Having recently got back from seeing X-Men: First Class, something occurred to me that I thought would be relevant to put up here. There’s a trope in our society that’s so pervasive that it’s often accepted without thought, and when people attempt to apply it to reality, those who are harmed are always those who are most vulnerable (I’m not handing out prizes to anyone who guessed that one).
The trope I’m referring to is the one where Character 1 tells Character 2 to do something. Often it’s at a vital moment, which will make-or-break the quest at hand. 2 looks despairingly back at 1, and tells them “I can’t! I can’t do it!”. At this point, 1 gives 2 a motivational speech, in which they often outline some key flaw in 2’s thinking. 2, either imbued with fiery determination or given a new perspective, now finds the task was doable after all*.
I shouldn’t have to go into great depth here convincing people that fictional tropes and portrayals have effects on the world around us, so I’m going to go ahead with that as a given. With that as the case, the pervasiveness of this trope is problematic, especially when placed in contrast with society’s treatment of the disabled. In recent years this has grown especially vicious, as the recession has led to a frantic scramble to find those who can be cast out from the welfare system in multiple countries. More and more people have come to regard disabilities as simply a sign of psychological weakness, of us limiting ourselves out of a fear of failure. And when the heroes and stars of the narratives we ingest on a daily basis act according to this assumption, is it really so surprising that we find more and more people eager to embrace such an idea when it’s presented not only reality, but also the solution to their country’s financial problems?
When I or any other disabled person says “I can’t do this.”, we do not mean “Please feed me a patronising monologue on how my disability is primarily internalised self-doubt.” We mean “I can’t do this”. Whether this is due to physical disability, mental disability or increased likelihood of danger due to our disability doesn’t matter. We are the experts on our own lived experience as disabled people. When we say that we need assistance with something, or we flat-out can’t do it, meeting that statement with skepticism or condescending armchair psychoanalysis is not only insulting, it’s flat-out dangerous. While you may think of yourself as the benevolent guardian angel of a misguided being, pushing them past their limits into bountiful new pastures, what you’re actually doing is furthering the systemised oppression they face on a daily basis, and quite likely endangering their health, too.
* In X-Men: First Class, it’s not that out of place, and it’s woven quite well into the characters in question. The movie simply reminded me just how pervasive this trope is in our society.