How The Media Normalizes Sexual Harassment

Particularly as a teenager, I had a bit of an obsession with cheesy, bad horror and sci-fi movies. I ate them up, but perhaps my favourite entries into this genre was the Evil Dead series.

To this day, I will still cite “Evil Dead 2” as one of my absolute favourite movies. It just offered the exact right combination of camp and passion, of scares and humour, all at once. And, as is the case with many fans of the Evil Dead series, I positively loved leading actor Bruce Campbell. I thought he was the epitome of cool. He was to me what Batman or James Bond is to many. I would seek him out in any role – from “My Name is Bruce” to “Xena: Warrior Princess” (okay, my love for Lucy Lawless was also a big motivator for that last one).

So when I heard that Bruce Campbell was not only taking on a leading role in a major television series, but that that series was going to continue on the story of the Evil Dead series, I was thrilled.

That is, until I watched the first episode of the TV series “Ash Vs. Evil Dead”.

Now, I’m not writing a review for the series. I’ve watched the first season, and I have my own opinions, but they’re beside the point right now. What I want to talk about instead is a single scene in the first episode.

This scene begins with Bruce Campbell’s character, at work in a department store. Moments before, it has been established that Campbell’s character has enough seniority at his workplace that he cannot be let go. A male character points out to Campbell’s character that a new girl has joined them in their workplace, and the pair of them look her over for a while, commenting on her beauty. Campbell’s character then approaches her and makes several overt sexual comments, to which she responds with eye rolls and clear rejection. When Campbell’s character pushes the matter to the point that he actually begins touching her, the woman physically assaults him, at which point he finally accepts the rejection and walks away.

Watching this scene, I was slightly horrified. Horrified enough, at least, that it made me question my respect for Bruce Campbell and the character that he has built up in his movies. Because what was happening in this scene was sexual harassment. And not only that, this whole scene almost serves to excuse and normalize sexual harassment in our culture.

Because let’s start with the beginning: who Bruce Campbell’s character is. He’s an older man with seniority in this company. He has clearly worked here a long time. He’s the main character, so he’s endeared to the audience. He’s the only character on this show that has appeared in previous movies, and in those movies, he was always the hero, so we know that we’re supposed to look up to him. He’s funny and endearing and a little pathetic, but heroic at the end of the day.

And let’s take a moment to look at the female character, played by Dana DeLorenzo. This is her introduction to the audience. All that we know about her at this point is that she is new to this workplace, and she turns down the advances of Campbell’s character.

The way this scene plays out in the show, it’s all relatively harmless. He makes comments to her, she assaults him in return, he stalks off and they go about their day. But the problem is, this isn’t even remotely how this scene would play in real life. In reality, there are multiple potential scenarios that could have ended up happening.

For example, A) she doesn’t assault him. She responds the way that most women would, and she just laughs it off or ignores him. She hears her co-workers talking about how he’s kind of pathetic, but at the end of the day, he’s harmless and a nice guy, so just cut him some slack, would you? So she does. She continues ignoring him. And he keeps making comments at her. He gets steadily more and more aggressive with his comments, and whether he means to make the threat or not, they’re both aware of the fact that he has seniority over her. He’s been here longer – he has connections within the company. If he isn’t her boss, he’s at least friends with her boss. And if she wants to move ahead in the company, or even just keep her job, then maybe she shouldn’t be so “frigid” and “uptight”, right?

Or, there’s example B) she does assault him, because he crossed her boundaries and touched her when she said no. And he now has two things: a wounded ego, and a valid complaint against her, that he can take right to her boss.

Either way, she loses in real life.

But in fiction, it’s alright. It’s not a big deal. In fiction, she can assault him and end the harassment right then and there while simultaneously proving to the audience that she’s a strong, independent woman who can take care of herself. In fiction, we don’t have to think about this all that much.

And this affects the way that we see these scenarios in real life. This deludes us into thinking – maybe it isn’t a big deal. I mean, if she really wasn’t interested, she could have just assaulted him, right?

Watching this one scene was extremely disappointing to me. Not only was I watching one of my childhood heroes engage in predatory behaviour that has intense, real-world consequences, it also sort of made me think about the media that I grew up watching, and the media that we’re all aware of. It made me realize just how prevalent it is to normalize sexual harassment in our movies and our TV.

Because when I was a teenager, I watched “Army of Darkness” hundreds of times without ever really clueing in to the fact that when Bruce Campbell’s character says “give me some sugar, baby”, what he is actually doing is forcing a kiss on a woman who, until now, has shown nothing but disdain for him.

And as much as I wish I could say that media starring Bruce Campbell is the only media that normalizes this – it isn’t. I only focused on it because it’s what I’m most familiar with. The truth is, it’s in all of our media.

It’s in every movie or TV show where man is rejected by a woman, and he responds by pressing the matter (ie. Han and Leia in “Star Wars”) or manipulating her (ie. Noah and Allie in “The Notebook”) or continuing to harass her until he finally gets a ‘yes’ (ie. Leonard and Penny in “The Big Bang Theory”). It is so prevalent in our society that it’s not only normal – it’s actually kind of a joke.

And when we laugh at it in the media, we don’t think of the real-world consequences that these scenarios could actually have. We don’t think that they’re a big deal, because our media tells us that it isn’t a big deal. It’s just funny.

And I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t enjoy the movies or TV that we grew up with. I understand why that would be a hard argument to sell, and I know that I, for one, won’t stop enjoying the Evil Dead series anytime soon. But that being said, I do think that we need to talk about these issues. Because talking about them makes us realize how prevalent they actually are – and just how engrained into our society.

When we talk about sexual assault and harassment in the #metoo movement, we aren’t just talking about a few isolated incidents. We’re talking about an entire culture that needs to be confronted and changed. This might be part of the reason why the #metoo movement has been met with some resistance – it’s a lot of change to be made. It’s overwhelming, but it’s definitely worthwhile. Because once we become aware of it and once we start talking about it, then we can start making things better for the people who have actually faced this in real life. We no longer just shrug these scenarios off as jokes – we understand them on a deeper, more compassionate level. We began to see these scenes for what they are, and they aren’t really funny at all.

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The Role of Teenage Girls

When I was born, the doctor took one quick look at me and announced to everyone in the room, “it’s a girl!” and my mother was overjoyed. Because now, she had someone to dress up and make pretty.

For the first twelve years of my life, I was a doll. A little porcelain doll, really, with blonde ringlets and pink bows and dresses made of velvet and lace. I wore white stockings and hair ties and braids. I smiled big, and I batted my long lashes, and I knew I was pretty. I got told that I was pretty from everyone I passed, from strangers, old men in the hallways of my apartment, women who threatened to take me home with them or gobble me up.

Around the age of twelve, however, my prettiness began to fade. I was too tall and too skinny now, built out of awkward proportions and acne. My teeth were full of gaps that made me smile less, or at least smile smaller. I no longer got compared to princesses and fairies, but to hockey players who had taken a hit to the face one too many times.

It was around this time that I became more aware of the comments that were made about that initial announcement, as well; insinuations about all those people who got told “it’s a girl” from the delivery room.

Girls were stupid, I heard. Girls were weak. Girls were vapid and frivolous and vain, and they couldn’t be taken seriously for the life of them.

Well, if that’s the case, I thought, then why would I want to be a girl?

I went up to my bedroom, opened my closet, and ripped out all the dresses of velvet and lace, all the pink bows and white stockings, and I threw it all away. All that I left at that point was black.

And thus began my descent into one of the most universally mocked groups of people in North America: I became a teenage girl.

Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, a lot of my time was spent trying to prove that I was different from them. Because whatever they did, there always seemed to be something wrong with it.

They listened to vapid pop songs made by people without talent who used Auto-Tune for everything. I sort of thought that these songs were fun. Without substance, sure, but they were sort of fun to dance to anyway. Not that I’d let these thoughts occur to me at the time, though, because if they liked that music, then I liked retro music that was totally different from anything they were listening to (retro synth-pop music, but whatever, it’s totally different, man).

They read and watched Twilight, so, of course, I abhorred Twilight, along with everyone else. I didn’t connect the fact that, while the girls my age were ridiculed for liking Twilight, the boys my age were praised for liking Michael Bay’s Transformers movies or the Fast and the Furious franchise. I didn’t notice that they were all equally as stupid and misogynistic, or that Megan Fox was sexualized for a straight male audience just as much as Taylor Lautner was sexualized for a straight female audience. I didn’t question any of this; I just accepted that Twilight was bad because it had poor writing (not because it was linked with teenage girls), while Fast and the Furious was good because it had car chases (not because it was linked with teenage boys).

They took selfies, which made them open-season for widespread mocking, because it obviously meant that they were stupid and vain and self-indulgent, so, of course, I was too good for that.

They drank pumpkin spice lattes, so, of course, I drank green tea.

They caused drama and liked to talk about their feelings. I remained silent.

I wore “I’m not like other girls” proudly across my lips, not because there was anything wrong with the other girls, because I didn’t want to be treated like the other girls.

But I was still treated like them. If I posted one picture of myself on social media, the immediate assumption was that I thought I was so good, and I was so vain, and did I really think that everyone wanted to see that? I still had simple things explained to me like I didn’t understand them. I was still condescended to and shut out of certain male-oriented spaces and sexualized, even when I didn’t dress or act like them. Because the truth is, anyone who demands that you not act like a woman in order to earn respect is not the sort of person who respects any woman.

And, between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three, I began to realize that there was nothing wrong with being them, not really.

Taking selfies does not make you any less of a person.

Pumpkin spice lattes do not make you any less of a person.

Listening to boy bands and popular music does not make you any less of a person.

We as a society simply like to judge and criticize anything that is connected to a primarily female audience. And maybe nowadays it isn’t Twilight that gets all of the hate, now it’s movies like the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot or Oceans 8. If young women have the opportunity to enjoy something or see themselves in it, then the knee-jerk reaction that society seems to have is to belittle it or call it stupid, or at the very least, to hold it to a much, much higher standard that anything connected to a primarily male audience.

And especially when you’re growing up and still trying to find your identity, like teenage girls are, what this creates is a need to distance yourself from… yourself. You try to change to please people. You refuse to enjoy things because you don’t want to be mocked and belittled. You watch your every movement, try to make sure that you can be considered respectable and good. And despite all of this, you still fail.

So when you reach adulthood, you have two choices: you can continue to enforce this idea that the things teenage girls do are stupid. You can keep chasing this mythical idea of becoming a woman worthy of a misogynist’s respect, except that will never happen. All you will accomplish is denying parts of yourself, and making other women feel bad about themselves.

Or, on the other hand, you can just say fuck it and be yourself.

I chose the latter.

I wear make-up and dance to pop music and dye my hair pink, all while sipping on my Starbucks brand frappuccino, thank you very much. I don’t go out of my way to do these things or anything; I just do them without guilt now.

And we should be allowed to do these sorts of things without guilt. We should be allowed to try new things without fear of being judged. We should be allowed to zone out to a mindless, stupid movie that appeals to us without being told that we’re wrong. We should be allowed to enjoy things, actually, truly enjoy them, so long as they don’t hurt anyone.

And nothing that I have listed in this article hurts anyone. What hurts people is a misogynistic society that immediately assumes that, just because someone was born to the words, “it’s a girl”, then that automatically means that they are vapid and stupid. That is what I truly think is wrong.

Queer Representation in Children’s Media

When I was a little girl, one of my absolute favourite things in the whole wide world was Harry Potter. (Oh, who am I kidding? That’s still true today.) The books. The movies. Everything. I loved it. I ate it up like a proverbial fat kid eats cake.

Now, I don’t know how familiar you, the reader, are with Harry Potter. Maybe you’ve never seen the movies or read the books, and you just have a basic understanding of it being about wizards or some shit like that. Maybe you’re more like me, and have the entire text of the books tattooed onto your soul. But I’m just going to assume that you’re a little closer to the former, just for safety’s sake, because I want to draw your attention toward a brief, seemingly unimportant scene in the third movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (which was released when I was nine years old. Trust me; that bit will become important later).

Near the end of this movie, two male characters are revealed to have a close friendship (if I’m spoiling anything for you here, too bad, the movie’s been out nearly fourteen years now). These characters in question are Remus Lupin, a werewolf, and Sirius Black, not a werewolf. At one point, shortly after a reunion scene between the two of them that involved close hugging, the moon comes out from behind a cloud, and Lupin begins to turn into a werewolf. At this point, Sirius grabs hold of Lupin and tries to get through to him, saying things like, “this heart is where you belong, this heart!” indicating Lupin’s own chest.

Now, what about any of this matters, you might be asking? This is just a meaningless, nothing little scene that establishes nothing besides the fact that Lupin is turning into a werewolf, right? Well… yes. Yes it is. But at the age of nine years old, when I first saw this scene, something got confused along the way in my head. I think it might have been something about Sirius screaming about hearts as he held Lupin close. What I’m trying to say is, when I was nine years old, I seriously, genuinely thought that Sirius and Lupin were a couple in the context of the movies. And I’m not talking about “shipping” them (for those of you who aren’t familiar with the lingo, that’s geek-talk for thinking that two characters would make an amazing couple, even if they are not actually romantically or sexually involved in the actual text). I mean that I actually believed that they were “together”.

This wasn’t an isolated incident either. In the Disney movie “Mulan” (which came out when I was three years old; I don’t remember how old I was when I first saw it, but it was probably around then), there is a character simply called “the Matchmaker”, and I was completely convinced that that character was a drag queen. Maybe it was the heavy make-up combined with the fact that she accidentally draws a goatee on herself later on in the movie. Maybe I just didn’t catch onto the fact that it was a goatee made of ink, not hair. I don’t know, for some reason, when I was a kid, I was simply convinced that children’s movies were much more progressive than they actually were.

It wasn’t until I was in my late teens did I discover that Lupin and Sirius are not actually a couple in the context of the story, they’re just good friends, or that the Matchmaker was actually intended to be interpreted as a cis-gendered woman.

Now, the reason why I interpreted these characters this way could be manifold. It could simply because my parents did not try to hide the existence of other sexualities and genders from me as a kid, and so it simply made sense to me that, if these people existed, they would exist in my media as well. Or maybe it all has something to do with the fact that I personally grew up to be bisexual; maybe whatever it is that has hardwired me to be queer automatically made me search for role models in my media as early as three years old. I don’t know what the reason is, all I know is that I can now make people laugh with the funny “I genuinely thought Lupin and Sirius were a couple” story now.

But, personally, I think that the fact that I thought this way as young as I did is important to a discussion that we have been having in our media lately: namely, is it okay for children to be exposed to queer characters in media?

Actual queer characters (not just the ones I’ve made up in my head) have been confirmed in some children’s media lately, possibly the most famous example being LeFou in Disney’s live action remake of Beauty and the Beast. Yet, LeFou sort of ended up being a disappointment to both sides of the argument. Parents who disagreed with queer representation in children’s media refused to take their children to this movie because they didn’t want them exposed to a message that they thought could potentially be harmful. Meanwhile, audience members who wanted to see explicit queer representation got little more than a split-second dance scene between two men, hardly confirming or denying anything (after all, even as a nine-year-old, I would have known that two men can dance together without being in love with each other).

Since then, we’ve had character after character in children’s media (including Valkyrie from Thor: Ragnarok and Yellow Ranger Trini from the Power Rangers movie) either hint at potential queerness, or be marketed to the audience as a queer character, while never actually coming right out and saying, “hello, yes, I am actual queer character, pleased to meet you!”

In other words, this media can bring in an audience that desperately wants to see actual, confirmed queer representation in mainstream, children’s media, while simultaneously appeasing the parents who don’t want their children exposed to that gross, gay stuff.

But, end of day, really, what’s wrong with exposing children to the existence of queer individuals?

I know that I’m probably not a convincing example of someone who grew up exposed to this in my media and turned out fine, considering the fact that one of the major fears of including these characters in these movies is that it will somehow turn their kids gay. But at the same time, to that, I say two things: 1) I don’t think that I “became bisexual” the moment that I heard Gary Oldman screaming “this heart is where you belong” to David Thewlis. I sort of think that being bisexual was somewhere in my genetic code long before that. And, 2) at the time, when I was a young, pre-pubescent nerd wearing a lightning bolt scar drawn onto my forehead with eyeliner, I actually didn’t think anything of this quote-unquote ‘relationship’. I didn’t think that it was weird that Sirius and Lupin “were a couple”. I mean, yeah, at the time I decided that they were my favourite couple in the series, but that was mostly because this was movie three and the only other couples that I had to choose from were all parents (which, to a nine year old girl, was gross).

You know those stories that you hear of a little kid asking, “what are gay people?” and the parents explains it calmly, to which the kid goes, “oh. Can I go play now?” Yeah, that was pretty much just my reaction to these movies. I didn’t linger on it. I didn’t hate it or think it was gross, or even really decide that I was going to grow up to be in a same-sex relationship, just like Lupin and Sirius. I just saw it, thought it was kind of romantic, the way that Sirius tried to pull Lupin back from being a monster just like some sort of Beauty and the Beast, and then I moved onto the awesome werewolf fight scene and the flying broomsticks and the supposed devil worship. Truth be told, if this wasn’t an argument that we were having now, and if I hadn’t been wrong in my interpretation of the film, I might never have thought about any of it ever again.

So when people nowadays discuss the potential “dangers” of including queer characters in children’s media, I always go back to that nine year old girl who thought nothing of the possibility that two wizards were also a couple, or that the Matchmaker was openly a drag queen in ancient China. None of this bothered me as a kid, none of it even phased me. Perhaps it would have if I had told the adults in my life how I had interpreted these characters and they had laughed at me or told me that I was wrong, but no one ever did that to me. No one ever told me that queer characters didn’t belong in my media, and so I simply assumed that queer people belonged everywhere. Being informed on these matters, being allowed to think about them and interpret them freely, made me more open-minded and accepting, not only of queer characters, but of queer people in real life, and eventually, of my own queerness as well.

It wasn’t until I grew up did I discover that others disagreed with me. And, to this day, I still don’t think I understand why.

Is It Okay To Like A Narrative That Is Problematic?

Let’s talk about something that I know everyone enjoys: the media and politics.

More specifically, let’s talk about narratives – whether that be movies, television, or written stories – and their connection to social justice, representation, and politics.

It’s become more and more common lately for people to point it out if something in a narrative is racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, or whatever. And whenever something like this because common, we’re always going to see a counter-reaction. For example, you might see an exchange similar to this one somewhere on the internet:

Person One: I found this recently released movie to be very sexist/racist/homophobic.

Person Two: Oh my god, how dare you, I can’t like anything anymore!

Now, the reason that I bring this up is not because I want to make fun of either side of the argument. Rather, I’m sort of interested in this idea that a piece of media is inherently unlikeable because it includes questionable politics. I mean, if this was true, then what media could we consume? Is there any media? Would we have no other choice than to reject media altogether – stop buying books, stop going out to movies, all to avoid media that is racist, sexist, homophobic, or whatever the case may be?

Because, after all, all narratives are written by human beings, and they are not written in a vacuum. We exist in a society where ideas that are racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, etc., are sometimes considered the norm. Sometimes writers internalize these ideas. Sometimes, by the time that a writer sits down to write a particular story, they haven’t yet thought critically about every last social justice movement that exists out there. And, not only that, but there are many common, historical tropes in writing that rely upon certain sexist ideals – like the trope of the persecuted heroine, or the hero (who is usually characterized not only as male, but as hyper-masculine as well). So chances are, nearly every narrative, even the ones that go out of their way to be inclusive, fail to live up to one standard or another of being inclusive. Maybe they’re very feminist, but they’re also kind of racist. Maybe they’re very pro-gay, but they’re simultaneously kind of classist.

So what does this mean? Can we not enjoy any story because of this?

Well, while different people might have different opinions on this, I’m personally a huge fan of stories. And I don’t think that someone pointing out that a narrative isn’t inclusive enough means that you can’t enjoy it.

For example, I kind of like the 2006 action movie 300. It isn’t my favourite movie or anything, but I like it. I’ll watch it whenever someone says, “hey, let’s go watch us some 300.” And I am also very aware that it isn’t inclusive toward… anybody. At all. 300 is a very sexist movie that doesn’t even pass the Bechdel test (which, for those of you who aren’t aware, is the absolute lowest standard to prove that a movie includes women as active agents in the text). 300 is also a very racist movie, portraying all of the villains as dark skinned while all of the heroes are light skinned, playing on America’s post-9/11 Islamophobia. And, as the cherry on top of this sundae, 300 is also very, very, very homophobic. “Boy-lover” is used repeatedly throughout the film as an insult toward men (something which is not at all historically accurate for the Spartans, I might add). The villains are all designed to look rather feminine while the heroes are designed to look very, very masculine. And, perhaps worst of all, director Zack Snyder also admitted to playing with homophobia as a tool to make the lead villain seem more foreign and more intimidating to the presumed audience, claiming that he intentionally coded the villain as gay because “what’s more scary to a 20-year-old boy than a giant god-king who wants to have his way with you?”

So, yeah, this movie is a political nightmare, but I still kind of like it. And why? Because I also think of it as sort of the definitive action movie. It won’t make you think (and if you do, you won’t like what you think), but it does have some good fight scenes, some super macho tough dudes, and visually speaking, the movie is stunning. There’s enough in the movie that, as much as I’m aware of its political faults and I’m not going to forget them, I still manage to leave the movie feeling like I got what I wanted out of it.

And, end of day, I think that’s what we should mostly be striving for when we say that a narrative is racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.: awareness. You can still like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs even if you know it’s sexist. You can look fondly on Breakfast at Tiffany’s, even knowing that it’s kind of racist. But end of day, it’s important that you are aware that it is, because if you aren’t, then the entire context of the narrative changes. Instead of accepting that this is wrong, that this is just for the purposes of a narrative and the narrative is entirely fantasy, you run the risk of taking that into the real world, of believing that this is actually how people are. If I didn’t know that 300 was sexist, then I might just assume that women were all passive agents who didn’t really contribute all that much to anything… unless they happened to be Lena Headey. If I didn’t know that 300 was homophobic, I might assume that all gay men were inherently threats to straight men. These are the lessons that the narrative is teaching me, so if I’m not questioning them, then I run the risk of accepting them instead.

And more than that, we seem to be at a big of a turning point for a lot of media. The most recent movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture was about a gay black man (Moonlight). One of 2017’s highest grossing movies was about a female superhero (Wonder Woman), but it wasn’t very long ago that movie studios were refusing to put female superheroes in their own solo movies because they tended to flop when compared to their male counterparts. People are getting more and more interested in seeing diversity in our media, and this is awesome. This gives so many more people the opportunity to see themselves represented, rather than just the same straight, middle-to-upper-class, young-to-middle-age white dude that keeps getting catered to over and over again. And as people get more and more interested in diversity, it becomes more important for us to talk about what kind of diversity. We might see a movie about women and say, “that’s great, but the writing was kind of sexist. Can you give us more of this instead?” and if there are enough people demanding, the media will eventually supply.

We point out that there wasn’t enough racial diversity in something because we want to see more racial diversity in something else; not necessarily because we think that you shouldn’t like the original narrative. You can like the original narrative all you want; just be aware that it can be improved in the future. And hopefully, if enough people can keep talking about it, it will be improved in the future.

Is Representation Important?

Representation is a popular issue right now – something that people have begun talking about more and more frequently. And it is a multi-faceted issue, one that can be discussed from several different angles: what kind of representation is good representation? How much representation is enough? When it comes to fiction, can we represent minorities through villains, secondary characters, or stereotypes?

But there’s another question that I see come up again and again when it comes to representation: quite simply, is it important? I mean, I don’t think that there are very many people out there who would argue that people don’t deserve to feel empowered, or to look up to someone. But when I see this question discussed, I often see the same response come up: that things like gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. shouldn’t matter. That a young Chinese lesbian should have the ability to look at a straight white man and still see herself in him, because at the end of the day, we are all people and we all share a basic human experience.

Now, I won’t deny that there is some truth to this statement. Some. To use my personal experience as an example, I am blessed enough to say that my career goals are such that I have been able to see my gender represented in it – not perfectly, mind you. When I was a little girl, I still grew up with the story of J.K. Rowling being forced to abbreviate her name by her publisher because they were concerned that boys wouldn’t read a book written by a woman, but nonetheless, there were plenty of women writers that I could look up to. I saw myself represented in that industry, and so I never had a doubt that I could exist in this industry. And therefore, I had no problem looking up to female and male writers alike. Because end of day, a good writer is a good writer, and there are plenty of male writers who explore themes and issues that I understand and relate to.

But in this specific instance, I saw myself represented. I knew that women could be writers. There are plenty of industries wherein this isn’t the case. Although women in the United States hold approximately half of all jobs, they represent less than 25% of jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or math. In 2015-2016, women made up only 16.3% of CEO positions and 28.5% of key management personnel positions. In the United States, there has literally never been a female president (and only one non-white president). So when we’re talking about young girls aspiring to enter into these roles, representation suddenly becomes much more important – not just so that you can know that it’s possible for you to enter into that field, but so you can know that you will be accepted and taken seriously in it as well.

Representation matters more and more in areas where people aren’t generally represented. And how do I know this? Well, because, while I’m a writer, I also happen to fall under another label, one that I very rarely see represented in the media, or represented well for that matter: I am a bisexual woman.

And growing up, I rarely saw myself in the media. I saw gay and lesbian people, sure, but their experiences didn’t always match up with my own. I saw straight people all the time, but their experiences didn’t align with mine either. And because I didn’t see anyone who looked like me, I began to wonder what was wrong with me. Was I the weird one? Did I even truly exist, or was the way I felt some sort of elaborate lie I was telling myself so that I could feel unique and different?

And when I wasn’t feeling this way, I was feeling like I was something gross, something unlovable. Because when I did see myself represented, I saw myself in hugely unfavourable ways. Bisexuals in the media were manipulative, or they were serial-cheaters, or they were just used as one-night-stands and nothing more. One of my first exposures to the existence of bisexual people was through a talk show that I saw when I was really young – maybe four or five, where a man was trying to decide if he should leave his wife because he found out that, before they were married, she had dated a girl, and he didn’t think he could handle that. At the time, I thought this was stupid, because who she had dated before shouldn’t have any bearing on what their relationship was like now, but I was still young, still forming my identity, and I won’t deny that it sort of made me internalize this idea that I could never have a fulfilling and healthy relationship because of how I was born.

And none of this is to say that I couldn’t relate to straight or gay characters in the media. I could. There are plenty of characters on either side of the spectrum that I respected, looked up to, wanted to emulate, but in this specific issue, none of them were helpful. They couldn’t help me feel better about myself because they weren’t like me.

It took me a long time to undo the damage that a lack of representation had done to my self-esteem, and the way that I managed to start doing this was actually by seeking out what little good representation there was to be found out there. I found blogs and websites dedicated to real bisexual people discussing their experiences, which helped me to understand that I existed, that my feelings were valid. And, as stupid as it might sound, I found encouragement from looking up celebrities that identified proudly as bisexual – celebrities like David Bowie and Alan Cumming and Angelina Jolie, because they proved to me that I could be bisexual and successful and accepted and loved. The ideas were not mutually exclusive.

Especially when you’re young, when you don’t see yourself represented very often, you tend not to question the media that you’re seeing, but yourself. When you’re an overweight girl and all the beautiful women are represented as thin, you began to wonder if you’re ugly. When you are not white, but the majority of people in positions of power are, you began to feel very powerless. When you get a little bit older, you develop the ability to question these ideas, but by then the damage is often done already. By then, you’ve already internalized that you’re ugly, that you’re powerless, that you’re unlovable, that you don’t exist.

So, yes, a black boy can see a white character in a movie and relate to his internal, human struggle, but he cannot relate to his racial experience, and his existence is not validated by him. That is the difference between relating to a character based on their narrative or a figure based on their achievements, and relating to a character or a figure because they share a common experience with you.

That is why representation is important: because when you don’t see people like you doing what you want to do, you began to wonder if you even can do it, whether that be something as difficult as pursuing a certain career, or something as simple as being who you truly are. And regardless of who you are or how you were born, you deserve to be told that you are powerful, you are capable, and you are loveable.