I've been wanting to do a sort of 'social justice by the numbers' post, where I wrote about how well the things about which I am fannish handle matters of representation. For those of you who think that representation isn't important, I would urge you to educate yourselves, and in particular listen to people who aren't often well-represented in the media when they talk about how it matters to them that they are represented adequately.
A quick word on my methodology. I've included a fandom/text in this post if it:
a) makes me behave in a fannish manner (that is, that I want to respond to it in some way, be it with fic or meta or discussing it with other fans); and
b) makes me want to revisit it again and again in order to find new things out about it.
For this reason, only books and television shows are included, since for some reason films seem to have less of a fannish effect on me. I've suspected this is because I mostly become fannish due to characters, and although many films have excellent characterisation, I usually find that two hours or so is not long enough for me to become truly attached to their characters.
I'm giving each fandom a Representation Score (for great social justice!). The way points are allocated is thus:
A text gets one point for simply including a character from an underrepresented group (eg, a female primary or secondary character, a queer character etc).
A text gets two points if such characters pass certain other tests (eg, if it passes the Bechdel Test
, if a disabled character isn't there merely to teach the non-disabled characters a lesson about tolerance, etc - basically if they're not defined by their minority-ness).
A text gets five points if said characters occupy an equal amount of screen-time as those of comparable importance (for example, if there is a show with three main leads, one of whom is straight, two of whom are queer, all three must get roughly equal amounts of the story).
A text loses five points it has such characters, but resorts to stereotypes or handles their stories poorly (for example, if a character is Othered, if women are fridged).
Obviously, my interpretation of these things is going to be subjective, and if I mess up, tell me. I am female, but in every other aspect I have privilege: I am white, I am middle class, I am straight, I am cis, I am able-bodied and I am neurotypical. I won't change what I've written (as I believe if you screw up in things like this, you should own your mistakes and allow people to see them) but I will emend my post and include people's criticism. So, let's get to it!
(Note: there are spoilers for The Demon's Lexicon
trilogy by Sarah Rees Brennan, the Romanitas
trilogy by Sophia McDougall, Galax-Arena
and the Space Demons
trilogy by Gillian Rubinstein, the His Dark Materials
trilogy and Sally Lockhart Mysteries
by Philip Pullman, The Pagan Chronicles
by Catherine Jinks, Pretty Little Liars
, The Vampire Diaries
, Avatar: The Last Airbender
and Buffy The Vampire Slayer
.)( Spoilers abound )
I wasn't surprised that The Demon's Lexicon
scored so highly. Their authors are very conscious of representation. In the case of Sarah Rees Brennan, her series' main focus is on identity and perception, while McDougall is concerned in Romanitas
with power and dispossession. This is what McDougall had to say (in an interview with me) about representation: If you want a future where fiction doesn’t routinely perpetuate harmful stereotypes and ignore everyone except the white people, (especially if you are white yourself) you probably cannot assume your unexamined muse and your good intentions are going to do all the work for you.
And this is what Rees Brennan said:Here’s a problem: the role Nick, Mr. Tall Dark &c, plays in the series is a role played by a white guy with a bunch of issues: that’s a main role we get to see every day, a role that gets forgiven a lot of things, a role that if I didn’t get right a bunch of other people would. Let’s face it, “White Dude With Some Issues” could be the title of seventy per cent of movies and books out there. (We switch it to “White Dude With Some Issues (Who Is My Boyfriend)” I think we could make it to eighty per cent.)
I’m a girl, not a guy, and I’m white, not black, so in both cases I was writing from the point of view of someone I wasn’t. But there’s a lot more hurt to be inflicted if I got Sin wrong. And with writing, the chances of getting something wrong are high indeed. But it was something I felt I had to do. And it is something I feel like writers should do: write what they want and feel called to write, and write about the world the way it is. Writers should give every story in them a voice and a time to speak.
I think more authors and writers need to be conscious of these things. I believe representation is extremely important, and I think even those texts that I've singled out for praise or scored highly here have further to go. Why do the texts aimed at children have no queer characters? Why are there no trans* characters at all? These are questions that need to be asked, and we need to keep on asking them until things change.
*Note: in some of these texts, the category of 'working class' makes little sense. I'll categorise them differently when the need arises.
**Note: that's an in-show perception, and not a view I hold myself. There's no 'right' way to be sexual.