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perception and titles of the "disabled"

phenoms's picture

I have never studied disability before. Never mulled over the intersections of disability and gender. I found both Fiona Shaw and Eli Clare's sections on freakdom palpable. They seemed to emphasize the cultural rather than (perhaps less constructed) need we have to stare. Theresa Tensuan provided a quote by Rosmarie Garland-Thompson that explains staring in more forgiving, understanding terms, as "an ocular response to what we don’t expect to see…. when ordinary seeing fails, when we want to know more...Staring begins as an impulse that curiosity can carry forward into engagement."

For activists, maybe. Maybe we stare in order to understand, to normalize. But culture has a funny way of impairing pure eyesight. Because we already know what's normal, right? We already have a notion of the bell curve of physicality and what's outside of it. In Eli Clare's chapter on freaks, he understands it as a mode of strengthening and fortifying a person's notions of self/other, "normal and abnormal, superior and inferior." But he paints a complicated picture, layer upon layer of exploitation and status quo reinforcement, with the realities of the historical time period. Was it still exploitation if the freaks used their 'taken-for-granted' inferiority to dupe the circus-goers out of money, getting moderately rich in the process?Is it right for "freaks" to perpetuate a negative societal stereotype about their own bodies? And is empowerment through such a process possible?

This reminded me of a movie I saw last week, and dark Australian claymation film entitled "Mary and Max." Mary and Max are penpals. Max, diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome, has accepted his being. He no longer thinks that he "suffers with" and needs to be "cured from." Although, society has constructed him, titled him with Autism, Max himself does not see how this particular facet of his being can be taken above and neglecting all the rest. After all, as Shaw concludes her thoughts on freaks, "we all live in marked bodies," and perception is a cultural phenomenon, not as we like to believe sometimes, a science.