Representation is Important

I am taking a quick break from frantically typing my candidacy/Congress paper to write something quickly about representation.

I grew up seeing no one that looked anything like me. On first glance, that may seem a little bit odd, given that I’m white. In the late 1980’s early 1990s, dolls and action figures (with my preference being a particular set of anthropomorphic ones) were predominantly white. Though in recent years there is more diversity in skin tones and hair types for these toys, they are still cater to white children.

But I am not talking about race. I’m talking about dis/ability. Although there were toys whose skin colour and hair type was akin to mine, there there has never been a toy that has some of the other physiological features that I have  – or perhaps more accurately, am lacking. Maybe this lack of representation was part of the reason why I never had an interest in playing with dolls. A British Company called Makies has recently started a line of dolls called Toys Like Me that have adaptive technologies, scars, and birthmarks (as well as a variety of skin tones, ethnicities, hair types and eye colours).

Maybe if this company had been around when I was little I would have been more keen to play with dolls (but maybe not). Perhaps this is also why I identified so strongly (and still do!) with the Ninja Turtles: they only have three fingers. Spoiler alert: I don’t have ten. This might as well be why I liked the X-Men cartoons so much: I knew that my condition was not normal, a mutation.*  At seven, when the cartoon debuted, I didn’t have a detailed understanding of cell replication, but I did understand that something went ‘wrong’ in utero.

Somewhere along the way, I read that in Ancient Sparta, dis/abled infants were left to die. I recall a few years later this was reiterated in both my World History to the Sixteenth Century (CHW3M) and World History: The West and the World (CHY4U) classes in high school, which made me very uncomfortable. There is evidence that this was a myth; however, it is still perpetuated as truth in popular culture, such as in the “testosterocket” film, 300.

This is all a very long preamble to say that a) disability is depicted in the society as negative, an aberration; and b) I wish that there were people in popular culture/media that look like me.

I am fortunate, I suppose, that syndactyly has finally “made it” into popular culture: Jimmy Darling, from American Horror Story: Freak Show has ectrodactyly with syndactyly. I haven’t watched the fourth season of AHS quite yet so I am not sure how to classify Evan Peters’ character. The whole human zoo/circus ‘freak show’/exhibition of difference does not sit well with me. That is why I would love to write an autoethnographic academic piece on representation and AHS: Freak Show. I’m probably one of the best people in the world (owing to the rarity of congenital hand malformations) to write it.

I think it is also why I’ve found writing academic pieces on (mis)representation both satisfying and ‘easy’. I get it. I don’t understand what it is to look different because of being racialized, but I do understand what it looks like to look different than a ‘normal’ human. Writing those papers has been a big “fuck you” to everyone that has called me a freak.

Earlier today I came across a brilliant response to the new Mad Max reboot wherein the author, a fetal amputee–another type of upper limb malformation–talks about the Furiosa character. Unbeknownst to me was that Furiosa is also a fetal amputee. Like the author of the piece, I have

NEVER seen a physically disabled, kickass, female lead character in a Hollywood movie EVER – not once, until yesterday.

I happen to be seeing the film tomorrow, and this has made me even more excited than I already was (anything that upsets the MRA is positive in my book).

The author continues,

I am just about the biggest advocate for “representation matters” there is, but as a white woman I never really felt it applied to me all that much. Watching Fury Road, I realized how wrong I was. I’ve been this way my entire life and I’ve never felt “handicapped.” I’m disabled, yes – there’s shit I just can’t do, but an invalid I am not. For the most part I’ve always approached life with a “figure out how to do it and just get it done” attitude; I am loathe to admit I can’t do anything and I never give up without exhausting all the possibilities available to me. Watching Fury Road, I felt like I was watching my own struggle brought to life (albeit in a very fantastical setting), and I don’t think I ever realized how truly profound that could be for me.

So yeah, representation is important. IT IS SO IMPORTANT.  I too feel like I have been waiting my whole life to find a character that is also dis/abled but isn’t depicted as feeble or incompetent.  I really like how dis/ability isn’t the central defining characteristic of Furiosa, and I’m very happy that it hasn’t been used as a marketing tactic.

I suppose I will have more thoughts (and probably a bunch of feels) after seeing the film tomorrow night.

But first I have to figure out my presentation and finish writing that paper…


*For more on that, see this postthis post, this post, this post, this post, this post, and this post.

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This entry was posted in Diss/ability, Observations on Life Outside of Academia and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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