Sunday Reflections: The Problem with “Just Write It Yourself”
I admit it, I do it. I read the comments. And one comment I see over and over again on posts about needing more diversity or female representation in literature, tv or movies is this: Just write your own. Which, when you think about it, is silencing and condescending.
The idea is that we don’t have a right to ask for better representation and that if we see a problem then we have to fix it on our own. But that’s not a realistic way to address the problem.
Let’s take, for example, the city road you drive down every day. Let’s say that road is full of potholes. You’ve repeatedly blown out a tire driving down that road. So one day you call the city road department to complain and instead of considering your request to fix the road, they simply told you that if the road was really such a problem you should fix it yourself. Except, of course, you can’t. You don’t have the means to fix the road yourself, so this answer wouldn’t help solve your problem at all. It is an answer designed to shut down conversation. Now replace that pot holed road that is ruining your car and replace it with a movie or book that perpetuates negative stereotypes.
For a more relevant example, let’s discuss my desire to have a movie based on a female superhero. We could use any example: more POC representation in YA, more GLBTQ representation in YA, more representation of teens with disabilities in YA lit. The goal is the same in all of these requests – representation – and when we ask for it we are often met with the same reply: Just. Write. Your. Own.
But back to female superhero representation in movies. Here’s why that answer is really just a way to shut down the conversation.
You see, I am not a writer. I’m not a filmmaker. And I am not rich. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a right to express my concerns about the lack of female representation in the movies and the ways in which it is harmful to us as a culture.
Even if one day I woke up with the ability to write a world class novel featuring a YA superhero – which I must remind you, is not a talent I possess – I would still have to find someone to publish it or, in the case of making a movie, to make the movie happen. I’m not sure if you are aware of this, but most movies have million dollar budgets. I can barely pay my barely middle class bills each month. Making the movie of my dreams is not in my future.
And let’s say I did write that novel, getting published is hard. I could pursue self-publishing, but there is still some cost involved in that.
And that people who are asking for more representation in the media often don’t have the access or power necessary to make the products they want to see happen. They are, by definition, the marginalized and othered in our culture. They are the disenfranchised. That’s part of the reason why they are under-represented or stereotypically represented in the media. They lack the power and resources to make sure they have good representation in the media which is why they are asking for more.
Which is also why that answer – make it yourself – is silencing, designed to shut down conversation.
I can’t write a movie featuring a female superhero. If I did write one, I don’t have the finances to film, edit, distribute, and market said movie. That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t have the right to speak out about the need for more and better female representation in superhero movies, or film in general.
In some ways, the Internet and social media help level the playing field. They at least allow voices who previously didn’t have a chance to speak out to be heard.
I’ll use the recent discussion of the Confederate flag as an example. A commentor recently observed that nobody complained that the Confederate flag was racist before the Charleston incident and now all the people removing the Confedereate image off of their products were just cotowing to the liberal agenda. But this is a false statement, I have heard my entire life many people discussing the fact that the Confederate flag was racist and offensive. I heard it at church potlucks and college seminars and over a glass of wine with friends. It’s just that those were all individual voices who didn’t have the forum to join collectively and be heard. The Internet and social media provides us with that forum.
Just as it provides us to discuss the gender roles and stereotypes, the depiction of POC in the media, the appropriation of various cultures in offensive ways, the persecution and civil rights of the GLBTQ population, and more.
People have been having these conversations for a really long time in small, intimate circles. But they didn’t have access to the tools to help make those conversations heard. At most we could maybe write a letter to the editor in a local paper or possibly a big name magazine and hope it got published. But now the othered have better tools to raise their voices and “Just do it yourself” is an angry response designed to shut those voices down.
I can’t do it myself. I can’t change a culture by myself. I can’t make the movies I want to see or the books I want to read by myself. But I can ask that we consider why we do what we do the way that we do it and if there are ways that we can do it better. I think better female representation in the movies helps us all, men and women. I think better representation of GLBTQ, POC and people with disabilities – to name just a few – helps us all. It’s a human rights issue.
Just do it yourself is a new response to the same old problem designed to maintain the status quo because the people who flippantly make that reply often know that the target of their comment is not in a position to actually just do it themselves. It’s a reply designed to shut down conversation and put those of us asking for more in our place. They know full well that I can’t write that movie, produce that movie, direct that movie, distribute that movie, or market that movie. And I resent the implication that I don’t have the right to ask for goods and services that meet my wants and needs, that better reflects me and the world we live in.
I can’t just do it myself. I need your help. And I’m not going to stop asking. Because at the end of the day that’s what we all really want, to be heard and respected.
Filed under: Sunday Reflections
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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