I’ve been avoiding writing this post for all of eight months, because it will probably end in me being yelled at, but I keep THINKING about it and maybe if I write it I can let it go.
I am quite concerned about social justice in media. I started noticing the stories that were being told through advertising, and then through TV and movies, and then through books. As of now, the sociological aspects and effects of narrative are something I am passionately interested in, and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon. So I follow a lot of parts of the internet who tend to talk about these things. Very good. However, there are some trends I have noticed, which concern me. I’m gonna talk about my subjective experience in reference to both trends, cause hey— that’s how I noticed them. I am ever so observant.
The first trend is to devalue someone else’s pain.
In one discussion I was scrolling past, I noticed that someone was telling another person that no one who is white could ever understand the pain of body image issues of someone who is not white and because of this, no one who is white should ever participate in a conversation about body image with someone who is not white, and no one who is white should ever bring their experience to the table in a discussion of body image. This would make the discussion about white people (again), which is something we are trying to get away from as the default.
I don’t think this approach, to say that no one with privilege is allowed to talk, is unreservedly helpful.
The point of the “you are not allowed to talk” was because of white privilege. The effect of the “you are not allowed to talk” was to say that if you are white, your pain is not significant enough to be given time on this social justice and equality blog.
So yes, I am white, and I also have an eating disorder, and being told that I was not invited to participate in a discussion of body image did not exactly make me feel as though I wanted to hang around on the rest of the site. I wanted to get out, where I wasn’t told that because I had privilege my experience was invalid.
And yes, I am aware that me not being welcomed is kind of the point. The discussion wasn’t about me, it was about the particular pain of someone who is told that their skin colour doesn’t let them be beautiful, ever.
It also made me feel that my pain was insignificant and invalid and stupid and I was being an idiot again, look, see, the media tells me I’m almost pretty, I’m almost there, I can be pretty, I just need to stop whining and try harder… etc, etc. It’s a litany I’ve heard before.
I am well aware that the media tells me I’m almost pretty. I am white, and tall, and thin, and have an oval face, and I have thick curly hair. I’m also well aware of every single one of my flaws, (which I am not going to list because this post is not intended to be sixteen pages long) because I am a recovering anorexic who struggles with depression, and when you’re not quite good enough, being 98% of the way there just means you failed by a closer margin.
I think my pain is considerable. I think it is a valid hurt. I think the fact that I literally cannot think of a single part or aspect of my body that I like without an undercurrent of seething hatred and inadequacy, is not something that is invalid.
I am not saying that my pain is worse than that of others. I know it isn’t. I just think the comparison of pain is something that shouldn’t be the immediate response of any discussion.
Oh, you get to talk because you lost three family members, but you only lost one so you have to shut up. You were only sexually assaulted, not raped, so you can’t talk. You’re not poor enough to participate in the discussion of poverty. (None of those examples happened to me, but I’ve seen them all happen to others.)
Isn’t the point of this to stop more pain, not to tell someone that they don’t quite qualify for the pain olympics? Can’t I say that the system has wounded me too and I am so, so sorry for the pain it has caused you, let’s fix it, instead of just apologizing for the damage ‘my system’ caused?
Can this suffering be worth something in your eyes?
Okay so that’s the first thing. The other thing is just this. It hurts to hear that your story is not worth telling. It hurts to be told by omission, that you can never lead a tale, you can just be the love interest, or the spunky side-kick, or the honourable enemy. (Let’s be honest, that way of telling SUCKS. Many people have written about how much it sucks, and they have written it much better than I ever could.) But it also hurts to be told outright that your story is overdone, or boring, or cliche.
And I’m totally guilty of doing this, when I look at a story and go “ugh, not another boy coming of age book, how stupid, I’m skipping that.” I hadn’t realized it until I heard someone saying about YA “My god, I hope the future of YA isn’t straight, white, middle-class and female, we’ve got enough of that.” I was unexpectedly wounded, because hey, I’m straight, white, middle-class and female, and I had just been told that my story wasn’t worth telling. I got their point, but I was still hurt.
And I do not think the person mean to hurt? They meant that they wanted more of other things, which I agree with. More poor people, more rich people, more people who live in different places and times, more people with different hair and skin and eyes and languages and cultures, more approaches to gender and sexuality, more interests, more education levels. More of everything. I want the world in my reading to be complex and rich, not some middle of the road distilled version of “normal.” So when we’re saying that what we want is more of everything, I think it would be helpful to define that as MORE of this, as opposed to “Less of that, we hates it, it’s icky.” Say we want this also, not that never. Because isn’t the point to include, not exclude?
And I really am aware that what I am saying is essentially a tone argument. But hey, if I didn’t think tone was important, I wouldn’t spend revise and revise and revise to try and get the tone of a story right. How you say a thing does matter.
So, yes. Can we try to be lovely to one another? Or am I just being a jerk by writing this? Y/N/LET ME EXPLAIN HOW YOU ARE WRONG?
P.S. Readercon update coming someday. Soon. I mean soon.