Feminists and anti-racists and trans activists say thousands of perceptive and articulate things about the representation of their own in media. Even more thousands of people tell them ask what the point is. It’s just an advert, just a film, just a book, just a story. It has hurt anyone, has it? It’s not like this or that atrocity in real life. It’s taken me years to figure out exactly what to say back, but here’s my first attempt at a rebuttal to that.

Sure, those are stories. And what about the news. We talk about it coming in stories for a reason. Reports on the TV put together video reconstructions of dramatic events because they’re exactly that, dramatic, because news does exactly that, tells a story. Narratives are a much easier way to hold an audience’s attention than putting facts and figures across with nothing to link them together. There’s a reason school taught me about the English Reformation through the tale of Henry VIII’s woes in marriage, about the Cuban Missile Crisis as a dramatic showdown between Kruschev and Kennedy, and that I remember those events in terms of the people involved and what their reasons were, not from the dates of events or the terms of the Acts of Parliament or SALT treaties.

That’s how history works in my head: there are facts and fixed points there, sure, but I learnt it in stories – narratives, dramatisations, filtered versions of reality. And as long as the culture I live in is one that teaches us like that, stories never just stories, whether they’re calling themselves fact or fiction. Those are different kinds of story, certainly, but the way stories work full stop matters. They gives us frames of reference, sets of rules, they come bundled with all kinds of assumptions, and to some extent or other almost all of us use them to decode the world we live in. I want to understand anything that shapes me as much as stories have.

I want to break their rules. As long as the world stays in the habit of telling me about how the world I live in is shaped by a male protagonist, I’m going to keep asking for all the stuff that’s missing. I’m going to say say no, that’s a fraction of the whole picture, tinted and distorted; this isn’t a true reflection of our society.

We pick up a whole lot about to make and how to tell stories ourselves from what is and isn’t included in the official version. More people can place the names of James Watson and Francis Crick than they can Rosalind Franklin’s. She was an equal partner in the discovery of DNA and the only one of the researchers with a degree in Chemistry. This kind of preference is still a problem. The criteria my country’s state media organisation use for choosing noteworthy men and noteworthy women to celebrate at the end of the year seemed to be different, and there’s been limited reponse to assertions that them employing men over women by a ratio of one to five is a problem.

We learn from people who tell us stories and what we learn isn’t an objective picture of the world. Here’s another story you might have heard, one we tell like it’s universal. It starts: ‘‘when a man and a women love each other very much’.

There’s a lot in that statement for kids to decode: love is expressed through heterosexual intercourse and its natural result is children. It’s just a story. But no-one ever points that out to us in so many words, and it isn’t very often told alongside other stories about kids or about love or about families.

I want to notice that. I want to find the blind spots in my history. I want to dismantle all those assumptions, to pick apart how fiction works and use everything I learn from that to judge the stories we tell and are told. And I will do that without believing anyone who tells me anything is ‘just’ a story.

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