Friday, December 2, 2016

Why Representation Matters: Sentimentality Inspired by Advertising

Today I'd like to talk about something some of you are probably tired of hearing about: representation. You're reading this on a website dedicated to women in fandom. Therefore, you're probably aware that we're still fighting for good and equal representation in media (and, as I demonstrate next, in advertising). I am a white woman who fits under the heteronormative umbrella that wears oversized glasses, and my asymmetrical haircut and affection for odd knickknacks and clothing probably puts me underneath some sort of banner. I'm aware that I'm perpetuating my own perspective at this point, but I do not feel qualified to speak for anyone else's experience.

I am not a fan of the material consumerism that plagues our society. Yes, I like buying new things but not on Black Friday... some part of it just feels wrong. But this year one of the myriads of Black Friday ads got me excited. Most surprisingly, it was an ad from Walmart. The brief scene that made me jump up and down excitedly wasn't a kitchen gadget or a celebrity appearance. It was a pre-teen girl that was darn stoked to be carrying a PS4 bundled with Uncharted 4 out of the store with her mother. My own mother thought that my reaction was a bit extreme for a 24-year-old but smiled nonetheless. Little instances like that of stereotype-free representation matter in advertising. Here's a short video to explain why we have this problem in the first place:

Nerd culture has been traditionally guy territory. Admittedly, in many ways, things have gotten a lot better since the dawn of the internet. But there is one seemingly gendered final frontier: gaming.

I have a HUGE confession to make. There's a stereotype that girls only like games or get into gaming because they want to attract male attention. Well, I was first interested because of a boy; I fell into the rabbit hole headfirst. In this case, instead of a wonderland with talking animals, I got really excited about having magic powers and fighting monsters. This lead to eventual enchantment with fighting zombies among other things. It isn't that I find the stereotype completely inaccurate, but the idea that the interest in itself is inauthentic is what stings a little. Honestly, why does it really matter? You probably can't count on both hands and feet the number of things a friend or a romantic interest has introduced you to that has stuck around far longer than they did.

I first started liking Converse because somebody in a band wore them. (Shout out to most members of Good Charlotte!) Does that mean I have any less right to wear a pair of canvas and rubber shoes? Absolutely not! If someone called me out on it, any reasonable person would laugh. So why is it okay to dissect a woman or girl's interest in gaming?

I don't know the answer to that question. To me, it's similar to asking why a guy can't be interested in sewing, knitting, baking, or generally anything considered handicraft. One thing I've learned in my time working with the public is that people (even as preschoolers) are very different, and that is how they're made. Who are we to do anything but encourage each other to find things that make us happy? That is why the little girl in the Black Friday ad gave me the warm fuzzies: another young girl may feel a little less alone. Just as much as a young guy may feel encouraged by someone like them in a makeup ad.

Make a difference. Choose kindness over criticism.
How will you make change within this narrative?


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