One day, while doing the dishes, I was watching Miss Representation, a documentary about female representation in media. It zooms into a picture media draws about women and how it effects the possibility of women to get into leading roles in companies. I’m a huge feminist myself and I’ve grown even more emphatic during the last year as I’ve got more confidence and a possibility to teach kids about equality. At the same time I hate that we still have to fight for this.
Women aren’t the only oppressed group and this wave of feminism has drawn a great amount of attention to all people suffering from patriarchy. Along the women’s rights issue the LGBTIQ people’s rights hit home really hard.
Should we look for role models?
What really caught my eye in Miss Representation was a notice about role models. I had to stop doing the dishes and go instantly to our blogging notebook to write up a topic I want to talk about.
In the documentary an elder lady told a story how people usually wait to find a role model and how what we see becomes what we think we can be. Her girl friend wanted to be an astronaut but at the time they were young, there weren’t any female astronauts so there also weren’t any role models to look up for. The clever notice was that if she had waited to find a perfect role model she would have never became an astronaut. There simply wasn’t anyone who could have made it look possible.
Personally I love inspirational role models. I live my life looking for people who are doing something that wasn’t expected from them. It might be something that I may or may not want to do. What I appreciate is that those people are living their life and doing their thing without asking people to accept it.
Society and we as a part of it are keen to set boundaries for what people can and can’t do, for what is expected and therefor accepted. The society we live in is driven by the white, straight man privilege which, way too often, appears to be the norm. We have grown into molds and stereotypes and sometimes it takes a lifetime to learn out of those. Right now the boundaries are real whether we want or not.
Where can we find role models?
In the document representation of women is inspected through pop culture. Pop culture has means to reinforce the boundaries but also break them. Culture is what represents our society and pop culture is what comes closest to us. Movies are everywhere and they reflect our attitudes and how different people are seen. It works to two directions: society is drawn via movies but also how it’s drawn, returns back to the society in the form of attitudes and practices.
Many inspirational role models can come from the silver screen. Same things apply for representation of women and representation of queer people and as mentioned earlier the example set in media and society holds a powerful message. We have talked about photography and imagery, but how does the diversity work in the movies?
In the movies we’re all white men
It’s said to be the man’s word, meaning male life is presented as the norm, showing that if you are a man you have countless opportunities and you can shape your own life. Movies with strong male protagonist who grows spiritually often bring in tons of cash and also get more support in the production. Movies about women are considered as experimental with much less marketing value.
In Miss Representation a high school girl points out the fact of only few female protagonists in movies. The number was 15% in 2013. For speaking female characters it gets to 30% in 100 top grossing films. That’s just pitiful.
I would also like to add the lack of queer protagonists. It is often stated that the situation with leading female characters is getting better, and by all means, it is, but compared to the male peers their portions is non-existing. When it comes to queer representation I find the matter even worse. The current picture doesn’t give us many strong female characters but even less it gives us strong queer characters and even less female queers.
Queers as a comedic relief or a dramatic example of minority
For straight men playing a gay character in a film has been said to be a high way to Oscar nomination and actually winning. They get complimented for being brave enough to visualise something different on the silver screen. LGBTIQ characters in movies and pop culture are slowly becoming less sensational but there is still many miles to go.
GLAAD 2014 Studio Responsibility Index report, which is intended to serve as a road map toward increasing fair, accurate and inclusive LGBT film representations finds out that in the year 2013 only 17.6% of 102 films included LGBTIQ characters. It seems like being queer is not seen as one of many character traits, but as the main aspect of the character while everything else disappears to the backround. Maybe that’s the reason why when turning books into movies LGBTIQ characters sometimes go through a straight transformation.
Most of the LGBTIQ characters were gay men (64.7%) while lesbian characters made only 23.5% of queer people in films. The numbers for bisexual (17.7%) and trans people (11.8%) is even lower. And where can you find most of the LGBTIQ characters? That’s right, in comedies. Most often LGBTIQ characters are viewed as the mandatory extra or the funny character who can be loveable but not taken seriously. Representation is still far from showing queer persons as people as the characters’ actions are filtered heavily through the queer lenses.
In the mean time…
If a young queer person is looking for a role model in pop culture things can get really fucked up. The example of queer persons media hands us is highly problematic and doesn’t guide to balanced personality. When we are something else than the norm we are desperate to find someone to relate. If the examples and role models we can find aren’t realistic, convincing and presented as a normal human beings we are in deep trouble.
When we started dating there weren’t anyone we could look up or seek for an example how you can be happy and live a meaningful life as a queer person in a queer relationship. We were in desperate need for support from our kin but we were young and surrounded with heteronormativity and hate and divorces. It didn’t give us much to look forward to.
We were constantly afraid that one way or another the beautiful thing we had would be crushed. The pressure from the negative side of our families would become too hard to handle or that we would stop believing that together we are the strongest unit ever. Of course we had our friends who were supporting us but there wasn’t anyone who would actually know that we are going through or show us that it gets better.
What can we do?
Only the last couple of years have shown us that there is hope for us and that there are queer people happily living their life together and doing the things they love. As human beings we have a need to compare ourselves to other people and evaluate our own possibilities to success according to what we see. So if there isn’t positive and empowering example we are in trouble in believing ourselves.
Lack of role models limits our possibilities and also what we think is possible for us to achieve.That’s why it’s so inspirational to see people who have done the unexpected and showed us that it’s possible to do things that don’t meet the norms. Or to be something out of the form society and other people have given to you. And that’s amazing and that’s how it should be.
This all adds up to the reason of our blog. We want to give one example of a queer family with it’s normal ups and downs. We do our best to be the protagonists of our own lives and as every realistic person, we fail time to time. But we don’t give up. We are working to be the role models we desperately needed when we were growing up.
When the boundaries don’t restrict us, so much more is possible. In the end, the lady in the Miss Representation went after her dream and became an astronaut without seeing any other woman who had done that. She became the role model for many, many girls looking up for their dreams.
When have you done the unexpected? Let us know in the comments below!