Cultural norms shape perceptions. This is an unavoidable truth, but one that is rarely acknowledged. It isn’t important whether that lack of acknowledgement is based on a general unawareness or willful ignorance or something else — but simply that it happens.
The majority of the mainstream public is in the dark about many prejudices that seep into societal norms. One of the struggles many of us face is putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Majorities have trouble sympathizing with minorities or refuse to try. White people cannot be the target of racism, heterosexuals do not have to live with homophobia as part of their daily lives and a man cannot fathom life as a woman.
Since these harmful binaries are so ingrained into our culture and therefore our minds, it’s hard to be free of them. Minorities have to fight for their rights and majorities have to fight the internalized prejudices that they grew up thinking were acceptable.
That said, finding a movie or TV show with representation can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. You’d be hard-pressed to find a show without a white male lead with a female love interest. Sure, there may be side characters to give you glimpses, but nothing will ever remove that male lead from his spotlight. Telling anyone else’s story ends with either a commercial flop or a project that never makes it off the ground. The key, it appears, is to represent minorities but not enough to upset all the white men funding the project.
Such is the case of Daredevil, a Netflix original series created by Marvel Comics, starring Charlie Cox as Matthew Murdock aka Daredevil. But Matt Murdock is different in one way: Matt Murdock is blind. The “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” is unapologetically disabled and fights crime anyway.
With that in mind, think then how different the audience’s perception of Matthew would be if he was anyone but a white, straight man. Matt is a lawyer who graduated top of his class and runs a newly established law firm with his best friend. Coincidentally, they’re both white, straight and male. If Matt had been black instead, would we still find his backstory believable? We’d find it miraculous he became a lawyer, wonder how he stayed off the streets when he aged out of his orphanage and where he found the money for school.
If Matt had been a woman instead, would we still accept his crime fighting? Only if he was wearing a fair amount of leather and spandex, showing an impractical amount of skin and physically overpowered by the criminals far more often. We’d be reluctant to let her do her thing, insisting that her stunts and feats of strength were unbelievable. Her drive would be crazy instead of courageous. Her love interest would no longer be a side plot for her character but something that envelops her whole life.
And heaven forbid that Matthew, man or woman, was anything but heterosexual. The interesting thing about homophobia is there are plenty of people who claim they aren’t homophobic but still get uncomfortable and upset if they “have to see it.” Can you imagine if someone said they were not racist but didn’t like “seeing Blacks everywhere?” There would be public outrage, even if that outrage didn’t lead to any changes in the original behavior. People would riot, yet there are no riots for people under the queer spectrum who suffer from extreme prejudice.
The answer to “if Matt were gay” is a simple one: his show wouldn’t have made it off the ground. It would never have started. Sure, there are queer heroes. None of them are widespread or incredibly popular. If Matt were gay with his show still on the air, any romance would be erased from the show, leaving his sexuality implied.
The problem is not that Matthew Murdock is straight, white and male. There’s nothing wrong with being any of these things: you have no control over what you’re born as. The problem lies in why we never question why he is these things and never anything else.