“This is primetime, no black people, no bad teeth.”
Even now, years later, the voice of the TV producer plays on a loop in my mind every time I watch 48 Hours-Mystery. I recall my immediate discomfort, how I leaned into the joke, how I allowed myself to partake and not to cause friction. In my effort to ease tension in the moment, I have adopted the lifelong inner conflict with my past self; wishing I had spoken up.
This is our issue, it seems. As women fight to be heard we make concessions to those with the power to project our stories. In order to be told at all, we must look right, come from the right towns, speak the right way. Therefore those of us who do not fit the mold of a “proper victim” seek representation from the Janes among us.
Jane and I fall into these molds, we are the right girls for television. We are easy to see as innocent victims. We have no baggage from the years of discrimination and disenfranchisement that our black, Latina, queer and muslim sisters do. We can illicit empathy from even the least attentive channel surfer. We could be your daughter, your sister, your friend.
And here lies another, maybe bigger issue. That we are worthy of empathy only if we ‘could be your daughters’ seems wrong, slimy and dangerous. If I am written as a girl you could know, if Jane is portrayed as a beauty who only a monster could harm, what happens when I live a life that strays from innocence. If a stranger cannot envision me as his sister, am I at risk of being rightfully victimized? This narrative that only yields to the “familiar” young woman endangers every woman who cannot or will not fit into its mold. By telling my story, Jane’s story, and allowing the exclusion of those who look differently, speak differently, live differently, am I too endangering them?