The importance of representation
The importance of representing unheardvoices
In a diverse, multicultural and multifaceted society, it is incredibly important to amplify and share the stories of all kinds of people. People from all walks of life must be seen and heard in order for them to feel validated in society. For some groups of people, this process is subconscious and easy; they are represented and validated within their families, throughout school and in the media. But for others, the process of feeling noticed and validated is much more difficult and nuanced, and there’s a lot more work that needs to be done.
Taking the LGBTQ+ population as an example. We conducted a recent project for new kids show which is in development, Mustard and Ketchup - the great names of two LGBTQ+ badgers. It involved a lot of desk research to understand about the lived experience of growing up as an LGBTQ+ person in the UK. To give our findings a little bit of context -
There are 5.6M children between the ages of 9 and 16 in the UK, we know that 10% of the overall population identify as LGBTQ+, therefore there are approximately 560,000 LGBTQ+ children 9-16 in the UK. Whilst everyone goes on an individual journey there is a significant gap between the average age children realise that they may not adhere to the heterosexual norm (average age is 9 years old) and when they begin to self-identify as LGBTQ+ (average age is 16 years old).
Despite the prevalence of LGBTQ+ people, representation is minimal, often resulting in severe loneliness and isolation. We found that a lot of LGBTQ+ children are living with feelings such as:
- They have no one to relate to and therefore no way to normalise and validate their feelings
- Their sexuality is ‘wrong’ or ‘abnormal’
- Overwhelmed by feelings of isolation, which increases risk of depression, anxiety or other mental health issues which LGBTQ+ people significantly over index with compared to the general population
Many institutions such as the family, the school and media are turned to for support, but sometimes it’s not always there. The media is a particularly interesting institution as it has so much opportunity to amplify the voices of everyone in society but largely, it chooses not to. In recent years there has been a lot of development around representation in the media that we can’t deny, however increasing representation isn’t the only pillar to success here.
10.2% (90) of the 879 series regular characters expected to appear on broadcast primetime scripted programming in the US were counted as LGBTQ+. However, most representations depict adult characters; there are scant depictions of LGBTQ+ youth. Where they are represented
- Rarely, if ever, the hero
- Sexuality IS the storyline
- Sexuality if the jeopardy
Representation of LGBTQ+ characters in mainstream media is increasing. However, representation is limited, and where it does exist is dominated by negative characterisations, tropes and stereotypes. Crucially LGBTQ+ representation remains conspicuously absent in children’s media. Children’s programme makers and commissioners have an opportunity (and responsibility) to help realise this equality and challenge the misperceptions of the minority. All of this is applicable much wider than the LGBTQ+ community and therefore encapsulates a whole load of people who exist in minority groups.
Ultimately, we believe it’s about education, normalisation and validation which will lead us to a much more inclusive, understanding and equal society.