Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why It's So Hard to Get Anywhere in this World

One of the great things about social media is that it's possible for the inexperienced, the curious, the amateur, the naive, and the isolated to listen in on, and even participate in, the conversations of the experienced, the accomplished, the professional, the sophisticated, and the well-connected and pick up early on whatever ideas are going around, more easily than ever before.

That's one of the awful things about it, too.

I hear, and once in awhile participate in, lots of conversations these days about the portrayal of marginalized groups in the media, what's wrong with mainstream habits, what's right with them, what more could be done. The Bechdel Test. Cover whitewashing. "Strong female characters." Bi-erasure. On and on and on. Somebody publishes something, it goes online, it gets comments, which draw more comments, which get quoted and Liked and reblogged and commented on and expanded and questioned and vehemently argued with and spin off new conversations of specific relevance to niche media and amusements - Is LARPing ableist? How sexist is the gaming industry? And on and on and on.

These are good conversations to have, and good ideas to ponder, because, face it, we are all ableist, sexist, racist, and so on, as an inheritance from our past, and the only way to stop being that way is to become aware of it. But -

There's always a but, isn't there?

One of the things I see, poking around in the back recesses of fandom, on the fringe of a bunch of things because that's where I naturally live, I see an unintended consequence of following these conversations.

Okay, two. One is that if you try to read all of it, you'll never write (draw/compose/program/whatever).

And another is the problem of the old man, the boy, and the donkey, who tried to please everyone, pleased no one, and lost the load of wood and the donkey. Or the problem of the caterpillar who can't walk because he can't figure out which foot to move first. I see it a lot - the person (usually female, sometimes male; usually young, sometimes middle-aged or old) who should be creating is instead paralyzed into inactivity by all the things she needs to do in order to produce the right sort of work. Will her story pass the Bechdel test? Is she being ableist? Is she writing the wrong kind of heroine? Does she have enough people of color? Is she the right color/gender identification/body shape to write this story? How can she be sure she's not just writing a silly Mary Sue story? Will she not only be able to do a good enough technical job, but produce an empowering, inclusionist work that will empower people rather than adding to the sum total of the world's screwed-up-ness?

Because heaven knows, it wasn't intimidating enough wondering if anyone would ever want to read the thing, or if you were imitating Tolkien too closely, of whether fanfiction is strictly speaking legal, or how copyright worked; which is the kind of thing I used to worry about back in the dark ages before social media.

So, if you're ever in that situation, or know somebody in a similar situation, remember this.

You won't get good if you don't do the work.

You don't have to show anyone your work until you're ready and it'll never be ready till you work on it.

If you don't do anything, it won't matter what you've done.

No one can do everything.

Discussions of this sort are intended to empower the disempowered and make the world better. If instead they paralyze you - stop listening to them. Withdraw. It's okay to do that. Things like the Bechdel test are tools to use when appropriate, but they won't always be appropriate. No work can include everything. You don't have to fix society single-handed.

The voice in your head saying excitedly: "You know what would be great? A deaf detective who is routinely underestimated because of the deafness and uses that to her advantage. If the heroine of this story set in the upper middle-class closed and gated community is black and the fact that she's black in a gated community is not the point of the story. Oh, wow, I just figured out that the reason this love story isn't going anywhere is that the supposed love interest is the wrong gender!" That's the voice of the Muse. Listen to it. Embrace it. Participate in any discussions that make that voice sing.

The voice saying: "You can't write that. That won't work. You're not good enough. You'll screw this up. You're not qualified. If you put in this good thing you're really doing this bad thing. Sit still. Don't move. You can't do it. You'll only make things worse." That's the Devil of Disempowerment. That's the voice these discussions are trying to still forever. You won't be able to silence it completely, but you can, in fact, build a cupboard in your head, shove it in there, lock the door, and tell it to STFU. And any discussions that let the Devil out of his cupboard - avoid them. However good they may be for society, and that's not your call, they're not good for you; and that can only be your call.

If you need permission - here you go. I give you permission to do whatever you need to do to accomplish the work that only you can do.

I'm as qualified for that as anybody.

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