Ableism is quite an insidious thing. At its most benign, it’s a series of slurs and bigotry embedded into our language. At its worst, it stands for the devaluation and dehumanization of human life that can lead to things like self-loathing on the part of the disabled and violence against them. Anti-ableism is devoted to the deconstruction of these ideas and the reclamation of human dignity in all spheres of life. Today I’ll be talking about anti-ableism in narratives.
First, it’s important to lay out some groundwork. I am disabled and this is written with the disabled in mind. In this case it means that this post is primarily for the disabled. As such, an explanation of what ableism is or how it’s coded into society isn’t terribly relevant. Nor do I presume to speak for all, or most disabled, this is just my opinion.
There is a certain class of story that revolves around the main character being a part of a marginalized group, usually disabled or MOGAI, where the story revolves around their marginalized status and it end with a sort of coming out or acceptance of who they are. These stories are important, incredibly important to their intended audience, but the scope is narrow. A lack of stories featuring disabled characters as people who have dealt with their internalized ableism and are simply people, dealing with external ableism and whatever the plot is, are far rarer. Or stories with disabled characters in fantastical or scifi settings are even rarer. There are a lot of reasons for this, and a few of them are more worthy of discussion than others.
Yes, ableism is widespread. Yes, people who are concerned with diversity in media and intersectionality may have limits to their intersectionality that preclude the disabled. Yes, these kinds of stories are new and the fact that they exist at all is progress. At the same time though, it reveals the boundaries of our collective paradigm. We spend so much time getting over this hurdle that it’s hard to see what comes after that hurdle. The question then becomes what does exist after that hurdle?
Resolving internalized ableism is important but that internalization didn’t come from nowhere; these are attitudes and beliefs that are ingrained into society. Stories about a reformation of society short of apocalyptic measures aren’t terribly compelling outside of being a fictionalized guide to reform. This leaves stories set in a futuristic setting, which are rare. There is also the question of transhumanism relates to ableism, but that’s a different discussion. Even then these futuristic stories can still focus on overcoming internalized ableism. This is rather bleak, as it shows a lack of capability to imagine a world without ableism. This bleakness this hurdle needs to be overcome. Such a bleak outlook on eliminating the structures of power and oppression that define modern society is not unique to ableism, but the lack of worlds without it is sad. An inability to move past this hurdle means that these stories will be an ouroboros for the foreseeable future.
If I’m wrong, feel free to point me towards works that do so. Next time I’ll be talking about Satoru Iwata’s death and video games. Till next time.