Representation in Art

So today I was reading a webcomic, and in one of the pages there was a lampshading attempt made by the artist to acknowledge, in universe, that his artistic style had shifted to drawing the female characters more voluptuously. A character (all in the scene were female) noted another character had seemed more buxom of late and the addressed character noted that it seemed to be going around lately.
A beat was taken as the characters all spent the final panel looking down at their own chests. I laughed, and thought no more of it until I read the authors notes on the page below. He referenced a discussion in the comments below, which upon reading revealed some female readers had felt discouraged and excluded by this artistic shift and in particular this gag.

This crystallised an internal discussion I’ve been having with myself for many, many years now, but in particular since I’ve started writing again and thinking about what I wanted to include in and express with my writing.

I’m white, male, cisgendered, neither rich nor poor and have a very limited social circle that exists outside of those categories (with the exception of gender, women do make up around half my social circle).

I like to keep mildly aware of social and psychological issues relevant to artistic expressions. Some include the exclusion, or stereotypical portrayal of categories of folk that exist outside of my norm, but also of the clumsy presentation of them by privileged individuals like myself who attempt to include them.

When I write I wonder, “Do I have too much emphasis on male characters?”, “Am I trying to hard to include female characters”, “Are my female characters truly female, or are they simply re-skinned male characters”, “Do I portray male and female characters with a different level of dignity due to my own gaze as a male, or the assumption that my audience may be predominantly male?” or even “Am I being insulting and perhaps condescending, or even damaging my story by focusing so heavily on these thoughts”

For conclusions, I must note that I will never be able to perfectly write an Australian aboriginal woman, or a black transgender person, because I haven’t lived their lives or known their experiences. But at the same time I could never perfectly write a Wizard from another time and place.

I don’t want my stories to be only for people like me, I want people who haven’t had it so easy to find characters like themselves as I have to find someone to admire in my tales. I want young girls to be able to read a story which doesn’t treat them like objects, I want to not have all my heroes be white, and I want all genders and sexualities to be treated with respect by the writing. I don’t want to write a liberal utopia that pretends bigotry of all flavours don’t exist, instead I want to acknowledge the nuances and complexity inherent to every person.

I think I’m fortunate to have had a lot of feminist influences in my life during my formative years. The works of Tamora Pierce, particularly The Song of the Lioness quartet, and the webcomic The Devil’s Panties and it’s audience community through the forum, and of course my Mother who is working on a PhD about women protesters in Australia, were just some of the things that really taught me to consider how art should be inclusive and that representation matters.

It’s not my intention to be particularly “bloggy” here, but I thought this was relevant enough to warrant writing down. It’s not intended to be a piece with a conclusion, simply some, but far from all, of my thoughts on the subject put into words.

Author: Zairron

I'm writing to build a habit, practice, and be creative.

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