In her Golden Globes acceptance speech for The Handmaiden’s Tale last night, Elizabeth Moss read out a quote by the book’s author, Margaret Atwood:
“We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.”
Last night’s awards ceremony was another night where I saw so many strong and powerful women being celebrated in the media. Women like Elizabeth Moss, Oprah, and Reese Witherspoon; women like Lena Waithe, Meryl Streep, Tracee Ellis Ross, Viola Davis, Michelle Williams, and so many more; women who have fought for greater inclusion and representation of women, of people of colour, of LGBTQ+ people. And as a marginalised person I am grateful that these women are using their platforms and their voices to speak out and forge a path for other to be able to rise up on their shoulders.
But at the same time, there is a huge part of me that still feels incredibly disappointed. Disappointed that the mission du jour in popular culture, which wants to fight against inequality and address a lack of diversity, has failed as a whole, as it has time and time again, to include people like me.
Did anyone else notice that in the initial social media statement for #TimesUp, the movement founded to fight against sexual harassment in response to #MeToo, that women with disabilities were not mentioned in the list of groups of women who deserved greater representation and equal opportunities? This despite the fact that women with disabilities are more likely to experience sexual assault, harassment and violence than women without disabilities, and often feel they are unable to report the abuse?
Unfortunately, that was the first thing I noticed. While the statement was updated four days later to “properly reflect its mission to represent & include the voices of disabled women in the campaign”, it was almost a case of too little, too late. In my mind, this was yet another moment where people with disabilities could so easily have been included in the conversation and raised up with others…but that moment was not seized.
It saddens me that this sort of omission no longer surprises me. So often, I find that disability is considered as an afterthought in diversity politics. We are added as an amendment, not important enough to be considered in the first place; or we are simply left out of the discussion completely. When we are misrepresented, it is never treated with as much outrage as the misrepresentation of race or gender; maybe there’s a slap on the wrist, maybe a ‘try again later’, often there’s no uproar whatsoever.
But what popular culture fails to acknowledge is that, whether you are aware of it or not, people with disabilities have a wide-reaching economic and societal impact, and it does us a great disservice to not tap into that pool of experience and expertise. We could be standing (or sitting) alongside other women, supporting each other’s causes and working together in solidarity. But rather than being in people’s minds by default, our plight is left in the air until we are brought to your attention.
Two years ago, Viola Davis addressed the #OscarsSoWhite controversy at the Screen Actors Guild Awards when she said, “Diversity is not a trending topic.” Two years (and many polarising hashtags and trending topics) later, Hollywood and popular culture in general has definitely worked hard to address the problem of inclusion – but there is still so much to be done.
Because I am still one of those people living in the gaps between stories. I am one of those people whose existence still remains in the blank white spaces at the edge of print. And until I find my story, and stories like mine, being told and celebrated the way others are, I cannot let people rest on their laurels.
I may not be the story in print, but I can write the story for myself.