything they did!"

I hope it's clear that that is a serious, non-rhetorical question.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-09-24 03:10 am (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
Oh, no, I never gave you an answer! I'm sorry. I just saw this comment when I came here from [personal profile] liv pointing to this post from a more recent one.

The former, and very much so. The only thing about which I've ever thought, "If I was male, I could do that," is singing the lead in "Sweeney Todd".

Of course, being male (or at least having way more testosterone in my system than I do now) would be necessary, but isn't sufficient to getting to sing the lead to Sweeney Todd. I knew someone AFAB who was a low dark-voiced alto, who after starting testosterone became this high, golden-voiced tenor. It's clearly the voice of his heart, and he wears it gloriously, but I'd be crushed.

In the same way, I've never thought/felt that I could do all the things the characters I identified with could do – but it wasn't a penis or a gender identity that I lacked, it was, e.g., a TARDIS, or supernatural powers.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-09-28 06:55 pm (UTC)
wild_irises: (uterus)
From: [personal profile] wild_irises
Oh, no worries. I don't think answers to DW comments are required, but they are nice to get.

And everything you say makes perfect sense to me. I guess mine is "If I was male, I would know what orgasming with a penis is like," which I would like to know but hardly lie awake at night wanting.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-03-28 07:25 pm (UTC)
ptc24: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ptc24
I'm reminded of this piece - on real-world role models rather than representation, but there are similar issues at work here.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-03-29 02:22 pm (UTC)
jae: (televisiongecko)
From: [personal profile] jae
Another aspect of this is the assumption that what we're all looking for in fictional characters to love is "like me." I mean, the fictional character most "like me" currently on TV (or ever, anywhere, in any medium, for that matter) is not my favourite character on that show. That said, I do think it's important for everyone to see fictional members of non-dominant groups behaving in non-stereotypical ways, whether those people are "like us" or not. Which kind of makes the "like me" issue a red herring.

-J

(no subject)

Date: 2014-03-29 04:14 pm (UTC)
wild_irises: (crayons)
From: [personal profile] wild_irises
I don't think "like me" is about characters to love at all. I think it's about characters we could imagine ourselves being, or being somewhat similar to. If we never see a person of our [salient characteristic] being [heroic/compassionate/strong/weak/smart], then it's much harder to imagine ourselves doing that thing or, at the very least, I think this difficulty happens to a lot of people.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-03-29 04:21 pm (UTC)
jae: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jae
I suppose so (at least with your qualification)? But I guess I still do find the "it's important for all of us to see fictional members of non-dominant groups doing non-stereotypical things" argument a lot more compelling than the "it's important for [real person of non-dominant group x] to see [fictional people of non-dominant group x] doing non-stereotypical things" argument.

-J

(no subject)

Date: 2014-03-29 04:28 pm (UTC)
wild_irises: (Default)
From: [personal profile] wild_irises
Oh, agreed! I should have specified that I agree with that part of your comment. I was just teasing out the purpose of "like me."

(no subject)

Date: 2014-04-01 01:00 pm (UTC)
pretty_panther: (mi: boo on j)
From: [personal profile] pretty_panther
I agree very much. I am almost scared to say it though in public because I'm white and cis and it seems that is all that matters at the moment in sj communities. I'm also disabled, bi-romantic asexual, mentally ill, and with a body type you don't see in the media. Like you, I don't feel there is anyone in the media like me these days. I can't point that out though because white, because cis and while I recognise the privilege I get from those those things I'm still very aware of the other things I pointed out. It is ironic, for a group (sj people) who claim it is ok to not fit into societies boxes, they seem to like creating boxes.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-04-03 05:27 pm (UTC)
blue_mai: (Default)
From: [personal profile] blue_mai
Sherm said something about "female role models" and it could be summarised as there being a prevailing idea that we need role models we can identify with so that we think "oh, I can do that!", but that in reality, not everyone thinks that way. Lots of people just don't care whether someone is showing them the way or not. Some people do, I guess. Has it been shown to be statistically significant?

That's only one reason for visiblity - one that is supposed to directly influence whichever group/type is being represented. Another one is to influence people outside of that group, to change the dominant stereotyping - like the diversity of characters in soaps. Quite different outcomes I feel. And perhaps the second effect is one I feel more.

Soundbite

Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

Page Summary

Top topics

June 2017

S M T W T F S
    123
4 5 6 7 8910
11 1213 14 151617
181920 2122 2324
252627282930 

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags

Subscription Filters