Diversity of xkcd comic characters

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Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Sorenscreen » Wed Dec 16, 2015 3:50 am UTC

When I started reading xkcd it was surprising and really emotionally meaningful to me to that the strip includes characters I take to be women, frequently saying smart and funny things. As a member of a community of graduate students in the sciences, where women are largely underrepresented and are subjected to both overt and subconscious sexism, I greatly appreciate the role of comics to shift expectations and perceptions.

I just saw a post about Charles Schulz' introduction of a black character into the Peanuts comic, why he did it, and what impact he hoped it would have, and it spurred to me make a suggestion I've been thinking of for a long time.

Within the minimalist limits of xkcd's drawing style I think there could be room for 1) hair that is not straight 2) head garb including hijab or turban.
I appreciate that a strength of the comic is that ambiguity of the characters puts focus on the text, and I like that sometimes the gender is ambiguous as well However, knowing what a feeling of empowerment it gave me to interpret some of the characters as female makes me want to extend that feeling to others who are marginalized in the sciences and society at large.

Thanks for your consideration.

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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Copper Bezel » Fri Dec 18, 2015 11:17 pm UTC

Randall Munroe doesn't actually interact with the forums, so this isn't really a very effective place for making requests directly.

Something I rather like about the Extra Credits video game design series on YouTube - the series uses comic-frame-like images to illustrate interactions and concepts in tableau form, either in illustration of mechanics within a game or interactions in play outside and so on, and the characters are extremely stylized (having, for instance, no arms or necks). There are "avatar" representations of the show staff who appear in some of these, but most of these frames use "extras" as representative gamers or game characters, and what's nice is that there's a variety in skin colors, gender, and apparent cultural backgrounds, including characters wearing hijabs. It's really nice to see.
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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon Dec 21, 2015 2:34 pm UTC

I think the abstraction of stick figures mostly makes skin color, at least, irrelevant. It's an art style that's sufficiently abstract as to make most identifiers irrelevant.

SBMC, I suspect the author of using a randomizer for color and gender. For a while, at least. Early on, there's a strong bias towards "looks like the author" and what not, but that seems to have faded as time passed.

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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby jewish_scientist » Fri Jan 01, 2016 12:22 am UTC

That seems like a really bad idea. Imagine if you were creating a new sitcom for T.V. and a bureaucrat said that it could not be aired until two more character where added; one muslim and the other a Pacific Islander, and the both had to be 'straight men'. You would be annoyed that these new characters were forced into the cast, the actors would feel uncomfortable because they would know that the only reason they had a job was because of how they looked and the audience would feel beaten to death by the patronizing P.C. Police. Having a diverse cast that does not follow stereotypes is a good thing; but it cannot be forced into a work. The new Ms. Marvel comics are about overcoming labels and stereotypes, which is why they star a Muslin teenage girl. Except for individual comics, XKCD is not about minority oppression, racism, etc., so adding a minority character would be awkward. Randall did not have to give his characters a race, so he did not. I could claim the Black Hat was French, Chinese or Native American and no one could prove me wrong. Extra Credits and Animorphs, a series of children's books, are also not about those topics, but they had to make their characters a specific race. What they did was they made some of the characters minorities, and then moved on. To be honest, I usually forget that Marco, one of the protagonists in Animorphs, is Latino and would forget that Casie, another protagonist, is black if the cover of 1/6th of the books did not show a picture of her.*


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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Angua » Fri Jan 01, 2016 8:02 am UTC

Funnily enough, a work does not need to be about minority oppression for a minority character to be cast. The fact that you think it would be awkward if today's character with one line happened to be wearing a hijab kind of indicates the problem right there. You suddenly jump straight to comparing it to actors feeling as though they only got the part because they fill a quota, when in reality all that is happening is that a few extra lines are added to a comic.

The OP was in no way suggesting that it be done all the time, just occasionally.
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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Copper Bezel » Fri Jan 01, 2016 11:07 am UTC

Indeed. Closer to the mark is the comment about Animorphs and Extra Credits (along with most things that are not xkcd, like Spice World, soap advertisements, and Wheel of Fortune) containing people with definite races. Stick figures don't generally have readily discernible races, but Randall's do often have hair. Having said hair afro-textured or not, or veiled or not, are binary choices with no default setting. (Five or ten to one odds each, globally, but even one in ten chances do happen sometimes. Once in ten, in fact.)

The implication of forgetting that Cassie is black also implies assuming otherwise that she's white; it wouldn't have made sense for your example to say that you sometimes forget that Jake is white. Characters existing only as indirect descriptions in a novel or a few representative lines in a comic of stick figures are not received as true generic concepts on which your brain is withholding judgement of any attributes not explicitly presented; readers project an associated cloud of people properties to them, which is why we think of them as characters at all.

The only PC police are the people who scream tokenism every time a minority character shows up in a role that doesn't "need" to be a minority character. If you're already talking about Marvel comics, I don't need to list examples of those reactions.

And the negative implications of studio mandates are a result of the fact that studio mandates are bad and everyone hates them, like death and taxes, and also completely orthogonal to the point. If you had said "Imagine someone is trying to make a sit-com, but decided they really wanted to include a straight male Muslim and a straight male pacific islander, and now imagine how difficult that would be and how uncomfortable it would make everyone" ... what?
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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon Jan 04, 2016 4:27 pm UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:The implication of forgetting that Cassie is black also implies assuming otherwise that she's white; it wouldn't have made sense for your example to say that you sometimes forget that Jake is white.


Why on earth wouldn't that make sense?

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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Copper Bezel » Tue Jan 05, 2016 4:40 am UTC

If you "forget" a character's race, you're necessarily inserting another in its place. This is not specific to humans, as in the classic example of saying "balloon" and asking the listener what color it was (usually red). That's how brains work, and it doesn't make any difference whether it's Basically Decent in this particular case, because it's an artifact of intelligence itself. We make assumptions based on a mental model of the general class of thing.

Looser but still a true statement is (this one's presumably culturally dependent) that people will in most cases fill in that model either with a person who resembles themselves, or with a person who resembles an assumed norm based on context cues. That could be based on general stereotypes of roles and things (expecting doctors to be male or computer programmers to be white) or just repetition with, in this case, Western media - we're used to seeing white people in books and movies and so on, even those of us who aren't white people.

Or, short version, people make racial assumptions. There's no point in being embarrassed or prickly about it.
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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Jan 05, 2016 3:35 pm UTC

But why is it unreasonable to insert one color, but totally reasonable to insert another.

Colors are just colors. So far as I'm aware, there is no intrinsic reason why a person's default human image HAS to be white.

As far as books go, this is usually a result of calling out exceptions. If you explicitly label everyone who is a minority, but don't label the white ones, then yes, assumptions will be made on the part of readers. This is stupid common. If you don't label ANY of them, you kind of have a blank slate.

This is more true for levels of abstraction. If you ask a person to PICTURE a balloon, yes they picture one with a color. If you draw a stick figure balloon in a black and white strip, and ask the person to describe it's color, they will no longer answer red.

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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby doogly » Tue Jan 05, 2016 3:44 pm UTC

Consider the Hacker Koan, of Sussman's enlightenment.

Spoiler:
In the days when Sussman was a novice, Minsky once came to him as he sat hacking at the PDP-6.
"What are you doing?", asked Minsky.
"I am training a randomly wired neural net to play Tic-tac-toe", Sussman replied.
"Why is the net wired randomly?", asked Minsky.
"I do not want it to have any preconceptions of how to play", Sussman said.
Minsky then shut his eyes.
"Why do you close your eyes?" Sussman asked his teacher.
"So that the room will be empty."
At that moment, Sussman was enlightened.


Saying "There does not need to be a default, and white doesn't need to be the default" is not actually addressing your brain's tendency to do that. It is closing your eyes and expecting the room to empty.
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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Jan 05, 2016 6:03 pm UTC

That is utterly irrelevant to everything I wrote.

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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby doogly » Tue Jan 05, 2016 6:27 pm UTC

Yes well, we cannot all accept enlightenment so easily.
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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Jan 05, 2016 7:56 pm UTC

You are seriously holding that it is a hard-wired feature of ALL BRAINS to perceive white as normal.

And that even considering that it may be a socially learned thing rather than a specific, universal physiological color preference makes one unenlightened.

Source. Please.

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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby doogly » Tue Jan 05, 2016 8:29 pm UTC

Oh no, that is the opposite of what I am saying. I am saying it is a default which many people have, certainly for learned reasons. Possibly there is also a native default that is "like me." I'm not saying this default is *natural,* I'm saying it's *happening.*
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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby LaserGuy » Tue Jan 05, 2016 8:31 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:You are seriously holding that it is a hard-wired feature of ALL BRAINS to perceive white as normal.

And that even considering that it may be a socially learned thing rather than a specific, universal physiological color preference makes one unenlightened.

Source. Please.


The part that is probably "universal" is that we tend to assume people look like ourselves. So, if I'm a white male and you ask me to draw a picture of a person, it's likely that I'll draw a white male. If I'm an Asian female, it's likely that I'll draw an Asian female. This bias is probably strongest in relatively homogeneous communities, and less so in very mixed ones. But this shouldn't be surprising to anyone. I mean, at the extreme case, if I've never met, or seen a black person before, it would be quite surprising for me to just spontaneously draw one.

The social part is that, layered on top of this, is a strong bias in Western media to use white characters, and particularly white males as protagonists. This isn't necessarily intentional or malicious--a lot of it probably filters from the above: If I'm a white male writer, it's more likely that I will be inclined to write a story about a white male character. But this gets permeated into the larger culture regardless, to the point where it is somewhat difficult for say, black girls, to find books or TV shows that star characters that look like them or have their sorts of life experiences. A show that features a predominantly or exclusively black cast is going to be viewed differently than the same show with an all white cast. Imagine, for a moment, if the entire cast of the new Star Wars movie, from the principals to the extras, were all cast as black actors. Except Finn, who is now white. Does it change the movie?

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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Jan 05, 2016 9:16 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote: Imagine, for a moment, if the entire cast of the new Star Wars movie, from the principals to the extras, were all cast as black actors. Except Finn, who is now white. Does it change the movie?


Save for continuity issues with established chars, not really.

And I don't have issue with the idea that folks tend to picture themselves, or that certain demographics are more frequently represented. Im merely annoyed that you acted all self righteous, and acted like a trivial concept already acknowledged by everyone in the thread was some special revelation. I'm not challenging that defaults exist, as is patently obvious from my words.

Scroll back up. Look at what was written. The original implication was that the default HAD to be white, and it didn't even make sense to think of black as a default.

I also noted the discrepancy between imagining an x and an abstract image of an x. When I recall an XKCD comic, I do not sit and imagine faces for each of the people represented. I literally recall stick figures. If I ask you to envision the number nine, you probably envisioned "9", not nine somethings. Missing this necessarily means entirely misunderstanding the idea of defaults. The stick figure isn't useful because it is white, or black, or can be either. It is useful because it IS a stick figure.

The power of abstraction lies in no longer needing to contemplate the individual instances at all.

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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Copper Bezel » Wed Jan 06, 2016 12:58 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:Scroll back up. Look at what was written. The original implication was that the default HAD to be white, and it didn't even make sense to think of black as a default.

In a completely different cultural and situational context, this could be different. We are, however, in the world we are in, and I was responding to JS's post, not a generalized case amortized over a multiverse.

And the stick figures are exactly as abstract as they are. They don't have skin color, but they do have hair. The suggestion as originally made was simply that working in the occasional afro-textured or scarfed head might be a good idea. That's something that's entirely within the detail resolution of these stick figures.

And no, it's definitely not a special revelation, which is why it was a little baffling for JS to respond in terms of studio mandates to reach the pacific islander quota and how insulted everyone should be by all of the PC, when, again, literally the entire argument was "maybe include occasional curly or scarfed hair".
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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Tyndmyr » Wed Jan 06, 2016 9:23 pm UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:Scroll back up. Look at what was written. The original implication was that the default HAD to be white, and it didn't even make sense to think of black as a default.

In a completely different cultural and situational context, this could be different. We are, however, in the world we are in, and I was responding to JS's post, not a generalized case amortized over a multiverse.


We're on the internet. The world doesn't have a single cultural context. The idea that people see white as a default is HEAVILY dependent upon your particular subculture. In some, sure, it's true. But it's definitely not a universal human trait in THIS universe.

Hell, Baltimore is 29% white. It's not even the default here. Sure, there's some bleed from larger national culture issues, but still, the idea that white is always the default is a really, really sketchy one. If you're in farm country in the midwest, sure. It'll happen constantly, and nobody will even notice. And they'll assume that everywhere else is the same. The assumption that it's impossible to forget that someone is white appears to be based on such assumptions.

If you expand your horizons beyond the US, it becomes increasingly more absurd to assume that people must view white as the default.

And the stick figures are exactly as abstract as they are. They don't have skin color, but they do have hair. The suggestion as originally made was simply that working in the occasional afro-textured or scarfed head might be a good idea. That's something that's entirely within the detail resolution of these stick figures.

And no, it's definitely not a special revelation, which is why it was a little baffling for JS to respond in terms of studio mandates to reach the pacific islander quota and how insulted everyone should be by all of the PC, when, again, literally the entire argument was "maybe include occasional curly or scarfed hair".


I don't particularly mind the original suggestion...I mean, I don't really care significantly either way, the abstraction level is high enough that I'm not overly worried about if hairstyles are depicted evenly...it seems like he's going for the absolute minimum distinction, artistically speaking. Whichever. Questions of style are fine either way.

My objection centers around your description of human thought. It feels like you're generalizing from your specific culture/subculture to a general human trait in a way that is factually incorrect.

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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Zohar » Wed Jan 06, 2016 9:38 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:Hell, Baltimore is 29% white. It's not even the default here.


And women make up 50% of the population, and yet the vast majority of characters in media are men. The discrepancy between the portrayal of people in media and the actual composition of people in the world is exactly what creates this false assumption of "defaulthood". The average character in media, definitely in the US and the English-speaking world1, is a white straight cisgender man in his 20s-30s. And it's the default assumption when reading a book with some character in it. Not because we're all evil people who can't tolerate other characters, but because we've been conditioned to expect those sort of characters.

1Possibly not the entire world, considering rather prolific movie industries in China and India.
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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Copper Bezel » Wed Jan 06, 2016 9:41 pm UTC

Quite so.

Tyndmyr wrote:My objection centers around your description of human thought. It feels like you're generalizing from your specific culture/subculture to a general human trait in a way that is factually incorrect.

To which I can only really say, what the hell ever. If you don't think that there's any kind of homogeneity or provincialism to anglophone internet culture, then I can't help you.
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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby leady » Thu Jan 07, 2016 11:47 am UTC

Zohar wrote:And women make up 50% of the population, and yet the vast majority of characters in media are men. The discrepancy between the portrayal of people in media and the actual composition of people in the world is exactly what creates this false assumption of "defaulthood".


Overcoming the Monster
Rags to Riches
The Quest
Voyage and Return
Comedy
Tragedy
Rebirth

however true you believe this list of story archetypes only three are equally applicable to both genders. The discrepancy is built in

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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Tyndmyr » Thu Jan 07, 2016 4:01 pm UTC

I think we're wildly off the rails here, all talking about different things?

But even granting that, I don't understand how a discrepancy is built in, because only three of those apply to both genders? I mean, sure, historical representation has been uneven, obviously, particularly in hollywood. But it isn't because it HAS to be. There's absolutely no reason why any of those basic tales must be gender specific.

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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Zohar » Thu Jan 07, 2016 4:26 pm UTC

I don't understand leady's point. But I agree with you 100%, the situation doesn't have to be this way. But it is. So we're talking about adding more diversity.
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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby leady » Thu Jan 07, 2016 5:03 pm UTC

My point / opinion is that you can't really have 50% of for example "Defeating the monster" without it becoming ludicrous and its getting that way a bit now unless you make every narrative high fantasy. Its a lot harder to write Veronica Mars than it is to write Jessica Jones for example. That's naturally even before the derived stories from history.

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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Zohar » Thu Jan 07, 2016 5:17 pm UTC

I'm sorry, I still don't get it. Let's go with your idea that we have to use the 7 basic plots structure. Wikipedia lists the following examples for "Overcoming the monster": Perseus, Theseus, Beowulf, Dracula, War of the Worlds, Nicholas Nickleby, The Guns of Navarone, Seven Samurai and its Western-style remake The Magnificent Seven, the James Bond franchise, Star Wars: A New Hope, Halloween, The Hunger Games and Shrek.

How would these stories massively change if you include a woman character instead of a man? Is there something intrinsic about Perseus that can't be achieved if he's replaced by a woman? We already have "women" examples of some of these stories (Hunger Games is led by a woman, the new Star Wars is basically A New Hope with extra diversity and a badass woman potential jedi, there are several James Bond-like movies with women, for example Salt or all of Queen & Country) so how is this plot intrinsically male?
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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby leady » Thu Jan 07, 2016 5:35 pm UTC

The dynamics of those stories are masculine and if you gave them a female lead they become anachronistic. I loved Buffy, but if 50% of all action protagonists become Buffy (i.e. the altered reality of 100 lb women having equal or greater physical prowess to 250lb testosterone beasts) it's a jarring farce. Sure you could take one or two of your list and make them work due to "buffy" novelty, after that it gets silly. All highly veering away from the representation question and I doubt you'll agree so I'll leave it there.

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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Tyndmyr » Thu Jan 07, 2016 5:57 pm UTC

leady wrote:My point / opinion is that you can't really have 50% of for example "Defeating the monster" without it becoming ludicrous and its getting that way a bit now unless you make every narrative high fantasy. Its a lot harder to write Veronica Mars than it is to write Jessica Jones for example. That's naturally even before the derived stories from history.


How?

Female protaganists in action movies totally defeat monsters, and frankly, the plot structure doesn't seem that different. Sometimes they do skip the action movie romance, but hey, that's a tired cliche that needs to die in a fire anyway, so no great loss. But even that is pretty apples to apples. If you really want that, you can totally still do that.

leady wrote:The dynamics of those stories are masculine and if you gave them a female lead they become anachronistic. I loved Buffy, but if 50% of all action protagonists become Buffy (i.e. the altered reality of 100 lb women having equal or greater physical prowess to 250lb testosterone beasts) it's a jarring farce. Sure you could take one or two of your list and make them work due to "buffy" novelty, after that it gets silly. All highly veering away from the representation question and I doubt you'll agree so I'll leave it there.


If you cast 100 lb men as punchy characters, it would also be usually odd. Barring martial arts tropes or whatever.

Poor casting doesn't mean that writing something is hard, though.

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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Copper Bezel » Thu Jan 07, 2016 6:44 pm UTC

Honestly, I kinda think there really are plots that say different things when you use characters of different genders, and even stories that reflect a particular person's experience more directly or less directly by simple demographic sections, and that's okay? Like, action movies presently try harder to appeal to male audiences than to female audiences, and also more frequently succeed this way. I don't think that's inherently a bad thing.

Women's experience has historically been less important to many kinds of accounts, and we do likely still overvalue male-oriented archetypes, which can be a problem. I really don't buy Booker's list there, though, or the further application we're potentially making of it here. You can just as easily take the next step up the abstraction ladder to Campbell and say there's only one story anyway, so who needs the extra restrictions?

Reading "overcoming the monster" as necessarily a physical challenge against a fantastic enemy means either 1) we're misreading it literally or 2) it's intended literally and is too narrow a category to be on that list in the first place. The latter might imply that the apparent overrepresentation of masculine archetypes is an artifact of the list's general poor construction. (Perhaps Booker found boy stories more interesting and decided they needed more categories.)
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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Zohar » Thu Jan 07, 2016 7:34 pm UTC

leady wrote:(i.e. the altered reality of 100 lb women having equal or greater physical prowess to 250lb testosterone beasts)

Um, I weigh 270lb and I can't really knock many people down. There's a reason it's called "hero". Most people aren't heroes, and usually we want to hear stories about the ones that are. Not to mention the hero that fights the beast could be a soldier (Zoe from Firefly), an astronaut (Sandra Bullock in Gravity), a little girl (Madoka) or any other number of characters that are not "Hulking fighters who use physical strength to overcome their opponents". I mean, how often does that happen in real life? Most struggles people go through aren't against physical enemies they have to beat in a fight.

Copper Bezel wrote:Honestly, I kinda think there really are plots that say different things when you use characters of different genders, and even stories that reflect a particular person's experience more directly or less directly by simple demographic sections, and that's okay? Like, action movies presently try harder to appeal to male audiences than to female audiences, and also more frequently succeed this way. I don't think that's inherently a bad thing.

Obviously, because gender is steeped with cultural expectations, Rey's story is different from Luke's story, and Korra's is different from Aang's. And some stories will be "stereotypically masculine" and led by men, and in an ideal world there's room for those stories, as well as "masculine" stories with leading women, etc. Unfortunately, we're in a world where 90%1 of stories are stereotypically masculine and led by white cis straight men, and the rest of the humanity has to fight to have a place in the spotlight.

1This number is 100% made up, but the real number is definitely disproportionately large compared to the % of white cis straight men in the population.

(edited to fix typo)
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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Angua » Thu Jan 07, 2016 7:44 pm UTC

Alien happens quite happily with a female lead overcoming the monster. Agents of Shield regularly has female characters taking monsters down. Grimm has had a couple of awesome female characters taking down monsters. The Librarian(s) series from TnT started out with a male Librarian and his Guardian always being a female (now they have 2 extra librarians and a female librarian as well).You've got most of the cast of Steven Universe presenting as female. None of these examples are particularly jarring because they are females. I could keep going on - Person of Interest, Rizzoli and Isles, Minority Report (tv show), etc.

Funnily, your innate bias at thinking that females are incapable of taking people down is what makes this jarring. Not because they are less able.
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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Copper Bezel » Thu Jan 07, 2016 8:00 pm UTC

Steven Universe has to be cheating, though, right? No fair listing things that are actually trying to be progressive.

:roll:

Zohar wrote:
leady wrote:(i.e. the altered reality of 100 lb women having equal or greater physical prowess to 250lb testosterone beasts)

Um, I way 270lb and I can't really knock many people down. There's a reason it's called "hero". Most people aren't heroes, and usually we want to hear stories about the ones that are. Not to mention the hero that fights the beast could be a soldier (Zoe from Firefly), an astronaut (Sandra Bullock in Gravity), a little girl (Madoka) or any other number of characters that are not "Hulking fighters who use physical strength to overcome their opponents". I mean, how often does that happen in real life? Most struggles people go through aren't against physical enemies they have to beat in a fight.

Copper Bezel wrote:Honestly, I kinda think there really are plots that say different things when you use characters of different genders, and even stories that reflect a particular person's experience more directly or less directly by simple demographic sections, and that's okay? Like, action movies presently try harder to appeal to male audiences than to female audiences, and also more frequently succeed this way. I don't think that's inherently a bad thing.

Obviously, because gender is steeped with cultural expectations, Rey's story is different from Luke's story, and Korra's is different from Aang's. And some stories will be "stereotypically masculine" and led by men, and in an ideal world there's room for those stories, as well as "masculine" stories with leading women, etc. Unfortunately, we're in a world where 90%1 of stories are stereotypically masculine and led by white cis straight men, and the rest of the humanity has to fight to have a place in the spotlight.

1This number is 100% made up, but the real number is definitely disproportionately large compared to the % of white cis straight men in the population.

Oh, fully agreed, not discounting that a bit. There's the hazard of falling to the Stephen Colbert "colorblind" fallacy on one side here and the idea that female action protagonists are a novelty on the other, and I disagree with both of those things, but I don't disagree with anything you're saying. So, like, I'd agree that physical conflict to overcome life's problems is almost always a metaphor or fantasy in some sense; I think it might be more likely to resonate more with male or masculine-tending audiences, but certainly not broadly and exclusively.

And there's really no excuse for something like, say, Red Tails being the first and only big-budget spectacle movie with a mostly African-American cast made in the US. = o
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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby LaserGuy » Thu Jan 07, 2016 8:08 pm UTC

Zohar wrote:
leady wrote:(i.e. the altered reality of 100 lb women having equal or greater physical prowess to 250lb testosterone beasts)


Um, I way 270lb and I can't really knock many people down. There's a reason it's called "hero". Most people aren't heroes, and usually we want to hear stories about the ones that are. Not to mention the hero that fights the beast could be a soldier (Zoe from Firefly), an astronaut (Sandra Bullock in Gravity), a little girl (Madoka) or any other number of characters that are not "Hulking fighters who use physical strength to overcome their opponents". I mean, how often does that happen in real life? Most struggles people go through aren't against physical enemies they have to beat in a fight.


You could also--shocker--cast women who are not 100 lbs to play action heroes and instead cast ones that are actually kind of buff in their own right. Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth) in Game of Thrones does a pretty convincing job of playing a badass warrior heroine.

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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby leady » Thu Jan 07, 2016 8:53 pm UTC

Angua wrote:Alien happens quite happily with a female lead overcoming the monster. Agents of Shield regularly has female characters taking monsters down. Grimm has had a couple of awesome female characters taking down monsters. The Librarian(s) series from TnT started out with a male Librarian and his Guardian always being a female (now they have 2 extra librarians and a female librarian as well).You've got most of the cast of Steven Universe presenting as female. None of these examples are particularly jarring because they are females. I could keep going on - Person of Interest, Rizzoli and Isles, Minority Report (tv show), etc.

Funnily, your innate bias at thinking that females are incapable of taking people down is what makes this jarring. Not because they are less able.


I'm only stating an reason as to why the volume of protagonists is disproportionate not absolute. It might be a theory based on my bias, but its one that at least matches the evidence both in the real world and in the written and ultimately media one :) and I don't think its just a male selection bias either

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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Zohar » Thu Jan 07, 2016 9:04 pm UTC

Wait, what? What do you mean "real world"? Do you think there are vastly more men in the world than women? Or are you trying to imply more men in the world can fight through throngs of opponents non-stop? It very much is a "male selection bias". When have you last seen a realistic action movie? There are probably a few examples but practically all of them have literally super-human feats.
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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Copper Bezel » Thu Jan 07, 2016 9:09 pm UTC

I think the more accurate version would be to say that it's less about reality as we live it and more about history as we understand it. Specifically, men have been hunting and fighting wars and also generally doing more physically hazardous things through most of the history that we care to remember, and we make a big point of the ones who did those things particularly well. While those kinds of experiences have terribly little bearing on our lives today, they are a very important set of metaphors that we draw from.

Separately, I do think that male audiences have had an outsized influence on the kinds of stories getting told, as well as that stories that involve fighting (whether against other people in differently colored uniforms or against cybernetic demons from other dimensions) have generally been seen as reflecting archetypes more resonant with male audiences, and thus have been more directly targeted toward them. But the historical archetype thing isn't insignificant, I don't think, in shaping our sense of "realistic", and, I mean, that's what culture is, so it's kinda hard to treat that as a necessarily bad thing. (It can be bad when it has bad results. It's just not inherently bad that we look to those models, so it's not surprising to find that we have done so.)
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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Zohar » Thu Jan 07, 2016 9:23 pm UTC

But it does have bad results, of course it does. For example, one of the bad results of it is there are some people right here that consider women are incapable of fighting, shouldn't appear in many stories, and there shouldn't be media about them.

As for men fighting and doing more physically hazardous things... I would say your view is very warped. By the way we tell history. Also, have you ever heard of childbirth? Because that's a pretty dangerous and physically hazardous thing, and quite a few more women have done it than men, and women have experienced that a lot more times than men have fought in wars.
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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Copper Bezel » Thu Jan 07, 2016 10:05 pm UTC

Zohar wrote:But it does have bad results, of course it does.

Obviously, this particular instance does. The thing that I'm saying isn't inherently bad and is in fact quite natural is archetype itself. The set of concerns we're discussing in this thread are a much smaller range of results that seem likely to be produced organically by that system, even apart from the selection bias that we both agree is clearly a factor in this case. The individual trends need adjusting, the fact that "realism" is not "reality" does not and really cannot be adjusted, so it's not really a factor here.

As for men fighting and doing more physically hazardous things... I would say your view is very warped. By the way we tell history.

I obviously disagree with your disagreement with me and can't do much more than that. I mean, yes, historically, this is an actual thing reflected in actual fact. Sexual division of labor in humans is older than the species is, and it has remained a pervasive force through most of recorded history. It does result in a special kind of expendability for men that has been an important part of most big fighty stories in the past, and in fact, people continue to find violence in media more shocking when the recipient is a woman.

But I'd also say again that the way we have told history is a part of "realism" or resonance, because simply by the fact that these stories we're talking about are abstractions and archetypes distant from any one individual's lived experience, they're necessarily drawing those ... abstractions and archetypes from things outside of the audience's lived experience? Like, um.

Also, have you ever heard of childbirth? Because that's a pretty dangerous and physically hazardous thing, and quite a few more women have done it than men, and women have experienced that a lot more times than men have fought in wars.

Is this a pissing contest now? Childbirth is definitely represented in a lot of narrative motifs and archetypes. It is not the same set of motifs and archetypes, because it is not the same set of things. We're really talking about violence here. That's what "action" is. "Taking people down" and "kicking ass" are kinds of violence. We frequently celebrate violence as a symbol for overcoming life's difficulties. Violence is still more associated with men than with women, which probably influences the degree to which violence movies tend to feature more male characters and more women feel left out of this particular set of symbols for overcoming life's difficulties. This does seem to be changing quite a lot, for reasons that have to do with making that set of archetypes and symbols available to everyone. And and terribly little to do with childbirth, not at all incidentally.
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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby Zohar » Thu Jan 07, 2016 10:41 pm UTC

I'm just saying, there's much more consistent proof of how hardy women are than men. As for women actually fighting, this list shows they have in the past.

As for the skewed representation of women in history being dependent on our interpretation, I'll link this article. Ignore the click-bait-y headline, it basically says sex in graves and tombs is regularly determined by artifacts and the researchers' assumptions of the genders that used those artifacts, and when actually examining the bone structures to determine sex, a much higher ratio of women-to-men is discovered than what previous researchers found.
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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby LaserGuy » Thu Jan 07, 2016 11:19 pm UTC

Zohar wrote:I'm just saying, there's much more consistent proof of how hardy women are than men. As for women actually fighting, this list shows they have in the past.


...And in modern times. In World War II, the Soviet union had numerous all-female battalions in World War II, including three in the Air Force. Yugoslavia apparently had 100,000 female soldiers involved in active combat. Women have historically fought in combat roles in the Chinese army and did so in the Second World War. Apparently the communist countries didn't mind women in combat so much.

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Re: Diversity of xkcd comic characters

Postby leady » Thu Jan 07, 2016 11:22 pm UTC

So off topic

as a thought experiment if you took 10 25 year old men and 10 25 year old women, trained them in hand to hand combat for three months, then had to rank their combat efficiency, what do you think it would look like?


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