Have you ever noticed that it seems we need to justify our existence?
And by “we” I mean everyone. Literally everyone. It’s just that some people seem to have a head start and find it easier to make that justification than others.
Ok, I think it’s easiest to explain what I’m talking about by starting with minority representation in fiction. The “default character” is a white, straight, cis, fully abled, gainfully employed man. The more a character deviates from that starting line, the more people will demand that the deviation be explained and justified. Sometimes this is extreme – there won’t even be a woman or a character of color unless the plot demands it. But even when it isn’t so extreme, it’s always there to some degree. Disabled characters are incredibly rare in fiction, and even MORE rare when the story doesn’t demand it. The more a character deviates from the default, the more people find it outlandish. “What’s next, a deaf lesbian Lebanese character?” I have even seen people say that they are ok with diversity in fiction, but not “forced” diversity. Ok, how do they define “forced diversity”? Apparently that is any diversity in the story that isn’t justified by the plot.
I’m not even kidding.
So of course, then you have people saying that hey, maybe you don’t need to justify the existence of varying types of characters. Deaf lesbian Lebanese women EXIST. Disabled people EXIST. People just ARE, no compelling plot reason required.
Buuuut… I want to take this a step or two further. See, the attitudes people have about diversity in fiction extend to their attitudes towards people in real life. Not only in terms of the various forms of bigotry (I mean, totally that too, there’s just more) but in terms of people needing to justify their existence. Just in general. All the time.
The example that first got me thinking about writing this blog post was how “contributing to society” is considered synonymous with having a job that earns money. Do you have a job that makes money? Well no matter what it is you’re doing, you are contributing to society. Do you not earn money? Then you are NOT contributing to society, no matter what else you are doing. It’s an incredibly toxic concept, but it’s absolutely pervasive.
It shows up in other places too, though. Like the concept of having to earn our basic survival needs. People will say that we must EARN our access to healthcare, earn the food we eat, earn the roof over our heads, earn the clothes we wear. These are all things that we need to survive. When people say that we must earn those things, what they are really saying – the idea that is behind their words – is that we must earn the right to exist. That we must justify our existence in this world by being “worthy” of existing.
As I’m pretty sure is obvious by now, I disagree. I REALLY disagree. I firmly believe that everyone should have access to the basic necessities of living. I believe that this is what society is for. I’m not looking to go into detail in this post, so I’ll just mention that there is increasing amounts of evidence that this attitude is also extremely economically practical. In the end, when the poorest among us does better, we ALL do better.
You can stop reading here if you want. I mean… ok, you can stop reading any time you want, obviously you don’t need my permission. What I mean is we got past the bit that’s about me being opinionated and now is the bit where I get more personal.
See, I really, truly believe all those things I said above. I apply those beliefs to everyone…….
Apparently I have internalized the whole concept of needing to justify existence enough that I really feel like I need to justify MY existence.
And I feel like I’m not managing it.
I can’t justify or defend the space I take up in society, in my friend circles, hell sometimes even within my own home. I know, intellectually, that I shouldn’t HAVE to justify or defend my existence. While plenty of random strangers have acted like my existence isn’t worthwhile, those closest to me don’t act like that at all. In fact, they seem to like that I exist.
And yet, it somehow doesn’t sink in. I don’t work. I don’t have a job. I’ve done other things, like transcribing for the National Archives or house/pet sitting for people or heck, even this blog, but I don’t earn money.
And even though I don’t think this about literally anyone else, somewhere deep inside I think this makes me a burden. On everyone.
The thing that’s saddest of all is that I am far from the only person who thinks this way about themself. We’re taught that we need to earn our right to exist. Even if it shouldn’t be that way, even if we don’t actually believe it, somewhere deep inside so many of us still think that about ourselves.
Something needs to change.