When I was 16 years old, hands flapping rapidly against the arms of the therapy room chair, a psychologist informed me I had Asperger’s Syndrome. I had never even considered it before, I barely knew a thing about autism spectrum disorders, but once I started learning, everything quickly fell into place. But it left me wondering: why was I diagnosed so late? How did no one notice, in all the years I’d been at school, that I was autistic?
This week, I have been compulsively following every aspect of Dylan Farrow’s open letter in the New York Times–its fallout, reactions from Dylan’s supporters, and, at times, the blatantly histrionic defenses of Woody Allen offered by some of his friends and colleagues. Dylan’s letter–and its detractors–triggered me to the point of being physically sick. I take my nighttime antipsychotic medicine and my daily morning mood stabilizer, all for my Bipolar Disorder-2 diagnosis three years ago, but I am haunted by conversations about Dylan. People that I trusted say she is a liar and mentally disturbed. These statements triggered me, and I thought I was headed toward a mixed episode with the amount of sadness and anger I felt. Reactions such as Stephen King’s tweet that there was “Palpable bitchery” in Dylan’s letter, or that of one person on my Facebook post about the incident, “You can’t take every sob story seriously, I know plenty of crazy people who would lie and try to convince the courts that the other parent was a horrible human being just to ‘win’ custody [sic]” have made my skin crawl. And those who “don’t care” and “will continue to watch his [Allen’s] films” may do well to heed the words of Beth Richie on the silence surrounding domestic violence: “Loyalty and devotion are enormous barriers to overcome.”
I know plenty of “crazy” people, too. I look in the mirror every morning, and one stares back at me. And here is what this “crazy” person has to say.
Love your body! Stop hating your body; start a revolution! These are just a few of the popular third wave slogans that are fairly well-entrenched as directives, or at least as aspirations, within feminist activism both online and off. There’s Love Your Body Day, sponsored annually by the National Organization for Women (NOW), Love Your Body weeks on various college campuses around North America, and thousands, if not millions, of web pages, graphics, and digital art pieces online that celebrate this theme and encourage women to do so every day. Many liberal feminists have proclaimed that body image –and a matching emphasis on loving your body–is “the” issue for the third wave, as this widely-anthologized essay by Amelia Richards explores.
At a basic level, LYB discourse can be a very positive thing, and it’s often a good stepping-stone for women who are new to feminist ideas. But it’s this very basic quality that can limit–and does –which kinds of bodies are acceptable to reclaim, have pride in, and even love. A cursory Google search for “love your body” brings up a plethora of images of white, visibly abled, young, cisgender, straight, and/or acceptably thin women encouraging other women to love their own bodies. From this cursory Google search, I found one image–the NOW Foundation’s LYB 2009 contest-winning poster designed by Lisa Champ–that shows a variation on the woman clip-art symbol with a (visible) disability. This single image was more than I was expecting to find, but even with this limited representation, there are still problems in how LYB discourse is built for and around abledness–not least of which is its leaving out of disabled bodies. The complex relationships that many women with disabilities of all kinds have with their bodies are left out as well.
In fostering understanding and empathy towards marginalised groups, media representation is one of the most important tools at our disposal. Most people consume media in some form, through books, tv shows, film and comics and other types of media. Through this we learn about the world around us and the people in it from a very young age. Portraying marginalised groups accurately and sympathetically can remove some of the prejudice surrounding them, so including these characters is paramount. Disabled people are one of the groups who are still lacking accurate and respectful representation in the media.
There have been some major disabled characters in the past few years; Artie Abrams (Glee), Hermann Gottlieb (Pacific Rim), Walter Jr.(Breaking Bad), Tyrion Lannister (Game of Thrones), Bran Stark (Game of Thrones), Professor Xavier (X-Men), Peeta Mellark (The Hunger Games) and Hiccup (How To Train Your Dragon) are among the most significant and well known. These characters all feature in popular films and TV shows and are very important for disabled representation.