The stories we have to tell

"Don't forget, no one else sees the world they way you do, so no one else can tell the stories that you have to tell." - Charles de Lint“Researcher Dale Spender in Australia used audio and video tape to independently evaluate who talked the most in mixed-gender university classroom discussions. Regardless of the gender ratio of the students, whether the instructor was deliberately trying to encourage female participation or not, men always talked more—whether the metric was minutes of talking or number of words spoken.

“Moreover, men literally have no clue how much they talk. When Spencer asked students to evaluate their perception of who talked more in a given discussion, women were pretty accurate; but men perceived the discussion as being “equal” when women talked only 15% of the time, and the discussion as being dominated by women if they talked only 30% of the time.”

My conclusion: men think women talk too much because they think women should be silent.

This perception problem isn’t limited to gender issues. Any person in a position of power or privilege thinks that any time someone outside their group talks or is recognized more than a tiny fraction of the time that the others are dominating the situation.

  • It is part of the reason that someone like Senator Cotton of Arizona can go on a national news program and say, with a straight face, that lesbians and gay men should stop demanding full equality and simply be grateful that we aren’t being publicly executed by the government.
  • It’s part of the reason the GamerGate goons start screaming that women are taking away their fun simply by suggesting that maybe a few games might be made that don’t treat woman as objects to be destroyed and avenged or taken as a prize.
  • It’s the reason that rightwing politicians and the like can claim that Christians are being oppressed despite the fact that: Christian holy days are observed as both state and federal holidays; two-thirds of the justices on the Supreme Court are Catholic; the President, Vice-President, Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader, Senate Minority Leader, House Minority Leader (heck, 92 percent of the members of Congress) are Christian; where many states have laws that explicitly exempt Christians from anti-bullying laws and policies at schools (in other words, Christians can bully anyone they want, as long as they claim it is due to their sincerely held belief); and where not one single state has enacted laws banning Christians from getting married, or adopting children, or being teachers.
  • And yes, it’s part of the reason that someone like Larry Correia and his cohorts—Brad Torgerson, Theodore Beale (aka Vox Day), and John C. Wright—can see more than one or two women or people of color nominated in a single category for the Hugo Awards and start screaming that science fiction is being taken away from people like them.

A bit over a year ago, Laurie Penny wrote Whose wankfest is this anyway? The BBC’s Sherlock doesn’t just engage with fan fiction – it is fan fiction for The New Statesmen which included this brilliant observation:

“What is significant about fan fiction is that it often spins the kind of stories that showrunners wouldn’t think to tell, because fanficcers often come from a different demographic. The discomfort seems to be not that the shows are being reinterpreted by fans, but that they are being reinterpreted by the wrong sorts of fans – women, people of colour, queer kids, horny teenagers, people who are not professional writers, people who actually care about continuity (sorry). The proper way for cultural mythmaking to progress, it is implied, is for privileged men to recreate the works of privileged men from previous generations whilst everyone else listens quietly.”

Laurie Penny is talking about the BBC series, Sherlock, and quite rightly pointing out that the series itself is fan fiction. It is being produced and broadcast on a prestigious network, and very few people would say that it isn’t real story telling, but the series is a re-imagining of stories written more than a hundred years ago by Arthur Conan Doyle. It isn’t sneered upon the same way that Buffy fanfic or ElfQuest fanfic or Teen Wolf fanfic or Supernatural fanfic is in part because the source material for Sherlock is in the public domain, but also in no small part because the people writing it are a pair of middle-aged University-educated white male British citizens.

Her insight doesn’t apply only to fan fiction.

Stories—whether they be fiction or the narrative of our existence or history—shouldn’t come from only privileged voices. They need to come from all voices, including women, people of color, queers, young people, old people, prudes, libertines, people who aren’t (yet) professional, and most definitely people who actually care about continuity. That’s why those of us who aren’t part of the dominant demographic need to tell our stories. And we need to make room for others to tell theirs.

5 thoughts on “The stories we have to tell

  1. I read a book in college by an african-american professor who talked about an experience during the hiring process at a university where, when the number of people of color on staff went from 10 to 15% the perception was that people off color would be in the majority if they hired one more. The anecdote was backed up by data. That stuck with me more than anything else I read in college– that even professional people who agreed that racism existed and created unfair hiring practices could be blinded by false perception.

  2. I found the name of the book I mentioned in my first comment. It is: “And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice (1987) by Derrick Bell.

  3. Why no link to the Australian researcher about men and women talking? I think the name is Dale Spender, and here is a link:

    I think there are other conclusions to the data than the one you gave. Men simply value what men say more than what women say, and they are used to dominating social situations. What is interesting to me is the percentage where an impression of domination slips from the dominant class.

    This idea links to the result that the other commenter mentioned about when they referred to the seminal work of Derrick Bell and how white people think “black people are taking over” when the number exceeds 10% in a social situation.

    And of course all of these examples tend to explain how the impetus for the SP/RP was based in false perceptions of the magnitude of the change in SFF.

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