Disability and entertainment: fighting delusions about disability
Hayleigh has a Masters in Creative Media Practises and is currently undertaking a Doctorate of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and she’s going to use her expertise to open up the world of entertainment to Disability Horizon’s readers. This month some delusions about disability are going to be put to the test.
I have decided to become the heroine of my own life. It may seem an obvious statement that someone should choose to be the main protagonist of their own existence, instead of the supporting actress role. But, how many of us actually see beyond other people’s expectations to find our own spotlight?
For me, the defining moment occurred when I realised (finally) that I was actually good at doing something – this turned out to be writing. Over the past ten years I have been training to become a novelist, scriptwriter, director and producer for TV, film and radio. Whoever claims to have been an overnight success is a bloody liar, it takes extensive time and commitment to become trained in these jobs!
I used to watch movies and believe that the stars and directors had to have been blessed by the hand of God – no ordinary person could do what they do… Turns out they can. And I can. Suddenly, I had proved to myself what I was worth and could see beyond the limits of my disability.
Still, at the age of 28 I am continuing to learn and grow. Perhaps even testing boundaries – then again, whose boundaries are they? Mine or society’s? This brings me nicely to the subject of the aforementioned heroines. As we all know heroines come in many forms, shapes, sizes and abilities.
We have the kickass heroines like Katniss Everdeen and Selene from Underworld; romantic heroines such as Elizabeth Bennet and anyone Meg Ryan has ever played; tragic heroines such as Juliet (where for art thou Romeo now, eh?) and Anna Karenina. Then we have the Gothic heroine – think the Bronte sisters and not Morticia.
If you have been reading my previous articles it will come as no surprise that much of my University research has involved delving deep into the catacombs of defining the Gothic heroine:
- She must at all times remain virtuous.
- Should be protected from all harm.
- Is often constrained by patriarchal institutions.
- Relinquishes all control over her destiny.
- After confronting her demons she eventually finds her place within the status quo.
Oddly enough, each time I stumbled upon a new characteristic, I found links between the ideal Gothic heroine and that of Victorian attitudes towards disability. Now we all know the horror stories of how persons with disabilities were locked away and hidden from view, and yes, we have moved on from those days, but how much have opinions actually changed?
I still find it hard to believe when I hear or read stories that depict men and women with disabilities as anything less than human. I am sure we all have our own examples but I thought I would list a few just for the hell of it:
- I once read a story where a young woman received surprise responses at her choice to wear make-up. Apparently some people didn’t see the point. Personally, as someone who has a thing for eyeliner on guys, I don’t discriminate against cranking up the make-up!
- I have heard of people calling authorities to check if it was ok for a person in a wheelchair to be outside on their own… (We are also allowed to vote, consume alcohol, and even inhale oxygen. Hope that’s ok?)
- One of my personal favourites – which has actually happened to me – is when someone turns around and says “you’re too pretty to be in that chair.” This depresses me for two reasons. Firstly, it’s a backhanded compliment (either worship at my feet or don’t!). Secondly, it thwarts my ambitions to become either a supermodel or a pole dancer! On the bright side as we are apparently not allowed to wear make-up I am assuming that this “prettiness” must be all natural… Thank you for having that delusion.
Then there is the idea that a female with a disability should be completely absent of a sexuality – in other words, we should remain virtuous. I think it is safe to say that society really needs to get over that one! If you take a look at the Relationships and Sex section of Disability Horizons, you will see how untrue this perception is.
Basically, they’re our bodies, our choices. I might consider writing a disability themed “Adult” book one day… Apparently there are a multitude of places on a wheelchair on which someone can be tied to. I haven’t conducted thorough research into this, so I might need volunteers! 😉
On the bright side, the Gothic heroine does have some redeeming qualities to tempt us into forgiving her damsel status. For example, through sheer determination she manages to overcome any overbearing villain who dares to rain on her gloomy parade. Okay, in the section above I mentioned how she eventually succumbs to the expectations of the status quo. Personally, I would say “meh” to this, but at least she made an independent choice. Perhaps that is the example she should be setting.
As a person with a disability, I feel it is not only my right but my responsibility to take full advantage of the choices we have now. Disability rights has come a long way in the past decades (but still has a long way to go!) and it is up to us to keep this going for future generations. One day they won’t have to worry about equality because we will already have done the ground work. We now have a say in our health and care needs; have access to education and employment; have a voice which shapes and improves society. And if anyone attempts to assume control over our decisions, it is up to us to fight back. We are not weak just because we are disabled and we don’t always need protected from the big bad world.
So my advice would be, even if people still see us as Gothic heroines, don’t worry because we have the power to fight off all those scary monsters.
By Hayleigh Barclay
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