Invisibility is a tricky subject.
On one hand, those who are truly invisible in our culture tend to be the ones who suffer most. Yet the factors that reinforce this suffering are also, by necessity, invisible. If people never see injustice, they will never realize that it is there. If they never know it is there, they will never do anything about it. And so on. Ad nauseum.
For example, take this ordinary, everyday scene. It demonstrates how tiny aggressions, seemingly meaningless moments, can render you invisible.
After meeting Ming Doyle on Free Comic Book Day and getting a quick sketch of Mohawk Storm from her, I showed off my spoils to someone I know. This someone is male, and was with his male friend. He turns to his male friend. “Is that who draws Saga?” I answer, “No, that’s Fiona Staples.” There is a split-second pause. His friend replies, “No, that’s Fiona Staples.” Then, and only then, does he nod and acknowledge this answer. The friend was deemed more knowledgeable solely because of his maleness. He was not the one who had just stood in line, beaming, to meet a favorite artist. He was not the one who answered first.
Taken on its own, this incident is small. It perhaps seems petty to dwell on it, to force upon it some significance about gender and the geek community. But this incident will never exist on its own. It sits among a wide array of minor offenses, all of which made me feel devalued and underestimated because of my gender: in the 7th grade, during a spat regarding The Return of the King, I was told by a boy in my class that I was wrong because I was a girl. On countless visits to Game Stop, staff speak only to my boyfriend, never to me. The same man from the incident above once offered to lend me some comics, thinking he could get me into some books I’d never heard of (although I had), as I was “suddenly into comics.” Despite the fact that the first time I met him, I was dressed as Delirium from the Sandman.
I remember these incidents, because they reinforce and practically verbalize the cultural messages we receive every day: Girls don’t know anything about Tolkien. Girls don’t play video games. Girls don’t read comics. Again and again and again. These words are intended to make me and my lived experiences invisible. They are intended to force me to devalue myself. Sometimes the microaggressions hurt more than the big ones, the obvious ones. When someone says women should shut up about equality until they’re ready to sign up for the draft, or that women can’t be in leadership roles because of their periods, or the countless other overtly hostile messages we hear every day, it is almost less hurtful. Long ago, I conjured an armor made of eye-rolling and quick-witted replies to defend myself against these attacks. But there is a part of me that still doesn’t know how to deal with the smaller offenses. When a comic store employee ignores me waiting in line so he can talk to some boys about Magic: The Gathering, there will always be a part of me that wonders if it is all in my head. I don’t have the right armor for this situation, and I don’t know the best way to forge it.
When we talk about all the factors, micro and macro, that reinforce cultural notions like racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and myriad other ills, the burden of proof always lies on the victim. Someone will always ask you if this incident you describe is an isolated incident. It never is, but you can also never explain the compounding of all the insults, huge and small, that has shaped your understanding of this incident. It is impossible to describe, because it is the story of living every day, since birth, in an unequal world. When a stranger says “hey beautiful” to me on my way to lunch, it is not that particular man I want to break in half, but all of the men who have ever, since I was a preteen, shouted things at me or stared at me in public.
The same problem arises when you critique media. People inevitably try to argue that it is an isolated incident, that it isn’t that bad because it’s just this one movie or book. It’s just one employee in one comic shop. Or they rely on individual interpretations: oh, well, when I read that book, I pictured this character’s dark skin as meaning a tan white person. He was just giving you a compliment, you should be happy. These tactics are both themselves invisible, and a method for suppressing complaints, rendering justified criticism invisible. The people who make these arguments do not realize that they are enabling oppression, because most of them would deny that oppression exists.
Some people in the US think racism ended with the Civil Rights Act and that feminism became obsolete after Roe V. Wade. To suggest otherwise is to force people to consider their own, personal relationship to inequality. It is difficult to face reality. Sometimes knowing the truth about our world makes me not want to live on this planet anymore. But it is so much healthier than pretending to be too cool for politics, or whatever bullshit helps people avoid seeing what is happening around them. When people bemoan the apathy of others, they are really upset about the forces that keep us and our lived experiences invisible, and that, in turn, keep the forces themselves invisible.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that it is important. It is always important. The offenses great and small that remind you of your place in the social stratum. They are real. They are worth talking about. Even if they happen on a TV show, or in a classroom, or in a game store. They matter. If it makes you angry, there is always, always a reason why.
Stay strong. Stay angry. ❤
(P.S. I just needed a rant today. Early next week, expect a post about Pacific Rim: part cogent analysis, part gushing compilation of Guillermo del Toro quotes.)