Sunday, 12 August 2012

I am privileged to be within this disabled body

This piece explores the ways in which I am privileged in this life, to inhabit this body, it also looks at the oppressions I am subjected to and my methods of resistance to these oppressions. 

It is adapted from the opening of a lecture I presented to first year arts students recently at my university on disability and its social constriction.


It is a privilege to be speaking here today, to be given this stage, to be invited as someone with academic and insider knowledge of disability and importantly its social construction. I trust as arts students you are all aware of theorists like Foucault, who explores how power shapes us as subjects and how we resist it. 

This morning I am going to examine with you how living within this disabled body is both a privilege and an act of resistance in a society where the disabled body is routinely devalued and pathologised, as wrong.  

But first I want to explore the ways I am privileged in this life.

I am privileged to be at university, where too few women with disabilities find their way and fewer still into the realms of academia. To have found Cultural Studies as discipline and this unit which includes and explores disability from a social constructionist perspective allowing us explore and examine the need for social changes in how we view the non-normative body.

My very ability to speak is a position of privilege. I have a voice I can use and a body whose movements as I grow older I feel increasingly at home within. I am very privileged compared to other women with disabilities; not be living in poverty, to be free of forms violence, and forms of racism, to own my own home and to have no children (yet) which can be removed from my care, as a third of our children routinely still are. 

I am privileged that my body’s requirements and its daily routines are not regulated by service providers whose schedules do not take into account the late-nighters I still want to pull, sometimes with lovers :). I am very privileged to come from a family and have found friends who encourage and find joy in my difference and the perspectives I bring, the knowledge I hold. 

I am privileged. 

But in acknowledging my privilege, owning what power I do carry within me, within this body, I am also routinely disempowered and disabled by a society which views my non-normative body as less than the ideal, the less then the so called normal. And has designed the built environment in ways which structurally exclude me.

 I am stereotyped. As that brave little young thing who brought tears to the eyes of a lady as I reached for the tofu in woolies the other week- yes its hard trying to be vego. To that speed demon who just won’t stay off the roads around campus-I keep finding myself in trouble with uni security-one of the down sides of having the uni on a hill I guess :)

I am stereotyped by the stranger in the street who felt the need to stop and tell me if he was me he’d go home and kill himself right now, by the psychiatrist who told me he’d do the same thing.  

My being here at all is an act of resistance -in a society which filled with the message ''better off dead then disabled''.

I come to you with stories. 

A body full of stories. Stories of this body framed by this society as a personal tragedy, a story which I am asked to repeat over and over again, when asked what’s wrong with you?

I bring you the story of how a part of my mind that turned off, stopped breathing as my tiny lungs gasped for air not long after birth. And this changed me, how my emotions, thoughts and muscles are intertwined, where big feelings run down my legs in tremors. How I am full of feeling, full to the brim, unable to hide it and now unwilling. 

My stories of my body, of how it is to live inside here, to endure experiences of discrimination and oppression as people view me from the outside and see me as less than them in need of pity, in need of help. My stories are rarely given a stage to be heard, drowned out by the narratives of disability as personal tragedy, disability in need of a cure. It is these stories we are see portrayed in media, in films, in magazines so much we may not even be aware we are seeing over and over and over again. 


Then I go into slides looking at the media and disability representation, eg the super-crip, the search for a cure and looking at the medical model of disability vs the social model. How the social model creates a mind-shift bringing  the new perspective of the social construction of disability, creating the disability rights movement and a need for social change. 

See post for more info on the social model