Posts Tagged ‘Erasure’

Trigger warning – pop culture oppressiveness, slurs, some violent imagery etc.

When we talk about social justice and popular culture, we find ourselves talking a lot about the twin problems of invisibility vs bad representations. Invisibility means the complete absence of marginalised group/s from the piece we’re analysing, and generally from most popular culture as well. That’s things like pieces that are white-only, that feature only conventionally-able folks, that erase non-het/cis folks entirely etc. Bad representations are exactly what it says on the can. Where someone from a marginalised group is present, but is presented in a stereotyped/reductive/negative/comical way due to the inherent fact of their belonging to that group. So we’re talking there the ‘lol chick with a dick haha ur gay now’ transhatred, the all-too-common portrayal of white people as the ‘good folks’ and PoC as the ‘bad folks’, the ‘Smurfette principle’ whereby in a group of men the woman’s only defining trait is her womanhood etc.

I tend to have this vision of myself as not much of a pop culture consumer and therefore tend to stay away from talking about it. It used to be true – until a few years ago, I could count the films I’d seen in the cinema on the fingers of one hand. I still watch basically no TV, and my consumption of books and music is generally confined to certain genres. These days, I’d say that even if I’m not an aficionado, I’m probably well enough up on things to comment in a general kind of way.

The invisibility vs bad representation dilemma is a hard one. I hate both – I want to see rounded, diverse, interesting characters of all abilities, ethnicities, gender/s/non-gender/s, sexualities, classes etc in all sorts of genres and media, placed there irrelevent of their divergences from the kyriarchy’s ideal. But that’s damned rare, especially for something to be non-oppressive in all ways. You can find a book that is queer-positive, but see racism writ large all over it. You can find a film that passes the Bechdel test, but is really cissexist. You can find music that is non-classist, but hear misogyny everywhere.

The distinction between the two types is hard to police. You might have a film that features no non-het characters and no discussion of non-heterosexuality – but it might say, ‘every man needs a good woman’ and blur the boundary by moving from implicit erasure to explicit erasure.

This started churning around in my head because, during a visit to some older members of my family, we saw some 70s comedy and I was told repeatedly that, ‘This is incredibly un-PC.’ Now, leaving aside the fact that PC is a terrible term, leaving aside the fact that there was badness in it even if it wasn’t the specifically-oppressive badness I’m more used to seeing, it was evident that my family expected me to be wildly ‘offended’. And I wasn’t. I sat there going, ‘that’s a bit sexist…there’s no-one in this who diverges from the kyriarchal ideal…that wouldn’t be funny if it was real even if it’s not oppressive…’ but I didn’t get sporked in the eye.

That’s probably partly because I have unfortunately seen quite a bit of mainstream modern ‘comedy,’* and am therefore a bit desensitised. But it was mainly because on the whole the problem was that of erasure rather than explicit bigotry.

I really hate that I find myself having to choose between invisibility and bad representation in popular culture, and I hate that I find myself actively favouring the older, more insidious option. But frankly, I’d rather not see oppressed groups being used for cheap laughs and I’d rather not stop consuming pop culture entirely. Which mostly leaves me with the option of things that completely erase marginalised groups. And I think I would have to say to creators that if they can’t create – if they’re too lazy to create – a character who is a member of a marginalised group without exploitation and bigotry, they shouldn’t be doing so at all. It feels like admitting defeat, and it’s not a strategy to guarantee better representation – the only thing that will do that is creators actually doing their research and making their characters diverse and rounded no matter who they are – but it at least means that we don’t get that terrible ‘I want to punch you through the screen/book/speakers’ feeling.

I don’t think that any representation is better than no representation. If the representation is oppressive, better not have it at all.

* Do not get me started about the modern ‘comedy’ that I’ve seen. Now, I’m not denying, some can be okay. Especially if it favours the ‘invisibility’ side of this equation. However, it appears that a lot of people who call themselves ‘comedians’ prefer getting cheap laughs out of their and their audience’s bigotry and oppressiveness rather than coming up with genuinely funny material. People who rely on oppressive crutches for their ‘comedy’ aren’t funny. (I saw a production of one of Shakespeare’s lesser comedies recently. The company had decided to make it into a parade of gay stereotypes. It was horrible. I squirmed in my seat. It relied on the audience’s misohomy for virtually all its laughs – and then when it stopped being a misohomist shitstorm, they managed to be funny. If they’d steered clear of the misohomy, they could possibly have pulled it off. But it left such a bad taste in my mouth.)

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I don’t know that I like living in the outside spaces. But the fact is, they’re the only place I can.

‘The outside spaces’ doesn’t refer to outdoors. The term refers to being outside people’s knowledge, outside of gendered spaces – not outside of perceptions, because there is no outside to that, but outside of the boxes that confirm or deny the gender others think one is. Personally, I hate leaving the outside spaces. It may be uncomfortable to not know what gender a person thinks I am, but it’s more uncomfortable knowing that what they think is wrong. It may be uncomfortable going without the toilet for – well, my record is 15 hours – but it’s worse for me to leave the outside spaces.

But what happens when the outside spaces close down – when the bed I sleep in is gendered, and there’s no friendly home with a neutral toilet? That’s horrible. I’m lucky in that I can, just about, swallow and get on with it – but I shouldn’t have to.

Binarism, implicit and explicit, is heavily tied in with other kyriarchal notions. To take the example of gendered housing, there’s a lot tied up in that. Heterosexism, cissexism, sexism, rape culture.

So again we find this individual thread supported by a web of others, all so hard to cut and fight.

What we can do, in the absence of a flamethrower with which to burn away the entire web, is to try to expand the outside spaces as far as is within our power. The spaces where gendering oneself is not compulsory, where a person can be themselves without being required to lie. I’m appealing here to anyone in a position of authority, to anyone who is a creator or a moderator or a poller or whatever – don’t force people to make the lie-or-leave choice by placing your sphere inside the gendered spaces.

Lying is what I have been doing. I spent a week doing things that I love with great people, but I had to lie on the form to go there, I had to lie every time I went to my room. I may not have chosen to do so, and it is a perfectly valid choice for safety’s sake (and in fact I did remain closeted for the first couple of days until I felt a bit more settled and safe), but it was still a lie. I still lied by staying in gendered accommodation, by using documentation with the old gendered name on. I don’t mind lying in a good cause – like safety – if I have to, but I resent being forced to it.

To live in the outside spaces is to be vulnerable. Because at any point, someone might come along and start shrinking them, demanding people leave the outside spaces. Or you could be forced through a door into a place that you couldn’t see, and find yourself somewhere where there’s no way into the outside spaces. And because the outside spaces are deemed unnecessary, there’s nothing to stop peple closing them off, shutting them away.

After all, they think, it’s not like the inside spaces are too small. We don’t need that extra outside space. And of course everyone will be fine in the inside spaces! Just look at the little letter on the passport, check the associations of the name, and send them in. Ignore the people pounding at the walls, pounding to get out –

– the walls must be broken down.

Forcing people out of the outside spaces who need them to survive is an act of erasure, bigotry and violence. And it hurts people like me. Like us.

If a person is polyamorous/married to someone of the same legal sex, records it on the census and the ONS ‘corrects’ it, are the ONS’ results accurate?

NO.

The ONS’ results are blatantly inaccurate and the ONS is guilty of researcher bias. Yes, bias. Erasing the entirety of who people are is bias. I have also found that non-binary people’s responses will be ‘corrected’ too. Bias. Bias and the most obvious sort of erasure.

Do I have to tell statisticians, I, who did a half-arsed GCSE in statistics and gained only a B, do I have to tell statisticians why bias and adjusting results is wrong? Do I really? It appears I do.

So here’s the lowdown. Investigator bias is a real problem because it means that an inaccurate picture emerges. If the research is important and likely to be used for important purposes – which this is – this produces huge problems. Research that builds upon it is wrong. Conclusions drawn from it are wrong. Policies based on it are wrong. Trends identified by it are wrong. EVERYTHING ABOUT IT IS WRONG. You may think that people in these situations are such a minority that it doesn’t matter, but really and truly EVERY INACCURACY MATTERS.

In this case, it matters to people’s LIVES. We are who we are, and we are human, we are here, we matter. Taking a rubber to the records when you present them to the world denies us our existence. Your altered data will mean that the world will continue to revolve in a way that excludes us, and since officially we don’t exist we are virtually prevented from seeking redress with any kind of official backing about our existence. Your altered data will give people the backing they wanted to continue to try to push us out of the existence that is our birthright as humans.

We have been written out of the past, and we are being written out of the present. Our youth are dying, hurting, despairing because they are cut off from any acknowledgement of their existence. We are constantly hit with censure, with official backing, for trying to exist as our selves. We are erased every time we open our eyes by every second that ticks through the clock.

We exist.