owlmoose: (lady business - kj)
[personal profile] owlmoose posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
As discussions about representation in media continue to grow and gain traction around the Internets and through different corners of fandom, we start seeing a lot of repetition: the same unhelpful arguments being made again and again. One of the responses I see a lot, and that I find among the most tiresome, boils down to this: "Stop complaining that other people aren't making the media you want, and just do it yourself!"

I first encountered this response in media fandom, as a pushback against people who wanted to see more content for an unusual pairing, and/or more diversity in romantic pairings (more femslash, more pairings involving people of color, etc.). It was frustrating there, but it's even more pervasive in the wider SF/F fandom, and follows many of the same patterns. And although I don't want to say that this is the very worst response to calls for diversity -- there are a lot of contenders for that title -- it's certainly up there.

I think there are a few reasons that this response is so unhelpful:

1. It assumes that everyone is a creator. Not everyone has the time, energy, or inspiration to create their own media -- to write stories, to make art/comics/video games/etc., to write articles about fannish media. Media fandom operates on an exchange basis to a certain extent -- writers and artists creating for each other -- but still, without the large and varied community of reviewers and lurkers, fandom would be a lot smaller and less interesting. This goes double for mass media, where the proportion of creators-to-audience is a lot smaller. Why should only creators get to have an opinion on media? The audience has every right to make their thoughts known, and to be taken seriously in the process.

2. It assumes that the complainant isn't already doing it themselves. In my experience, most creators who bring up issues of diversity and representation are "doing it themselves" already. My most recent experience with this attitude was to see it directed at Gail Simone, who was involved in a discussion about the casting of a white actor to play Danny Rand in the upcoming Netflix Iron Fist series. (See this Vox article by Alex Abad-Santos for a more detailed explanation of this controversy.) To suggest that Gail Simone -- comics writer, creator of Birds of Prey, activist, founder of the legendary Women in Refrigerators website -- is not already working to promote diversity and better representation in comics and comics-adjacent media is both ignorant and insulting. Perhaps it's not fair to assume that a random comics fan would know Simone's name (although really, it's not a stretch -- she's pretty famous!), and not every example will be this obvious, but the point is that saying "do it yourself" makes an unfair assumption.

3. It assumes that everyone has equal access to all publishing platforms. This is not at all true, especially not in the context of mass media and SF/F fandom. Some people have bigger megaphones and taller platforms than others, and gatekeepers stand at almost every stage of the process. Going back to the Gail Simone example, she might have the influence and name recognition to write and publish a successful independent comic, but her reach pales in comparison to that of DC Comics, especially in terms of marketing and distribution. And if I wanted to create a comic, I'd have a much steeper hill to climb in terms of getting any traction. Never mind either of us trying to get a network television show made. I find this response particularly eye-rolling when people are talking about large-scale productions, like feature films or AAA video games. Sure, I could use Twine to make a game or Flash to make an animated movie, but to compare the reach and influence of my creations to, say, Call of Duty or Frozen (both cases where I've seen "do it yourself" deployed in reaction to complaints about representation) would be patently ridiculous. Does it suck that not everyone has an equal chance to get their work noticed? Sure it does. But it's reality.

4. It lets problematic media off the hook. Sometimes when we talk about representation issues, we're just asking for more diversity. But other times, we're pushing back against media that's actively harmful. When I tweeted about this in Februray, folks were discussing an article about disability in fiction that perpetuated stereotypes of disabled people -- stereotypes that hurt real people every day. You can't just brush that off by suggesting that all people need to do is submit better articles. Better articles can and should be part of the solution, but this alone doesn't erase the harm that's already been done. "Do it yourself", directed only at the people who expressed concerns, provides no incentive for the problematic creator to apologize or do better in the future.

5. It's dismissive. Speaking of brush-offs... I understand, on some level, the impulse to turn the question around and put it back on the person that raised it. Being the change you want to see is something to encourage. But when "do it yourself" is the only response, provided without any effort to support the creation of more diverse media or to understand the deeper issues around representation, it reads as a way to avoid engaging with the problem.

And this is a problem that we need to engage with, all of us. So maybe it's time to retire this unhelpful response and get to work.
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