Representation Issues

R is for Representation

R is for Representation

Going in line with my earlier posts about consent is another issue that’s becoming important to me. Representation.

This one is a stickier subject–especially for writers. It’s one thing to rally up and say we need more X representation, but knowing how to go about achieving that can come with some difficulties.

So many of our stories are about straight, white men. We see them everywhere–in movies, on TV, in our books. Recently on the literature front, we’ve seen an influx of leading ladies, which is good. It’s a fantastic start.

But so few of our stories have anything besides straight, white people. If we look around us, anyone can see that the world is filled with a plethora of different people, of all genders, skin colors and ethnicities, sexual orientation, and religions. Where are their stories? Why is it always the same person appearing over and over again on our screens and in our books?

Well, honestly, I don’t know the answer to that question. I possibly don’t want to know.

What I do know, though, is I think this is a terrible disservice to the actual world we live in. Also, pretty boring. When every character is the exact same, things get dull. And not only that, the books and television shows and movies (not to mention video games) start blurring together. Nothing is different. Nothing sets each of them apart from another.

And I don’t know about any of you, but I’d like for my story to be different from anything that’s come before. I’d like to have something that feels real, as opposed to a rehashing of the same old yarn.

I think a lot of it has to do with character representation. As in, PoC characters. LGBTQ characters. Non-binary gendered characters. All of these are issues of representation.

The issue of representation, for me, starts with the writing. We’ve all heard the adage “Write what you know.” For once, I think this is a great line. Every one of us has something in our lives that makes us unique, whether it’s your ethnicity or heritage, your gender–or fluidity of it, your orientation, or even just your past and the events that you survived to make you you. All of these things shape you and make you the person that you’ve come to be now, and there is no better person to tell that story than yourself.

Now you’ve got a piece of yourself on the page, making your characters unique. Great, now what? It can’t just all be you, right?

When you start to populate your stories with characters, look around yourself. Add in other people, different from your own story, and try to tell theirs. Do research, if you have to. Try give everyone their own voice, their own history, because no two people are exactly a like. And for the love of god, don’t fall back onto stereotypes. We are all people, not cardboard cutouts. Treat your characters as such.

It’s a hard thing to do. It’s easy to tell the same story over and over again, and hard to try to break the mold and tell something different. It’s even harder to try to tell someone else’s story, someone different from yourself.

But if we don’t even try, we’re just going to keep saying the same thing over and over. And that’s a waste of everyone’s time.

– Eris

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9 thoughts on “Representation Issues

  1. I totally agree with you, that’s exactly what I’m trying to do with Sonrisa, my fantasy world. You have on this AtoZ challenge a preview on my blog. Also I’m still planning the series I have in my head but I have already set one gay charachter and one FTM character as well. People needs to know and also needs to look around better!

  2. It’s actually a pretty straightforward explanation, if not a very satisfying one: the people who are creating the stories (whatever media form they may be on) look at the target audience and cater to that. For example, the largest section of video game players are teenage-to-young-adult white males, and that target audience tends to prefer manly protagonists who they can associate with (thus we have young, white male characters) and female characters they can ogle (thus we have young, white female characters who are also Western civilization’s version of attractive). It sucks, but it’s one of the ways media makes sure their work is “appreciated”.

    That said, I definitely agree that representation is lacking in a lot of ways. I do it myself without even realizing it…for instance, every character in my zombie apocalypse novel was originally white, because I just didn’t think about it. In my day to day life I mostly only come in contact with other white people, so I have to force myself to remember, in my writing, that there are in fact other types of people out there. It’s a bit of an ongoing battle, I think, but definitely one worth fighting.

    Great post. 🙂

    • Actually, according to The Entertainment Software Association, the average gamer is in their early thirties and is very evenly split between male and female players (they’ve clocked gamers as 48% women.) The source is here: http://www.theesa.com/facts/gameplayer.asp

      I’ve read other statistics, that also support these numbers. So it begs the question, why so many men when half of the consumers are women? I think part of it is a marketing thing–game companies know how to market to their supposed “young male” demographic, and are using multiple decades old research to support their laziness. The other part I feel is more insidious–they don’t want to acknowledge that women play, because women who play games don’t fit in their world view of how women are supposed to act, so they just… ignore the numbers.

      Same goes for comic books: http://comicsbeat.com/market-research-says-46-female-comic-fans/ Nearly half of the readers are female–so why the overtly sexualized, misogynistic story lines?

      I totally understand that the world isn’t going to change overnight. But if each of us–especially us writers–starts being more inclusive of representation, maybe someday this will all be some terrible blip in a history book.

      • Though it’s completely counter-intuitive, I suspect that a lot of the people who are in charge of these kinds of decisions pay no attention to the kinds of statistics you’ve quoted. They definitely SHOULD, but they don’t. It’s the same phenomenon that leads manufacturers to make ridiculous decisions (*cough* video game companies insisting on always-online systems *cough*) even though the overwhelming majority of their consumers are firmly against them. They weigh logic against possible revenue loss and pick the wrong one every time.

        I don’t claim to understand business models or anything, but those are my thoughts anyway. lol

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