We’re right on the edge of something particularly awesome.
I know this is probably the view of anyone at any given time in history – you know, that guy who’s sitting around the first human-made fire. Screw collecting burning trees struck by lightning and trying to keep ’em burning: this dude’s rubbed some sticks together or whatever, he’s got fire on demand, he’s getting warm, and that dude’s saying, “Man, being a human is awesome, and we’re right on the fucking pinnacle of achievement here.”
The more specific awesome thing I’m talking about here is equality, but we’re not quite there yet. I think we all have a part to play, through our own personal platforms. You can help.
Yeah. You’ve got a platform. You might not know it, but you do. My most obvious one is books, but I have other platforms – my job, for example. I divorced myself a long time ago from the view that making a difference is impossible, because even at massive megacorporations, well, they’re made up of individual humans, who can all change the world.
Before I go to 11 on rant, let me direct your intention to something done far more intelligently than I could ever hope to do: “Bring on the Female Superheroes!” It’s a talk by Christopher Bell, you can find it here http://www.ted.com/talks/christopher_bell_bring_on_the_female_superheroes, and I agree with this more or less at the hundred percent mark. Dr. Bell’s talk made me hopeful, and tearful, and angry, all in roughly equal portions. See, the equality message I’ve chosen is to support through my writing platform is the other 50% of the population I’m not a part of.
That’s right: it’s ladies’ night. Every night.
As a white, middle-class male, I’m pretty much right on the top of Olympus, drinking Champagne with the gods. No door is really blocked to me, world’s my oyster, there’s no glass ceiling, I don’t have to get shafted 70 cents on the dollar at my job. The only real limits are about me, which isn’t the same for women.
I think the problem’s a little deeper than, “Chicks be equal, yo.” That’s simplistic, and it ignores thousands of years of fuckery, cultural and religious norms, shit like that. It also ignores that we’ve spent a lot of time making environments some men are comfortable in, where bullying is the norm, collaboration is rarer than unicorn’s blood, and empires are built around cults of personality. Expecting such a narrow view to be successful isn’t humanity’s long-term success plan, it won’t take us to the stars, it’s not even likely to take us out of the next election. It is the typical view of the ruling minority that this is what alpha male behaviour looks like (which isn’t true: it’s typically what beta males think alphas behave like). It’s an uncomfortable environment.
You know why the Vulcans haven’t landed yet to bring us into the Federation? They flew the fuck on by after watching women be dox’d for talking out. Look up Anita Sarkeesian (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropes_vs._Women_in_Video_Games) … and then the doxing and death threats after Gamergate.
Even *that* isn’t the real problem. I’m reminded of a story a friend of mine told me – his daughter was given a toy stethoscope as a present. You know the typical marketing pink-and-shrink strategy, and it was labelled as a “nurse’s kit.” Naturally he gave it to her as a doctor’s kit, but think about the insidious nature of the message: “You’re a girl. You like pink things. You’re a nurse, not a doctor.”
Seriously, fuck THAT noise. Doesn’t that make anyone else but *me* fucking angry enough to knife the entire marketing team of a toy company?
But wait. Even *that* isn’t the real problem. Those marketing people weren’t created in a lab (…well). They were created on our planet, by the same cultural norms that shaped the rest of us. The problem, I think, is that we don’t have a lot of mutually agreed models to point our children at and say, “There. That’s a woman.” Not a strong woman – although that term will do for now, until thinking changes. We’re still wrestling with this idea that women scream a lot and run around in circles if there’s wars to fight, or that they stay at home cooking and cleaning and feeding our children while the men go out and get in bar fights. Our view on women in science is deeply flawed, with common misconceptions like, “Women are bad at math,” or, “Women can’t do science,” abounding. Where the does that come from? It comes from promoting men over women, over thousands of years. Seriously: https://youtu.be/Y8DBwchocvs.
Role models don’t need to be alive, either. Fictional role models are great, because people learn from stories. Historical role models are equally good. Women leaders, as presidents or chief executives, are also good to point our children to. But also, point ourselves to, to challenge our own unconscious bias, our own assumptions of what being a woman can be.
And I guess – I don’t know, but this sounds right – that we may be pushing the wrong parts of the model. We’ve gone from, “Women cook and clean, except if there’s a war, and then they can be in factories until the men get back,” to, “Women and should do everything, including having a career, joining the military, looking after the kids, and still have the energy to have a robust sex life after all that.” What I’d like to do through my platform is show what could be possible, to remove the barriers of thought. To let women choose, equally, how they want to spend their lives, and for them to not be prevented from that because of asshole middle-aged white dudes.
Back to platforms. I guess you can use your platform to whine. Here’s an example: http://www.tor.com/2016/10/17/mentally-ill-women-belong-in-your-stories-too/. I am not aligned to this article at all – not because flawed women don’t belong in stories, but because they’re already there. Jessica Jones? Black Widow? They’re fucking superheroes, man, and about as broken as a shattered vase. Hell, Black Widow is in *movies*, being all damaged but still highly capable. Read some of Richard K. Morgan’s stories about her, it’s worth it.
I’m also not aligned because of stories I’ve told. About a troubled 14-year-old girl who sees ghosts, thinks she might be crazy (hey, we’ve all been 14 once), but still saves the world. Or what about a cop who’s the victim of sexual abuse as a child but gets the job done. Or about a rock star who fights societal tyranny day by day, yet still has the courage to work with a guy to find out what it means to be human.
And that’s what your platform can be about. Use it to tell the stories you want told – in your job, or your own books, or the things you tell your kids. It’s all changing the cultural norms, one person at a time, to describe the world we want to live in. The world we should be living in. The world of awesome.
Well, the world *I* want to live in, anyway. If we’re all equal, shit just gets better. I’m not concerned about losing my job if there’s three women who can do it better than me. That’s a *good* thing. I’ll fucking learn something, for a start, but I also know that what I do is rare and hard and, from a completely selfish perspective, it might mean I get a little more life back. But the weird thing is that I know that the world would need to become anti white-middle-class-male for about fifty years before I’d even fucking notice, and that’s the tragedy, right?
Using my chosen platform (the stories I tell) to try and lead around the concepts of equality for that other 50% who aren’t male … well, it’s been a great learning experience. It’s hard, let me tell you, to write a 14-year-old girl, when you’ve never been one, and were terrified of them as a 14-year-old boy. It’s hard, but not impossible, and I’m indebted to the women who helped me make that character a reality – the credit is all theirs. I can use the insight they gave me and amplify it through my platform. I didn’t sit around in a room talking to other middle-aged white dudes about what they thought about 14-year-old girls, or get my views through watching TV.
Learning is weird, and hard, and sure, you look like an asshole sometimes, but good friends help you get over that. Good friends will correct you with courage and honesty and gentleness, and you’ll learn, and at the end, you become better. Your platform gets better.
The world changes.