I just wanted to post these to outline some of the intersectional ways we need to think about feminism and race in media. The depictions of White women and WoC are very different in film and television. This is the argument for intersectional feminism that we’ve all been making. In my opinion, any movie which doesn’t recognize that different rules are in play, for different kinds of women, is not a Feminist movie.
For example, Fury Road gets a pass because it presents a woman with a disability as the hero of the movie, and features women of all ages, as fighters and heroes. Jessica Jones doesn’t get one because only one type of woman is presented in the show, and women who aren’t straight, thin, able bodied, conventionally pretty and White get treated badly, or never acknowledged in the narrative. Daredevil also doesn’t get a pass for feminism because of the way it pits the WoC against the White heroine, of the show, as Matt’s love interests, along with its stereotypical depiction of the Asian “Dragon Lady” in the character Elektra. All these shows have strong female characters in them and that is to be applauded, but speaking as a WoC, they don’t pass my criteria for feminist media.
White women dislike the idea of always being shown in movies as the love interest because its often the only reason they’re in the movie. So being depicted as strong and independent is a very feminist thing for them. Its usually the opposite with WoC, specifically Black women, who are always being shown as strong, independent women, who don’t need anybody. There’s nothing wrong with being strong and independent, but when its the only image ever presented, then it becomes a problem. (And the erasure/absence/deaths of Queer WoC is a whole other subject in itself. Witness the killing of Poussey, in Orange is the New Black, and how White fans merely shrugged and made excuses for it, but when Lexa, who is a White woman, was killed off The 100, the fandom had a collective meltdown.You see how this intersects?)
If you are never shown onscreen as someone worthy of being loved by another, or capable of loving someone, this is an attitude that trickles into the rest of society, and informs how others think of you and treat you. (Shrugging off the deaths of people who look like you in media, results in shrugging off the deaths of real Black people.) Its the reason so many bigots make arguments against Michonne being in a relationship with Rick Grimes. The same people argue against Candice Patton portraying Iris West, The Flash’s, in-canon, love interest, and how Jesse and Tulip (played by Ruth Negga) don’t belong together because Tulip is evil. (Basically saying she’s unworthy of love.) These people have grown too comfortable thinking of Black women as asexual beings, who don’t need love and support, because that’s the only image Hollywood has ever presented to them. Showing Black women in loving relationships, is a radical notion that upsets the status quo. (Read the argument below.)
This is the reason we argue, not just for representation, but for real inclusion. Its not just that marginalized people are represented, its how they’re being presented to the public that matters. Its not just marginalized people who need this representation but everyone who consumes any form of media. It helps them to see and think outside the stereotypes to which they’ve become accustomed.
Eh, while it’s great that these characters are independent, something about all these princesses of color not finding love at the end of their movies rubs me the wrong way. Just like how Disney patted itself on the back for a black princess but she was Frogger damn near the whole movie.
And it would’ve been a great opportunity to cast moc in romantic roles from that culture
^^^ I’m so conflicted because yes, always having a love interest is annoying but poc never get to have a love interest
Having the princesses of color not find love reinforces the idea that we have to strong and independent and aren’t needing of any support
But I do like it because it deviates from the norm
It might be cool if they had dudes in the movie who were interested and they had the princesses be like, “naw, I got shit to do, but maybe later!”
Cause then it would obviously be a choice, instead of a worldstate that WoC don’t get hetero love (I’m not even gonna wish for queer love).
This is actually a good example of the need for intersectional feminism.
- it is very common that white girl characters have love interests and finding love be the plot line and basis for all their stories and interactions.
- It is uncommon for a girl character of color to be seen as a potential love interest, in need of defense by a male character and/or support from a male character full stop.
This is because of the history of social devaluation of woc and infantilization of white women.
- it is subversive for white female characters to not have love interests for once and to focus on strength outside of male attention.
while at the same time
- is it subversive for woc to be love interests and treated with care and reverence and with support in relationships on screen.
The “norms” for two groups of women are different based on the historical interaction both groups have had to suffer under patriarchal and sexist/racist media.
This is why its okay to feel hurt and roll your eyes when you see people screaming about how michonne from the walking dead “dont need no man” because she’s too “strong” to want to be desired and cared for, while at the same time feel hurt and roll your eyes when Black Widow is suddenly too helpless to get herself free from a basic ass cage and needs to be rescued by her randomly inserted love interest.
These two posts sort of go together, although they were written by separate people:
I wanted my first-year film students to understand what happens to a story when actual human beings inhabit your characters, and the way they can inspire storytelling. And I wanted to teach them how to look at headshots and what you might be able to tell from a headshot. So for the past few years I’ve done a small experiment with them.
Some troubling shit always occurs.It works like this: I bring in my giant file of head shots, which include actors of all races, sizes, shapes, ages, and experience levels. Each student picks a head shot from the stack and gets a few minutes to sit with the person’s face and then make up a little story about them.
Namely, for white men, they have no trouble coming up with an entire history, job, role, genre, time, place, and costume. They will often identify him without prompting as “the main character.” The only exception? “He would play the gay guy.” For white women, they mostly do not come up with a job (even though it was specifically asked for), and they will identify her by her relationships. “She would play the mom/wife/love interest/best friend.” I’ve heard “She would play the slut” or “She would play the hot girl.” A lot more than once.
For nonwhite men, it can be equally depressing. “He’s in a buddy cop movie, but he’s not the main guy, he’s the partner.” “He’d play a terrorist.” “He’d play a drug dealer.” “A thug.” “A hustler.” “Homeless guy.” One Asian actor was promoted to “villain.”
For nonwhite women (grab onto something sturdy, like a big glass of strong liquor), sometimes they are “lucky” enough to be classified as the girlfriend/love interest/mom, but I have also heard things like “Well, she’d be in a romantic comedy, but as the friend, you know?” “Maid.” “Prostitute.” “Drug addict.”
I should point out that the responses are similar whether the group is all or mostly-white or extremely racially mixed, and all the groups I’ve tried this with have been about equally balanced between men and women, though individual responses vary. Women do a little better with women, and people of color do a little better with people of color, but female students sometimes forget to come up with a job for female actors and black male students sometimes tell the class that their black male actor wouldn’t be the main guy.
Once the students have made their pitches, we interrogate their opinions. “You seem really sure that he’s not the main character – why? What made you automatically say that?” “You said she was a mom. Was she born a mom, or did she maybe do something else with her life before her magic womb opened up and gave her an identity? Who is she as a person?” In the case of the “thug“, it turns out that the student was just reading off his film resume. This brilliant African American actor who regularly brings houses down doing Shakespeare on the stage and more than once made me weep at the beauty and subtlety of his performances, had a list of film credits that just said “Thug #4.” “Gang member.” “Muscle.” Because that’s the film work he can get. Because it puts food on his table.
So, the first time I did this exercise, I didn’t know that it would turn into a lesson on racism, sexism, and every other kind of -ism. I thought it was just about casting. But now I know that casting is never just about casting, and this day is a real teachable opportunity. Because if we do this right, we get to the really awkward silence, where the (now mortified) students try to sink into their chairs. Because, hey, most of them are proud Obama voters! They have been raised by feminist moms! They don’t want to be or see themselves as being racist or sexist. But their own racism and sexism is running amok in the room, and it’s awkward.
This for every time someone criticizes how characters of color and female characters of color especially are treated in text and by subsequent fandoms. It’s never “just a television/movie/book”. It’s never been ”just”.
“…and by subsequent fandoms.“ <— bless this addition.
This one is always worth reblogging.
When I say, “Representation matters,” it’s not just the presence of PoC, women, PwD, LGBTQIA, in narrative, it’s the roles are those characters are occupying.
The hall of mirrors that is the interplay between fiction and real life becomes a negative feedback loop with real consequences, because we internalize things and then we act them out.
Storytelling is a powerful thing. What stories are we telling, and why?
Gather round, children. Auntie Jules has a degree in psychology with a specialization in social psychology, and she doesn’t get to use it much these days, so she’s going to spread some knowledge.
We love saying representation matters. And we love pointing to people who belong to social minorities being encouraged by positive representation as the reason why it matters. And I’m here to tell you that they are only a part of why it matters.
The bigger part is schema.
Now a schema is just a fancy term for your brain’s autocomplete function. Basically, you’ve seen a certain pattern enough times that your brain completes the equation even when you have incomplete information.
One of the ways we learned about this was professional chess players vs. people who had no experience with chess.
If you take a chess board and you set it up according to a pattern that is common in chess playing (I’m one of those people who knows jack shit about chess), and you show it to both groups of people, and then you knock all the pieces off the board, the pro chess players will be able to return it to its prior state almost perfectly with no trouble, because they looked at it and they said, “Oh, this is the fifth move of XYZ Strategy, so these pieces would be here.”
The people who don’t know about chess are like, “Uh, I think one of the horses was over here, and maybe there was a castle over there?”
BUT, if you just put the pieces randomly on the board before you showed it to them, then the amateurs were more likely to have a higher rate of accuracy in returning the pieces to the board, because the pros are SO entrenched in their knowledge of strategy patterns that it impairs their ability to see what is actually there if it doesn’t match a pattern they already know.
Now some of y’all are smart enough to see where this is going already but hang on because I’m never gonna get to be a college professor so let me get my lecture on for a second.
Let’s say for a second that every movie and TV show on television ever shows black men who dress in loose white T-shirts and baggy pants as carrying guns 90% of the time, and when they get mad, they pull that gun out and wave it in some poor white woman’s face. I mean, sounds fake, right? But go with it.
Now let’s say that you’re out walking around in real life, and you see a black man wearing a white T-shirt and loose-fitting jeans.
And let’s say he reaches for something in his pocket.
And let’s say you can’t see what he’s reaching for. Maybe it’s his wallet. Maybe it’s his cell phone or car keys. Maybe it’s a bag of Skittles.
But on TV and movies, every single time a black man in comfortable, casual clothes reaches for something you can’t see, it turns out to be a gun.
So you see this.
And your brain screams “GUN!!!” before he even comes up with anything. And chances are even if you SEE the cell phone, your brain will still think “GUN!!!” until he does something like put it up to his ear. (Unless you see the pattern of non-threatening black men more often than you see the narrative of them as a threat, in which case, the pattern you see more often will more likely take precedence in this situation.)
Do you see what I’m saying?
I’m saying that your brain is Google’s autocomplete for forms, and that if you type something into it enough, that is going to be what the function suggests to you as soon as you even click anywhere near a box in a form.
And our brains functioning this way has been a GREAT advantage for us as a species, because it means we learn. It means that we don’t have to think about things all the way through all the time. It saves us time in deciding how to react to something because the cues are already coded into our subconscious and we don’t have to process them consciously before we decide how to act.
But it also gets us into trouble. Did you know that people are more likely to take someone seriously if they’re wearing a white coat, like the kind medical doctors wear, or if they’re carrying a clipboard? Seriously, just those two visual cues, and someone is already on their way to believing what you tell them unless you break the script entirely and tell them something that goes against an even more deeply ingrained schema.
So what I’m saying is, representation is important, visibility is important, because it will eventually change the dominant schemas. It takes consistency, and it takes time, but eventually, the dominant narrative will change the dominant schema in people’s minds.
It’s why when everyone was complaining that same-sex marriage being legal wouldn’t really change anything for LGB people who weren’t in relationships, some people kept yelling that it was going to make a huge difference, over time, because it would contribute to the visibility of a narrative in which our relationships were normalized, not stigmatized. It would contribute to changing people’s schemas, and that would go a long way toward changing what they see as acceptable, as normal, and as a foregone conclusion.
So in conclusion: Representation is hugely important, because it’s probably one of the single biggest ways to change people’s behavior, by changing their subconscious perception.
(It is also why a 24-hour news cycle with emphasis on deconstructing every. single. moment. of violent crimes is SUCH A TERRIBLE SOCIETAL INFLUENCE, but that is a rant for another post.)
I love a good lecture.
I think @wintergrey talked about this last year when we were discussing fandom racism bias.
*Once again. for more in depth coverage on these issues, please visit the links in the post. (Remember, I didn’t write these myself, but I am in alignment with the writer’s aesthetics.)