All good things etc etc…
It’s almost over! As of tomorrow morning, I’ll have spent a full since I watching, reading, listening to and playing things starring women. Though I haven’t been perfect, I’ve been more successful than I expected in sticking to my media diet. I’m actually surprised at how easy I found it, once the Ladyist Experiment was properly underway. Within a matter of weeks, I’d lost the taste for anything else, and my pop culture radar quickly learned to tune out stuff with an excess of Y chromosomes. I thought that last part would be harder, that I’d need to strap myself to a bed so I didn’t go running off to see Generic Blockbuster 4: The Busting of Blocks, but I mostly forgot that the world outside the Ladyist existed. It got a little solipsistic every now and again, when I’d see a friend talking about a TV show, or an album, and I’d realise after a moment that no one else was on the same diet.
Now that the year is up, there’s one essential question: what was the point? It’s a tough question to answer, and I’m immensely grateful to the many people who intuited the purpose of the Ladyist without me needing to articulate it. What I can tell you, though, is what I’ve learned from doing this (hint: heaps).
I am a liar.
I lied to myself for a long time. I told myself that I paid plenty of attention to women, that I had a bunch of books and albums by women, and so on. It’s a lie that I think a lot of us tell ourselves, and the media works hard to reinforce that. We assume that the media is a meritocracy, that it reflects only the best and brightest, when there are far bigger factors at play. On some level, we all know that airtime is bought, not earned; why do you think it takes over a million dollars to make a Rihanna single? Creating that kind of zeitgeist-pop doesn’t come cheap, and the same applies for just about every movie, TV show and game you’ve ever heard of. There are industries built around this, and those businesses work to maintain the status quo. That’s not restricted to major outlets; if anything, insular channels like comics blogs or ‘nerd-culture’ podcasts can exacerbate the issue too, as they so often reflect a masculine world view. It was one of the earliest lessons the Ladyist taught me, but I never stopped realising how complicit I’d been in dismissing and devaluing the stories of women.
It takes a lot of conscious effort to change your relationship to the media, and finding out where to look was a real challenge for me in the early days to the Experiment. Hell, it’s still a challenge even now. But you only start finding when you start looking, so don’t delay. And when you do…
There is LOTS to find.
I’ll try not to repeat myself, but I need to make clear: there is SO MUCH out there that is about women. Some areas are harder than others, sure. Podcasts are still a cockforest (or ‘wanggrove’) for the most part, but I’m still coming across amazing podcasts starring women. (Kudos in particular to Radiotopia for their conscious effort to support and signal-boost women behind the mic. Check out Criminal or The Allusionist for some great storytelling or word-nerdery as your heart desires). It’s exciting to hear more women’s voices, literally so in the case of podcasts, but also figuratively in other media, because…
We need more women creators.
One of the catalysts for the Ladyist Experiment was a letter that appeared in Ms. Marvel #2. Leela, a 13-year-old half Gurjarati and half Filipino girl from Virginia, had seen herself represented in a way that was revelatory to her, and the sense of joy and empowerment leapt off the page. With that in mind (consciously or not), I chose to focus on representation, looking to see stories about women told in pop culture. Seeing people like you on TV, or in comics, or in bands, is an experience that is totally ordinary to me, but for someone like Leela, it can be life-changing. Not only does it reaffirm that Leela’s experience is valid, and important, it opens a wealth of possibilties: if a girl like me can be a superhero, what else could she be?
I still think representation is essential, but I’ve started to recognise how important it is behind the metaphorical camera as well as in front of it. As great as it is to see men writing stories from perspectives other than their own, that still limits the kinds of stories we’ll get to hear. With more women in creative and powerful roles, we’ll see a whole variety of stories, informed by new and different experiences than we usually come across. Think of Selma: the Oscar-nominated film about Martin Luther King’s march to secure equal voting rights in 1965 received a great deal of critical approval, with many remarking on the strength and variety of women on screen. Though we can’t know for sure, it seems unlikely that a male director would’ve placed as much significance on, say, Coretta Scott King as Ava DuVernay did. Such a choice isn’t exclusively the province of women, but the more varied our creators, the more varied our stories can become.
Women are the beginning.
There are so many voices that are steam-rolled by the status quo that I can’t begin to imagine the breadth of experience we’re ignoring. By choosing to tune in to women’s voices, I began to see the other marginalised groups: people of colour, of different abilities, of different sexual orientations and gender identities.
This struck me one morning, when I was locked in the autopilot routine of opening a store. PRX’s How Sound did a feature on Julie Shapiro, and included some of her work as Executive Producer on ABC Radio National shows Radiotonic and Soundproof. One of the pieces included was The Real Tom Banks, which I recommend you listen to right now.
The announcer spoils the reveal that I thought was so critical to the piece, so I feel less bad about doing the same here. For those of you who aren’t able to listen, it’s the story of Tom, a young guy in a small Australian town who tells us about Grindr and how it works. He talks us through some of his experiences with the app, and shares an instance where he’d arranged to meet up with a guy, only to have the guy see him and run.
The reveal comes when the smooth, confident voice we’ve been hearing is replaced by Tom’s own. It’s a marked difference, as Tom has a great deal of difficulty in speaking. Tom has cerebral palsy, and he usually uses a lightwriter to communicate. I remember stopping dead, standing in the aisle of a deserted store; radio folk call this a Driveway moment. In that instant, I realised with startling clarity how little I knew. I’d never consciously dismissed the idea that people with disabilities could and would know sexual desire; if you’d asked me, I would’ve laughed the question off as self-evident. But right then, I saw the boundaries of my own experience, and the unknowable expanse of ignorance beyond that.
That was three months ago now, and the Ladyist Experiment hasn’t felt the same since then. I have absolutely no regrets about the decision to cut out the stories of straight white men for a year, but I now see that I also excluded other critical voices. That’s a lesson I’ll carry with me, because…
This ride doesn’t end.
Yeah, I’ll once more be free to read, play, listen to and watch whatever I like, but it won’t be the same, even with the Ladyist finished. I find myself hyper-aware of podcasts that are full of men, and feel uneasy when I see dramatic gender imbalances in things I love (looking at you amongst millions of others, Avengers). Though I could do whatever I want, I’m not the same person I was at the beginning of the Ladyist, and that will affect the way I consume pop culture from here on out. Because if nothing else, the year of Ladyist has proven…
Men are boring.
Straight. White. Men. We are boiled rice; we are Everybody Loves Raymond; we are muzak; Omnipresent, oversaturated, over-hyped and under-developed, we’ve been in this hegemonic state for so long that we no longer know what to do with ourselves except, y’know, talk about ourselves; that, or revisit the toys of our youth (did you see that the Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot has been greenlit for a sequel? Are you feeling more or less suicidal now?). I’m tired of the same stories, with the same actors. Now more than ever, I crave variety; I crave different ways of thinking, of seeing. Having one woman (Avengers), one black person (…Avengers), one queer person (nope, didn’t even hit this mark, Avengers); these token gestures aren’t enough to keep me happy any more. And the same goes on the creative side: I’ll be more excited to see a woman’s name before a film, or buy a record by a person of colour, because those voices are the ones I want to hear. I’ll still see things by and starring straight white guys (Avengers 2 comes out soon!), but, to borrow a phrase from Shonda Rhimes, I’m working to ‘normalise’ my pop culture, so that it looks more like the world as it is.
The ride doesn’t end, but the Ladyist must. This is the last blog post, and I’ll also be wrapping up the Ladyist podcast (which, to be fair, has been languishing in podcast purgatory for months now).
I’m still refining some ideas for what I’ll do in the future, but I’ll definitely be making more podcasts. If you’re reading this and would like to start one of your own, let me know! I’m a pretty capable producer, and I’d love to help you get your voice heard. Women, people of colour, genderqueer folks and non-cis people get priority treatment; straight white guys, it’ll cost you a little, ok? Seems only fair to me. 😉