Chimamanda Adichie - The Danger of a Single Story (TED Talks 2009)
Tell me again, what did you say about representation not being important?
Reblogging this because I think this is a good example of the power of the narratives we grow up absorbing (& still absorb now as adults) and how that affects the way we see the world, how we place people (and ourselves) in the world, and who we expect to see (and thus write into our own stories) in certain roles. This is similar to another post I’ve reblogged about how people write certain tropes and narratives because “that’s just what you do”. And it extends to other creative expressions too, like how you portray characters in illustrated or interactive media (comics, video games).
To put it in the context of what’s discussed on this blog, if you grow up on women being portrayed in a certain way, you’re going to not think twice when you write your own story about portraying them that way because that’s just “what you do”, that’s just what seems “natural” and “right” to you. It’s why there’s so much midriff-baring armor for women out there, or high heeled boots on female warriors, or boobs and butt battle poses. It’s also why the “average” woman portrayed in fiction is so far from average that it’s skewing our own internal idea of what “thin” and “thick” women look like. Sometimes it’s a conscious effort (by the illustrator or their editor) to sexualize them, and sometimes it’s just what we’re used to, so we do it. It’s just how we’re used to seeing women fighters, so when we draw them we do what we’re used to seeing.
And it’s the same with the representation of other groups (and remember, these groups overlap). The way we write and draw trans people is influenced by how we’re taught to think of trans people, and those narratives are usually informed by the media we consume. The same as how “western” nations think of Asia, or Africa. What we imagine those places are like in our mind’s eye. We “know” what these places are like, what queer people are like, what heroes are like, who fights dragons, who gets rescued, etc, because of how the media portrays these things. It’s all around us, and we don’t have to consciously want to do these things to do them, because it’s just what seems “right” and “natural” and “automatic”.
That’s why it’s also important to challenge ourselves in our growth as consumers of product, and as creators of future product. Why do we “know” what we know? Is this actually the only way to do things, or just the way we’re used to seeing it done? And it’s important for us to actively seek out for ourselves, different ideas, different narratives, and different perspectives, and to consider what kinds of messages we want to send with our own work. Because, just like we grew up with the narratives that taught us “how things are” in a certain way, future children will grow up with the narratives we contribute to, and it will affect what they “know” about their place in the world, what roles they get to be and don’t get to be, whose stories are being told, and who only matters as an object or gimmick within that story.