Date: 9th April 2021
Pressenter 1 Name: Bev Pollitt
Presenter 2 Name: Petra Anders
Talk 1 Title: #Undateables, asexuality and the intimate rights of disabled people
Talk 1 Abstract:
Undeniably, a wealth of socio-political activism pertaining to disability has been undertaken within recent years, much of which emanates from differing perspectives and considers a variety of aspects concerning rights and well-being. However, despite progressive movements, there has been little development surrounding the intimate rights of disabled people, with their entitlements in this area often going overlooked.
My research adopts a MMDA and TA approach to critically explore disability and sexuality as a broad concept, and then more specifically, in relation to Channel 4’s The Undateables. The research aims to satisfy a gap in the existing literature by unveiling the impact a reality dating programme, solely for disabled participants, has on public perceptions of disability and sexuality. Findings indicate The Undateables is principally an educational opportunity which produces a sense of parity, whilst simultaneously creating empowerment for disabled people, both individually and as a collective.
Whilst these findings affirm positive movement in this intimate area, additional findings exposed The Undateables as a voyeuristic opportunity which can be exploited by viewers to promote their own self-worth. Moreover, material associated with disability and sexuality is discovered to be besieged with heteronormative representations alongside being governed by the historical notion of masculinity and its allied supremacy.
Talk 2 Title: ‘What can I, you know, do in that department?’ – Disability and Cinematic Representations of Gender, Bodies and Sexualities
Talk 2 Abstract:
Cinematic narratives tell us a lot about how we perceive the gender, bodies or sexualities of disabled people. Thus we need to raise more awareness for their ‘hidden’ messages, especially if they are of high ‘learning and teaching value’ and unrealistic.
The eponymous protagonist of Michael Akers’s drama Morgan (2012) feels attracted to an able-bodied man after being left paralyzed from the waist down following an accident. As Morgan doubts that he will be able to ever have sex again he asks his physiotherapist quite bluntly: ‘What can I, you know, do in that department?’ The same question could/should be asked by filmmakers and mainstream society to question representations of gender, bodies and sexualities of disabled characters in film. Which stereotypical myths and metaphors of bodily ‘abnormality’ and absence of physical desire or even gender are perpetuated in feature films in connection with disabled characters? How can these myths and metaphors be challenged?
My paper combines disability studies and film studies. I also draw on what Thomas Hoeksema and Christopher Smit call the ‘teaching and learning value’ (Hoeksema/Smit 2001: 42) of inadequate cinematic representations of disability and on Thomas G. Gerschick’s observation that ‘the bodies of people with disabilities make them vulnerable to being denied recognition as women and men. The type of disability, its visibility, its severity, and whether it is physical or mental in origin mediate the degree to which the body of a person with a disability is socially compromised.’ (Gerschick 2008: 361)
By investigating how editing, camera and music perpetuate or challenge, emphasize or contrast with certain narratives of normalcy and diversity I will show that most contemporary feature films still make use of a disabled character’s gender, body and sexuality to establish a conflict. This applies to films such as Christian Alvart’s thriller Antibodies (2005) and Margarethe von Trotta’s drama I am the Other Woman (2006) as well as the more recent drama Stronger (2017) by David Gordon Green. Unfortunately, this key trend is often neglected if cinematic portrays of disabled people are discussed. In contrast, films such as Daniel Lind Lagerlöf’s Miffo (2003), Ben Lewin’s The Sessions (2012) or Morgan portray people who develop a positive attitude towards (their) disabled bodies and who have fulfilled sex lives. These films offer a healthy and more realistic portray of disabled people and their rights to define their gender and to develop good body feeling.
This paper is an updated version of a paper I gave at the conference ‘Inclusion and Exclusion in the Welfare Society’ hosted by the Nordic Network on Disability Research in Copenhagen in 2019.
Akers, Michael D. 2012. Morgan
Alvart, Christian. 2005. Antibodies: Antikörper
Gerschick, Thomas J. 2008. ‘Toward a Theory of Disability and Gender’, in Karen E. Rosenblum, and Toni-Michelle Travis (eds), The Meaning of Difference: American Constructions of Race, Sex and Gender, Social Class, Sexual Orientation, and Disability (New York NY: McGraw-Hill), pp. 360–63
Green, David Gordon. 2017. Stronger
Hoeksema, Thomas B., and Christopher R. Smit. 2001. ‘The Fusion of Film Studies and Disability Studies.’, in Christopher R. Smit, and Anthony Enns (eds), Screening disability: Essays on cinema and disability (Lanham, MD: University Press of America), pp. 33–43
Lewin, Ben. 2012. The Sessions
Lind Lagerlöf, Daniel. 2003. Miffo: Miffo
Roehler, Oskar. 2005. Elementary Particles: Elementarteilchen
Trotta, Margarethe von. 2006. I am the Other Woman: Ich bin die Andere
Dr Petra Anders is based in Germany. Her research includes cinematic representations of disability, disability studies and gender, and teaching or dance practice. Publications include the chapter ‘More than the “Other”?: On Four Tendencies Regarding the Representation of Disability in Contemporary German Film (2005-2010)’ in Benjamin Fraser’s Cultures of Representation: Disability in World Film Context, ‘Screening Gay Characters with Disabilities’ as part of the blog NOTCHES: (re)marks on the history of sexuality and the chapter ‘Mediale Zuschreibungen. Über die Rolle von Behinderung im Spielfilm’, in Kunst, Kultur und Inklusion. Menschen mit Behinderung in Presse, Film und Fernsehen: Darstellung und Berichterstattung edited by Juliane Gerland, Susanne Keuchel and Irmgard Merkt. Further publications, for example, an essay on disability in Wim Wenders’ films, are forthcoming in 2021.