In this beautiful world we live in, there is not just one species, one genus, and one sole culture. Diversity is a strength not a weakness. We shouldn’t marginalize the different, but rather we should celebrate it. The characters we see in our beloved books, movies, and TV Shows become bits and pieces of who we are as people. Representation isn’t just mashing a bunch of different cultures together, but it’s allowing for roles that have their shows take place in ancient Egypt to be played by actual POCs (People of Color – who would actually be there at that time period) instead of Ryan Goosling with some bronze toner.
Leave Your Stereotypes at the Door
Often times, representation of many communities is displayed in crude, stereotypical mannerisms. Fine, one nerdy Asian boy is okay but why not a sporty one, an artistic one, a dyslexic one, or one with a flair for anything other than trying to get into Harvard Law School at age 5. These stereotypes hurt young kids who still have their personalities, morals, and ethics developing. Children will wonder why the kids on the screen who look, act, or represent their culture has nothing to do with them. They’re not the faulty one.
This goes with perpetrated gender stereotypes as well. In the media, women and girls are often characterized as being annoying, vapid, and needy individuals who can’t solve their own problems without the assistance of a man. Even if they are able to kick butt or save the day it’s at the lame excuse of “oh, I have four brothers who taught me how to fight” and discredit the female role completely. These harmful messages can be portrayed in subtle ways: the death of a strong female character (as a plot device for the man-pain of a male one), or having the woman wearing scanty clothes while the guys are decked out in fully-covered gear, or using the female as a weapon against the male (antagonist takes love interest and just so happens to place her in the perfect position to be saved). We need strong women who can take care of themselves, but don’t have to be lacking in feminine ideals, like wearing make-up and high heels, or are “not like other girls” to do it. Women are resourceful, smart human beings who should be portrayed as such.
Males are subjected to gender stereotypes too. “Be a man.” “Provide for your family (money-wise).” “Don’t cry, it’s for girls.” You’ll often see these messages thrown everywhere. What does be a man even mean? It means be strong, brave, selfless, and…it means boys and men of whatever age are forced into a dangerous role. Providing for your family doesn’t have to be in the value of currency. It could also mean showing unconditional love and support to family members, not missing little Jimmy’s play as Tree#3 in favor of another overnight shift, and treating your significant other as an equal and not making reckless choices in “the best interest for everyone”. Crying is a human emotional. You know who cries? Not just girls. Almost everyone does regardless of age, gender, or anything in between those social constructs. Suppression can often lead to pent up aggression.
Let’s face it, we portray unhealthy relationships everywhere. I’m not saying we need the picture perfect couple who know each other’s birth date down to the millisecond or can name all 107 of their family members by heart. Let’s keep it simple: relationships that help portray healthy standards of support, unconditional love, and respect. Respect as in, if the girl or guy says “no” its taken with the force of a hurricane.
It’s okay to portray unhealthy relationships too. Abuse, emotional manipulation, and neglect happen at any age. These should be shown with the goal of showing people of all ages that no one should ever be treated that way. A little boy pushing a little girl down face first isn’t an expression of affection and don’t let anyone else tell you anything different: it’s aggression and should be handled with accordingly. If someone likes you, they treat you well anywhere, anytime, and at any hour.
Shows like Disney and Nickelodeon are great networks where these lessons can be platformed. No, your kids aren’t too young to know “no” means “no” and nothing in between. They can learn how to treat other kindly, how to be a good friend, and how others should treat them. Kids are smarter than they may seem, and they pick up things quickly with the right images and messages being placed in their heads.
We don’t hurt the people we love.
We don’t trick them into doing things they don’t want to do.
People are not things. They don’t belong to anyone but themselves.
Be a good friend to those who have been kind to you, and even those who aren’t as kind.
It’s never too early for respect.
Disabilities – Not a Synonym with Lacking in Ability
Everyone should reach for the stars. Characters should help to represent the population of the disabled (whether mentally or physically) in strong, positive lights. They aren’t disregarded as weaker or lesser, just different, and maybe they’ll have to try a different approach in order to succeed in life, but they’ll get there. There is a startling lack of representation in this area. Kids should be able to see other kids with hearing aids, wheelchairs, or guide dogs and learn about it so it isn’t an issue when they meet others like that.
A Final Note,
Representation isn’t just for those who need role models to look up to or characters to relate to whether it be culturally, physically, or emotionally. It can act a strong guideline for those of us lacking in information. Media can be a positive space where we learn how to treat people who don’t come from the same cookie cutter mold as us. We are the future of our generation, ask for more diverse casts, or if you ever get the chance to, make your cast as future director or coordinate to be as diverse as the world we live in. You don’t have to make changes right now in this moment, but keep these thoughts in mind as you grow older, and put them to good use when you find the opportunity to.