Thursday, 21 August 2014

Why Representation Matters

We all like to see ourselves in the books we read and the movies we watch. And if you're a straight, white, able-bodied, cisgender person with no serious mental or physical illness then you're just fine. You're everywhere.

If you've got anything about you that makes a character difficult or unusual, then you're basically screwed. Gay? You might get to be the Gay Best Friend if you're lucky. Bisexual, pansexual, or asexual? Forget it. No one, apparently, wants to write about you. Black, Latina, or Asian? No one, apparently, wants to write about or cast you. Transgender, genderfluid, or agender? No one, apparently, wants to write about you either. Unless the story is all about your Unusual Gender Alignment. Disabled or sick? Apparently it's no fun to read about someone who maybe can't do quite everything an able-bodied or healthy person can do.

Well I can tell you it's fun for the person reading. If you're the kind of person who's commonly written about then you can't possibly understand the blinding, heady relief of finding a character who's just like you. A month or so ago, I picked up a book called Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. I'd heard good things about it. I thought I'd give it a try.

The main character has social anxiety. Do you know how incredible it was for me to realise that characters could have that? I'm a writer and even I've never given my characters social anxiety because I never thought that someone with it could be the heroine of a story. Every decision that character made was something I would have done, and she was influenced by the same thing that plagues me every single day. I couldn't believe that she could have that illness and still manage to be the heroine of a story.

She made me believe I could do that too.

When you write or cast yet another straight, white, able-bodied, cisgender person, you're telling everyone who doesn't fit into those criteria that you don't want to write a story about them. That you can't be bothered stepping out of your comfort zone to give them a character who's just like them. You're telling them that they're not worth being the hero/heroine of their story. And maybe you're not doing that intentionally. Probably you aren't. But that's the message they get anyway.

It will only cost you a little bit of effort to drastically improve your writing and to make someone else's day.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Weirdest Things About Growing Up

I moved out of home a bit over a year ago, and to be honest, the weirdest thing (which I am still yet to get used to) is probably buying things. Not like bread and milk - my parents sent me out for that. It wasn't that odd an experience. Plus, I was expecting to have to buy that.

The weirdest things to buy are the things that always just kind of appeared back with mum and dad. Deodorant; shampoo; flour; sugar. Toilet paper! Those things that had always been in the pantry when you needed them aren't anymore.

You want a snack when you get home? Too bad. You and your housemate ate all the Jatz last night because you couldn't be bothered cooking dinner and now all you've got is some questionably edible dip in the fridge and a couple of sad schnitzels in the freezer, which you suppose you'll have to eat tonight. Maybe you'll have it with mashed potato, although you don't have any butter so it won't be very nice.

Moving out of home is probably 50% staying up until 3am watching Harry Potter and eating ice cream for breakfast, and 50% using tissues instead of toilet paper because you're too lazy to buy some, and putting cream in your Milo because you have some left over from baking scones but you're out of milk (actually, even if you aren't, cream is very good in Milo).

You realise why your parents have a plethora of those weird cards that get you points you can exchange for rewards when you go grocery shopping, but you're disappointed when they fail to yield results because you don't buy that much. You realise just how expensive shampoo really is. And seriously, that razor will last you a month, max. How can it cost that much? The mail doesn't appear on the bench anymore and it's really quite a distance to the mailbox from your front door. The bins get fuller and fuller because really there's no point going to the effort of opening the gate and dragging them to the kerb when they're only half full. You eat out of take away containers because you haven't washed the dishes. You resent every cent public transport zaps from your concession card and longingly wish you had a car, even though money will be even tighter when you do. At the beginning, you marveled over how cheap your rent was. Now you wonder why your landlady needs quite that much for just a bedroom. The bathrooms get dirtier and dirtier and cleaning them gets a more and more daunting task. Your bedroom hasn't been vacuumed in months because the floor is never tidy for long enough.

If you're thinking of moving out, all I can say is good luck, and for God's sake don't choose take away pizza over recharging your bus card. You'll really regret it when your paying the fare with scraps of change from your desk drawer.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Ferguson events

Last Saturday afternoon, two young men were walking home from the grocery store. They were yelled at by a policeman to 'get the fuck back on the sidewalk' as they were walking on the road. They didn't, stating that they were 'nearly at their destination'. If they had been white, that would have been the end of the discussion, if it had even started.

It wasn't. The policeman shot Michael Brown several times at close range, and chased he and his friend when they ran.

Disappointed with the police and government response to the shooting, the black community in Ferguson, Missouri (which makes up 67% of the town's population, despite 94% of the police force and government officials being white) began a peaceful protest. Despite the lack of violence, this was met with a hugely violent response from the Ferguson police force, including tear gas. Mya Aaten-White was shot in the head during these proceedings, and police are now trying to pass it off as a drive-by shooting by two black men. Aaten-White is in critical condition.

Despite this, there has been very little media coverage. Media vans were explicitly told to leave the scene of the protest when they arrived. It is, of course, perfectly acceptable for the police to treat people like this, but not perfectly acceptable for anyone to know about it. That shows that they know something is wrong with what they're doing, and they just don't care.

The blatant display of institutionalised racism shown by police in Ferguson is disgusting and horrifying.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Why You Will Never Get Away with a Rape Joke in Front of Me

I’m an anxious person, which means that even though I like to argue, I don’t like conflict. I tend to let things go, even if they irritate me. However, I will never let you get away with making a rape joke in front of me. Do you know why?

In America, 97% of rapists will not go to gaol. Only 40% of all sexual assaults are reported to the police. Your oh-so-funny jokes have helped lead the world to believe that rape is an ordinary part of day-to-day life, to be expected and not dramatised. But there are two kinds of people likely to hear your joke – rape victims, and their rapists. You making that joke tells the victim that their pain is funny to you; that their trauma is the stuff of humour. You making that joke tells the rapist that their actions are okay; that they are justifiable; that they are acceptable. You making that joke spreads the exact opposite of the right message.

I’m sure you are a fine, upstanding person. I’m sure you would never do that to another person. But the person standing next to you might. And you making that joke sends the message that you accept them. The person standing across from you who has been raped hears that message too, and to them it means that their rapist is accepted while they are laughed at.

So next time you go to make a joke; next time you go to say something you think is funny; next time you go to make fun of a crime: look around you. Wonder who standing within earshot might be a potential rapist, an actual rapist, or a rape victim. Wonder this, and then, for pete’s sake, keep your mouth shut.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Having been so eager to leap into the content last post, I found it difficult to muster up the motivation when it actually came time to write again. But here goes.

I hate the saying 'It's not what you know, it's who you know'. I recently landed a job at the same restaurant where my housemate works, and the moment I mention this fact whoever I'm talking to invariably asks the same question - did I get the job through her?

Yes, she helped. She put in a good word for me and I got a trial shift. And then got the job on my own merits: by working hard, and by demonstrating intelligence and initiative. Saying that it's not what you know completely invalidates all the work you do to learn the things you know. If I hadn't been able to do what was asked of me, then it wouldn't have mattered whether I was the Queen's housemate - I wouldn't have gotten that job.

Knowing people helps, but in the end, you can't rely entirely on people. You can know an entire country's worth of people, but if you can't work hard and if you have no marketable skills, you'll never get anywhere. Don't cancel out all of your hard work by claiming that connections get you everywhere, because they don't.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Apparently coming up with a neat title for a blog is much easier than actually writing posts. On one hand, introductory posts are kind of lame and boring, but on the other hand, you can't just leap write into the content. That's like starting your essay on Macbeth with a detailed analysis on precisely how Shakespeare's portrayal of women is misogynistic. You have to ease into it.

As a matter of fact, I'm still stuck. I don't want to go the whole 'hi I'm Sarah and welcome to my blog' route, but I really don't know what else to say.

In one of my classes at uni last year, our tutor had us go around the class and tell everyone who we thought we were. She had us label ourselves as best we could. I'm still not sure what the point of that exercise was, and I love labels.

I love them. I love how easily I can define myself using them; how I can put myself in boxes and understand who I am.

I am Sarah. I am a 19 year old anxiety-ridden bisexual feminist university drop-out. I am a writer. I am a reader. I am a fangirl. And I am a dreamer.