Who Controls the Narrative: Thoughts on Being a Woman, Luke Cage, and the Presidential Election

*I was working on this before the election and I wish I had published it back then, but I hope it’ll still be relevant.*

**Content warning: discussion of sexual violence**

Narratives are what we tell ourselves to make sense of a disparate and confusing universe. Narratives have power. Narratives shape reality, our sense of identity, and how we empathize (or don’t) with other people.

When you control narratives you are taking on great power, and, if you are a moral person seeking to forward social justice (big if, I know), you are taking on great responsibility as well.

Thought 1

I am a woman. And it seems that everyone has an idea of what that means. And moreover everyone would like to tell me what it means. Or shout it at me while I’m trying to get to work.

Some of the most frustrating things I hear as a woman are from very well-intentioned people who truly have my best interests at heart. They are seemingly innocuous things such as: “You’re walking home at night?” “You’re traveling alone?” “You’re living where?” “You’re going on a date with someone from Tinder?” “You’re moving across the country with no job or housing lined up and you know absolutely nothing about the area other than what you picked up from a thirty minute visit a year ago?” (The last one might be me-specific.)

I in no way want to downplay the seriousness of sexual violence or gender-driven abuse. Honestly at this point I’m surprised I haven’t been raped yet. I feel like it’s only a matter of time.

Which is the problem.

Rape is a terrible reality for many women. 1 in 3 globally, 1 in 5 in the United States.

But it shouldn’t be considered the norm. Even by me in my own head. Pardon my French but it is FUCKED UP that I think it’s inevitable that I will be raped.

This is the narrative that I’ve grown up with. Men rape and women are raped. Men are violent and will hurt me if I don’t live according to a very strict set of rules that control where and when I go places. According to the narrative, if I don’t behave according to the rules of an acceptable respectable woman, if I drink or wear the wrong clothes, I will be raped.

HOW FUCKED UP IS THAT. This is the narrative that goes through my head EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

I’m not exaggerating. I’m not being dramatic.Women live in constant fear. Every day. Every interaction with men. We are weighing the consequences of our actions, judging whether we are within the bounds of the narrative.

This, we are told, is to be expected and accepted.  We are told it so often that we believe it, accept it, acquiesce to it.

There are so many reasons to throw out this narrative.

First, it isn’t even accurate. The rules don’t keep us safe. It doesn’t matter how we dress or act. We can still be targeted due to our gender.

Second, the fact is that anyone is capable of committing sexual violence and it is possible for anyone to be a victim. To say otherwise is to silence an already horribly marginalized part of our population.

Third, women are powerful. We do not have to live in fear. Living in fear is counter-productive to all the things I’m trying to accomplish. Particularly traveling alone. I love traveling alone. I’ve done it in the United States and abroad, during the day and the night. I will continue to do it. I love taking walks at night. I will continue to do it. I refuse to continue buying into a bankrupt narrative that doesn’t work for me. I can create better stories than that.

Thought 2

Now, let’s talk about Luke Cage. The best show on television right now. I don’t want to hear about Stranger Things or Breaking Bad or any of the other white-washed shows out there. I want to talk about Luke Cage. Because finally we see a narrative being controlled by someone other than a white man (0r even a white woman). It has a cast of black actors, shows multi-dimensional black men and women facing multi-dimensional problems. Not to mention the star-studded cast of black musicians. This is an example of the narrative being controlled by and for a minority. And it’s brilliant.

It’s certainly not the first of its kind. God, no. But it’s getting some well-deserved attention and is a particularly relevant, freeing, and constructive. Not to mention it’s also a hell-of-a-lot more interesting than the same “white man struggling with his fragile white masculinity” story we’ve been force-fed the last two centuries.

Thought 3

And so we come rambling-ly along to the current presidential election. I already wrote a piece about it. And I stand by what I said: even if Hillary Clinton has a troubling past, I believe that she’s willing to listen to her constituent. I believe she can change. I don’t believe the same can be said of the other guy. He has sexually assaulted numerous women and is likely to continue doing so. His hate speech is horribly destructive and inhumane.

I know that many conservatives are frightened. I know that they don’t want to vote for the corrupt wealthy elite (even though that’s what the other guy is). I know that they are familiar with and comforted by the narrative of a white man triumphing.

Which brings us back to point number one.

Women should be afraid, people think, so why is one running for president? She should be cowering, not attempting to hold public office. And why is she in support of minorities or immigrants, when all the minorities or immigrants they see are bit characters, stereotypes, or villains?

We need a new narrative. For women. For POC. For POC who are women and non-binary and queer in particular. We need to be writing and consuming and producing media that tells stories about and for these people. Because if we don’t we’ll continue to be trapped in this horror world, where women must live in fear, and men are trapped in a glass cage of emotion. Where POC are sent to prison or killed because they look like “a big, bad dude”. Where there are no “happy endings” for queer POC or queer people in general.

There is a mural on a wall in West Oakland, I see it every day when I ride the BART to work. It says “Culture is a Weapon”. I love this mural, and I take hope in it.

White culture, after doing our best to exterminate all other peoples on this continent, has sought to enslave or erase all other narratives. The power of Hollywood has done a lot to make this a reality, but it has not succeeded.

There are MANY wonderful examples of positive narratives, movies, TV shows, this thing called books, that exist already, and it’s our job to find out and support these voices. (Side note, it would be amazing if we could compile a list of these in the comments.) Let’s fight back with our votes, with our money, with our viewing.

We can change the narrative, not only through creating, but also by consuming. Think about what narrative you want to live in and pursue it.

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