I’m A Disabled Woman Who’s NOT Celebrating Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes Speech
We must move beyond surface-level speeches, and engage in the very real fight ahead.
The Internet is in a tizzy over Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes speech, hailing her as a hero for taking on President-elect Donald Trump. Her words renewed the fury over Trump’s mocking of disabled reporter Serge Kovaleski — a fury that’s become an old, tired tale.
Well over a year after the mocking incident occurred, mainstream media and people around the globe continue to point to it as the number-one demonstration of Trump’s egregious character flaws. In fact, in August 2016, just a few months prior to the election, a Bloomberg poll indicated that out of all the appalling things Trump had said and done up to that point, his worst offense was imitating Kovaleski.
And now, here we are, just days away from inauguration, still fixating on this one instance of Trump’s behavior amid a laundry list of other abhorrent actions and statements, including lies, deception, threats to national security, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny…the list goes on. In no way does this detract from the fact that mocking someone with a disability is a clear moral failing, but why is it the one that so many people consider the worst?
The outrage over the mocking stems from a perception of disability that is stigmatizing in and of itself.
The outrage over the mocking stems from a perception of disability that is stigmatizing in and of itself: We’re a defenseless group, already leading pitiable lives. Never mind that Kovaleski is a successful, established reporter. Because of his disability, he’s viewed as an underdog. Streep’s speech directly played into this stigma, referring to Kovaleski as “someone [Trump] out-ranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back.” Though that’s true in that Kovaleski is just a journalist while Trump is a wealthy President-elect with a major following and constant media coverage, it’s evident that Streep meant what she said in reference to Kovaleski’s disability. Kovaleski has now become a shallow symbol of disability, a poor guy being bullied, while the rest of his humanity is ignored.
People are praising Streep for her activism and her allyship in bringing up disability during her speech, and yet all she did was exactly the same thing the media has been doing for months: touching on disability at a surface level without ever moving beyond discussion of mocking Kovaleski to discussions of major disability rights issues.
Trump’s nominee for Attorney General has a troubling track record on disability rights.theestablishment.co
This superficial discussion is completely unproductive, and it isn’t leading to meaningful progress in the fight against the discrimination and human rights violations that the disability community experiences every single day.
In the end, all Streep accomplished was eliciting a few defensive, insulting tweets from Trump that once again denied that he mocked the reporter. We’ve been here before. Anger over mocking Kovaleski, much like a lot of the anger directed at Trump, has become part of a cyclical argument that’s going nowhere.
This presidency is real. It’s happening. No amount of outrage over Trump’s mocking of disability prevented it from happening, and no amount of outrage is going to undo his election. And now, while non-disabled celebrities like Meryl Streep are getting kudos for trying to be the voice of the people by touching on an incident that has zero impact on policy, no real change is being made. It’s troubling, because the disability community is in need of major change. While most people are stuck on this one ableist incident of bullying, disabled people are out there advocating for issues that are literally a matter of life and death.
No amount of outrage over Trump’s mocking of disability prevented his presidency from happening, and no amount of outrage is going to undo his election.
As Trump’s presidency quickly approaches, disabled people are fearful that GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act will eliminate access to life-sustaining comprehensive health care and medications. We’re also worried about the Trump administration’s proposed changes to how Medicaid is financed, which will inevitably lead to cuts in services that disabled people rely on daily. Not to mention, we’re concerned about equal employment opportunities, accessibility, poverty, and incarceration, to name just a few critical issues.
We’re also advocating for inclusion in all areas of life, including the arts. Think about it: How incredibly sad that the only mention of disability at a Hollywood event was in reference to something Donald Trump did back in 2015. This lack of disability representation in mainstream media is a constant problem; it’s both a cause and effect of societal prejudices surrounding disability.
Why were there no visibly disabled people strolling down the red carpet or being awarded for their acting talents? When will the day after the Golden Globes become a time to celebrate someone with a disability winning an award for best actor or actress?
How incredibly sad that the only mention of disability at a Hollywood event was in reference to something Donald Trump did back in 2015.
Disability is still such a rarity in Hollywood, and in most cases, it comes up only when non-disabled actors portray the disability experience in overly-inspirational or pitiful ways (in movies like Me Before You or Million Dollar Baby). And so, here we are, celebrating Meryl Streep as progressive for putting old news about disability back into the spotlight for a fleeting moment, while in reality, we’ve still got so far to go.
I understand Streep was giving a speech at an awards show, not a policy forum, and that she was modeling how celebrities can use their platforms to spread important social justice messages. But it’s up to all of us — especially people like Streep, who are in positions of privilege and power — to move beyond the redundant discussion of Trump mocking a disabled reporter and dig deeper into disability issues.
It’s time to recognize that the Trump administration is imminent, sound the alarm, and fight harder than ever to protect and defend the rights of the disability community.