Women with Disabilities Week: The Roundup

At its core, Girl, Interrupted strives to be a feminist film. However, I find the film’s representations of “mad women” problematic, particularly the ways in which mental illness becomes so closely linked with eroticized otherness. And here is where the film’s deep ambivalence comes into play: it attempts to dispel the myth of what it means to be a mentally ill woman, while at the same time reinforcing cultural stereotypes that portray mentally ill women as hypersexual, dangerous, amoral, or inherently unfeminine. In the end, Girl, Interrupted posits mental illness as a choice from which one, like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, can always return.  

So to sum up, women with disabilities are constantly compelled to address the elephant in the room that is their presumably absent sexuality. You are allowed two modes: sad, stoic, and sexless; or cruel, bitchy, and promiscuous. Both are media stereotypes that women have faced before, but it becomes especially problematic when disability is thrown into the mix. No matter how sexually active a given character is, trying to achieve and maintain healthy sexuality is seen as a futile pursuit because disabled people and especially disabled women can never hope to have the “real thing.” Unfortunately, Glee happily perpetuates the myth that the sexuality of ladies with disabilities is either tragic or hilarious for cheap pity or laughs where appropriate.

Benny agrees not to put Joon in a group home but have her live in her own apartment (conveniently managed by his now-girlfriend, Ruthie) with Sam. EVERYTHING IS SUPER AWESOME FUN TIME! LOOK HOW ADORABLE SCHIZOPHRENIA CAN BE! The credits roll with Sam and Joon making little grilled cheese sandwiches with an iron! Yes! They’re going to make it on his video store wages and illiteracy, and she’s presumed jobless and in the care of another male authority figure! She doesn’t need professional treatment! She just needs a boyfriend! 

A Patch of Blue portrays disability as a part of a woman’s life that only defines her because she’s grown up with an abusive and neglectful family. As soon as she gets access to a world (literally and figuratively) outside of their little apartment, she thrives, and we know she’s just going to continue to grow. She’s beginning her life–a life that won’t be defined by her blindness. 

I think the motivation behind “Melora” was great, but overall I thought the messages were a little unclear. I saw that Melora doesn’t have to change her disability, but she does have to change her attitude. Ultimately, that personal transformation to being more “dependent” was what tied the story together more than a reaffirmation of her uniqueness… 
But ultimately, no matter what happened in this episode, you’re always going to have problems using a single character as a stand-in for an entire group of people. To really do justice to the diverse experiences of people with disabilities, we need more people with disabilities in TV shows generally (actors and characters), playing a range of parts, including recurring roles that give us a chance to see more complete and complex identities. 

It is easy to place an incomprehensible diagnosis inside a box and throw away logic. Back in the turn of 19th century, people of Helen’s delicate condition would have been sentenced inside “madhouses” because no one knew how to communicate with them or even try. Jimmy is oblivious in seeing that Helen’s manic outbursts are not signs of mental disorder. Helen’s incoherent mumbles, cries, and physical punches stem from frustrations of an isolated mind desiring to learn how to address humankind–not doctors, needles, and shock therapy. It doesn’t help that Kate wants to keep Helen just to baby her and Captain Keller simply obliges Kate’s wishes to have their daughter close. They love her, but none of them realize what Helen sincerely needs.