Why Sexual Diversity in Media is Important
I’ve championed for more diversity in media for a while now because I want to see everyone get a change to be represented fairly and equally. One thing I’ve talked a bit about here recently is sexuality in media, be it the Ultimate Spider-Woman, Wonder Woman, or fans and their shipping ways, but I’ve never really talked about why it’s important. You’d think the reasons would be really obvious but since anything beyond heterosexuality in media today is still pretty rare I believe I need to point this stuff out.
First and foremost let’s define our terms. When I say “sexual diversity” I mean representing any other sexuality than heterosexuality. Homosexual, transsexual, bisexual, asexual, etc. Listing them all would take up far too much space because, despite the general cultural norm, humans are quite diverse in what we want to have sex with.
If we’re so diverse then why do we have heterosexuality as the cultural norm? There is no one true answer to this and there are many reasons for it. Since older cultures embraced homosexuality it’s not something that has just always been like that. Our culture has evolved a general fear of “The Other” or something that isn’t supposedly the “norm” for the majority. So because we have this “norm” focused culture where anything outside this “norm” is considered “wrong” and “unnatural” to our cultural identity. We’ve tried shunning away anything that is “Other” and in some cases try to force people into becoming the “norm.” This cultural identity is forced on us at an early age, mainly through the media we’re exposed to, so the “norm” feels natural.
That is part of the reason why more diversity in media is important. The more diverse it is then the more we move closer to children not growing up thinking that only one lifestyle is acceptable. A place where bigotry and hatred over someone being different will happen less and less if people don’t think of them as “The Other.”
The big issue with sexual diversity is that it’s not seen as something appropriate for children. So trying to get non-heterosexual characters into cartoons, children’s books, and such, is facing a massive controversy. The problem is that children and especially teenagers do face a lot of identity issues and especially sexual ones since they are just discovering sexuality. If sexuality was more represented in media then they’d have a much easier time discovering themselves since they’ll know there’s more than just the “norm” out there.
Some argue that it should be the parent’s job to tell their children about other sexualities, but why? Or more specifically, why should heterosexuality be allowed to be shown when it is also something parents should tell their children about? Some argue that it’s “damaging” to a child’s development if they learn about homosexuals at a young age. Why is it not “damaging” to show ten year olds interested in the opposite sex? How is it “damaging” in the first place? What’s wrong with kids seeing more than one way to be “normal” in their media?
Sexual confusion leads to bullying when people try to express themselves, again because they’re seen as something not the “norm.” Showing that, say, stars of action cartoon can be non-heterosexual will spread the idea that it’s ok to be that. Children have a hard enough time growing up and if we can make it easier for them then we should.
I’m not going to go into any details on how such shows could be written and not be turned into silly PSA’s that no one likes. That’s not the purpose of this article and could be the subject of a future one. Just to be clear though what I want to see is homosexuality treated no differently than heterosexuality, nothing more. I do think this is an important issue that needs to be addressed in media, and carefully as well.
However since anything remotely close to children’s media, particularly comics and video games, which touch on this subject generate massive controversy we still have a long way to go. There was a big fuss made over Northstar from X-Men, who’s been out of the closet for decades, getting married, there was an even greater uproar over Archie comics “daring” to add a gay man to the cast. Then again this isn’t universally accepted in adult media either. One Million Moms recently called for a boycott over a new sitcom about a gay married couple having a child. So there’s still ways to go in a lot of places.
Cultural changes don’t happen overnight, they take time and effort, but we need to not shy away from them. Outrage over non-heterosexual characters simply existing in any media needs to be countered with the acceptance that there are more than just straight people in the world. We need to show them that it is ok to be whatever you want to be. Cultural change can happen, we just need to stand our ground and stick to our resolve.