Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Explaining Inspiration Porn to Non-Disabled People

Author's note:  This was inspired by Explaining Rape Culture to Men (Hilariously).  It is set up in Q and A format, with a non-disabled person as the questioner and a disabled person as the answerer/explainer.

I'm graduating!  While disabled!  You still don't get to call me inspirational!

[Image description:  I'm a fairly short white girl dressed in maroon graduation robes and a maroon graduation cap.  Around my neck are blue and yellow honor cords and a medal for academic excellence.  I'm leaning on my fuchsia and black flame pattered walker.  My diploma case is resting on my walker seat.  Behind me snow, bushes and a brick building are visible.]



Q.  So, what's this "inspiration porn" everyone's talking about?  It sounds so...ew.

A.  Ew what?

Q.  It sounds so...porny.

A.  What?!  No!!!  I mean.  There is crip porn.  That's a thing.  Some disabled people like porn just as much as not disabled people do.  And....why am I even talking about this???  This is not what we're talking about!  We're talking about....what were we talking about?

Q.  Inspiration porn.

A.  Right.  So.  You know those memes and stuff?  Like the one of the girl with the prosthetic legs running alongside Oscar Pistorius that says "The only disability in life is a bad attitude."?

Q.  Who's Oscar Pistorius?

A.  He's the Olympic athlete who...WHY AM I DOING THIS, STOP MAKING ME GO OFF TOPIC!!!

Q.  ....sorry?

A.  Forget it.  It's this meme*.  You know this meme, yes?

Q.  Oh, THAT meme!  Sure do!  I shared it on my Facebook last week!

A.  What's the first word that comes to mind when you see that little girl?

Q.  Inspirational!

A.  And why is that?

Q.  Because she's still smiling!

A.  I'm sensing a "despite" in there.

Q.  Despite.....well, she has no legs!

A.  And that's a reason she should be unhappy?

Q.  Well, yeah.  Obviously, having no legs is a bad thing.  Right?

A.  Not really.  There are plenty of people who have no legs or no arms or are otherwise disabled -

Q.  ERMAGAHD SAY PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES!!!  YOU ARE NOT DEFINED BY YOUR DISABILITY!!!!!

A.  And why, precisely, would I not want to be defined by my disability?

Q.  Erm...because...

A.  Exactly.  Because disability is supposed to be a Bad Thing.

Q.  It's not?

A.  It's not.  As I was saying, there are plenty of disabled people who are perfectly happy with the way they are and wouldn't want to change themselves.

Q.  But how can that be?

A.  Are you happy with the way you are?

Q.  More or less, I guess.

A.  Would you want to change the way you are?

Q.  Well, I'd like a bit more money...

A.  Don't we all.  But I'm talking about the things that are fundamental to your identity.  The things that make you you.

Q.  Well, if they make me me, I wouldn't be me anymore if they changed, would I?

A.  Now you're getting it.  Most disabled people consider their disabilities a fundamental part of their identities and can't imagine their lives without disability.

Q.  So inspiration porn is bad because it automatically assumes that disabled people shouldn't be happy with their lives?

A.  No.  Well.  Yes.  But there's more to it than that.

Q.  There's more?!?!

A.  Indeed.  What's the first thing you think when you see one of those memes of a disabled person or, say, if you see a woman using a wheelchair at your gym?

Q.  Well, if she can get up in the morning and do this without complaining, so can I!

A.  How do you know she doesn't complain?

Q.  Erm....

A.  Right.  You don't. You're just making assumptions.

Q.  Oops.

A.  Yeah, big oops.

Q.  So I shouldn't be inspired by her?

A.  Well, that depends.  Has she done anything particularly inspiring?

Q.  She -

A.  Besides getting out of bed in the morning.

Q.  ...I dunno.

A.  There we go, with those assumptions again.  What makes getting out of bed in the morning and going to the gym so inspiring?  You do it.

Q.  But she - I mean - she has so much more to deal with than me!

A.  Well, let's see.  She probably gets out of bed in the morning, brushes her teeth, has a nice breakfast.  Maybe reads the newspaper and gives her husband - or her wife, you know, crips can be gay too - the part they like most.  Maybe she has kids that she needs to get to school.  She probably grabs a coffee on her way to work - maybe she's a high powered corporate attorney, or maybe she works at McDonalds, or maybe she works from home.  Then, after work, she comes home, eats dinner and binge watches "Star Trek" on Netflix, because she has good taste.  And then on the weekends, she wakes up early and goes to the gym to get a workout.  Does any of that sound substantially different or more difficult than what you do?

Q.  I don't like "Star Trek".

A.  Blasphemy.  We'll fix that later.  Besides your questionable taste in television....any differences?

Q.  ....Not really.

A.  Do you consider yourself to be particularly inspiring?

Q.  I dunno....not particularly...I'm just a regular person.

A.  So is she.  I bet she doesn't consider herself inspiring anymore than you consider yourself inspiring.

Q.  But I don't get it.  Why is it so bad if she motivates me to become a better person?

A.  Because a) she's not doing anything particularly motivating and b) she doesn't exist to motivate you.  Reducing a human being - and a stranger, at that - to "inspiring" or "brave" or any of those labels is problematic, because you're filling in qualities that may or may not be true in order to make yourself feel better.  It's using disabled people as tools for your own betterment.

Q.  I see what you mean.  I think I'd be upset if someone who didn't know me was using me as a tool without bothering to get to know me, too.

A.  So give me a quick summary of what we talked about.

Q.  I - what?!  Is this a test???

A.  Yes.  I was an education major in college.  Summary, please.

Q.  Ummm....inspiration porn is when disabled people are called inspirational or brave for doing all the things that regular people do.  It's a problem because it assumes that anyone with a disability must have it so much worse than the rest of us.  And because it uses disabled people to make us non disabled people feel good about ourselves, or to make us do something, like exercise or whatever.  And disabled people aren't tools, they're people.

A.  Got it in one.  I applaud you.

Q.  So it has nothing to do with porn, then?

A.  No.  The reason it's called inspiration porn is it objectifies disabled people just like regular porn objectifies woman.

Q.  Porn objectifies women?

A.  ....*sigh*.

*Image description of the meme:  A young girl, maybe about 3 or 4 years old, runs alongside Oscar Pistorius in a gym setting.  She has the same blade-type prosthetic legs that he has and her arm ends in a stump about where the hand would be.  He is wearing a marathon-style nametag that says "Pistorius".  Superimposed over the picture is:  "The only disability in life is a bad attitude." -Scott Hamilton.

34 comments:

Kimmie said...

I lost it at the star trek bit XD Very good!

Cheryl Verde said...

Crazy Crippled Chick, you explained it so awesomely!!! Thank you! I hope you'll check out this film Caitlin Wood and I made last year. And I hope you approve. :)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_huLUFeH_is

Jonathan Woodward said...

"Most disabled people consider their disabilities a fundamental part of their identities and can't imagine their lives without disability."

Does the "most" here not include people who acquired their disabilites later in life, or have I misunderstood something?

Cara Liebowitz said...

Jonathan -

Obviously not all disabled people are going to feel the same way - that's why I put *most*. But almost all of the people with acquired disabilities that I know say that their disabilities made them better people and were a wake up call, and they wouldn't change it. Again, not all disabled people feel like that, obviously.

Erin Stretch said...

I know people who actually have acquired their disabilities later in life, and still consider those disabilities to be a fundamental part of their identities, and would find it difficult to imagine their current lives without disability.

It's like if someone got religion later in life. You can say that most people consider their religion to be a big part of who they are and can't imagine seeing the world without that frame of reference. "I wouldn't be who I am today without religion's influence in my life!"
Now some of those people were raised religious. A kid who was taken to Sunday school every Sunday, went to all the church events, etc, yeah, you can say that religion has affected him.
But then you can also have people who became religious at twenty, thirty years old. That religion was a big influence on them, it's changed their life, etc. They know what their life was like before they got religion, yeah, but they'll still say "I can't imagine myself without my religion" because it's a big part of how they identify.

Someone who is raised Christian, and someone who becomes a Christian at twenty five, can still say equally that they are a Christian and that this is a big part of who they are.

Jonathan Woodward said...

Thanks!

Jonathan Woodward said...

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

As a person with invisible diabilities (mental health issues), I am inspired by ANYONE who can get up in the morning. I get the point you are making here, and I would like to expand on it. I think we ALL have a burdensome lot in life in some way. Human suffering is common coin. "There but for the grace of god, go I." The word "inspiration" means to breathe in divine spirit, to feel the soul expand as a motivation to go forth and create. It's wrong to use people as a means rather than as an end in themselves, as your astute dialogue establishes beyond a doubt. I would like for there still to be an opportunity for everyone who gets out of bed in the morning to inspire me. Human suffering can open the heart to the Universal Pipeline of Compassion and better us all. How can we make Inspiration Erotic Literature instead of porn?

Lucy said...

That was brilliant, thank you so much for writing that! Loved the style of writing too

metsfanatiq1744 said...

SOOOOOOOOOO INSPIRATIONAL AND FUNNY!

apulrang said...

Brilliant and beautiful! One thing about the "porn" part is that like the more familiar type of porn, "inspiration porn" objectifies people, in service of a very selfish self-gratification. Not sexual, but ... I guess ... moral gratification.

trinlayk said...

Well and another thing, the idea that "The only disability is a bad attitude." is kind of a wink and nod to "well if you can't do something you just aren't trying enough."
and ideas like asking for needed accommodations or changes for accessibility that makes abled people have do adjust or make even the slightest effort is somehow the disabled person being lazy, or it's unfair to the non-disabled people dealing with the same environment and requirements to get stuff done.

I hope my paragraph isn't too rambling.

Simon said...

Awesome! On the nose. Indeed, inspirational! Such a brilliant arguement that I have not heard before! I love it!

www.desire-lines.net said...

Great article. I want to add too that the same applies to intellectual or neurological disabilities. There is so much 'autism porn' and 'Down's syndrome porn' out there, and a lot of it is very objectifying, and just cloying. Speaking as a mom of a child with Aspergers, who was diagnosed with it myself late in life. I hear people say things sometimes about my job as a parent... "You're so brave," "you're so strong..." no, I'm just being a mom, same as any mom would. And a disabled person is just doing whatever in life they do best.

That said, there are some people who really struggle with their disabilities, and haven't accepted them peacefully. Objectification harms them too, because it doesn't give them permission to complain and struggle. Which is OK too.

Shaya said...

Nicely done! I've been enjoying your blog for a few weeks now. :)

I can imagine one further question from the non-disabled person being "Well, isn't it harder for people who have disabilities to go through their daily lives?" Which makes me think of the spoons concept which is all about acknowledging that it can be more difficult to get through daily activities. It's fine to acknowledge the extra effort it might take a friend who has a disability to visit (for example if you know from them personally that is the case) but the point is recognizing their humanity and not assuming every disabled person is performing a miracle by walking down the street.

DavidG said...

Great piece.

Sticks hand up as someone who acquired disability as an adult, but considers it part of my identity, and a major plus - I'm a much better person through having had my nose rubbed in just how intolerant people can be to minorities without realising it.

DavidG said...

Great piece.

Sticks hand up as someone who acquired disability as an adult, but considers it part of my identity, and a major plus - I'm a much better person through having had my nose rubbed in just how intolerant people can be to minorities without realising it.

CrippleBaby said...

Well aid and funny read... I've tried to explain this before to people, without great success, but you've really hit the nail on the head here! Thanks for the read :) x

Margot said...

Hi Cara! I personally don't have any issues with people finding me inspiring and I know quite a few other disabled people who don't mind it either. But I do see why many would be bothered by it since it makes disability seem awful enough for us to want to kill ourselves etc. News flash we are happy and we want to live. We live with our disability because that is just our life. HELL YES PORN OBJECTIFIES WOMEN! Well done my friend.

Margot said...

P.S You look awesome in your graduation gear my friend!

Jill Allen said...

I just also want to say that for me, something that makes inspiration porn "porny" is that implies that PWD (people with disabilities) don't live regular lives, so that when we do live regular lives, it's amazing, because society expects PWD to be crabby or sad all the time. So inspiration porn backhandedly reinforces society's low expectations of PWD

LT said...

Someone already touched on this but I wanted to as well, as it's one of the big problems I have with this inspiration porn bs. "The only disability is a bad attitude" <- No. Just no. Inspiring stories are all well and good, but the problem is that people think that should be the norm. Oh, you are physically disabled and didn't run a marathon like that other person? You just aren't trying hard enough. ((Mostly unrelated, but it reminds me of why I loathe those inspirational bootstrap stories. As though one person's success in pulling themselves out of poverty suddenly invalidates the very real struggle the majority of the poor are going through right now. It's not about hard work and pretending that it is just paints a whole section of the population as lazy. Ugh.) Anyway, excellent post, look forward to reading more!

Anonymous said...

You just blew my mind. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I run into a lot of disabled people who are younger and poorer who have no agency at all. For them to be able to see others with disabilities achieve is valuable to them.
So my question is, when is it porn and when is it information?
As a person with Asperger's on a low level, how do we present it respectfully? I can learn from anyone's success myself. Or at least try.

marymactavish said...

I'm one of those people who says "disabled" to reply to myself. It doesn't define me, it's an adjective, like fat or tall middle-aged or smart. Okay medium-height, I've lost some over the years.

Mary said...

I'm one of those people-with-disabilities who uses "disabled" as an adjective, not something that defines me. I'm middle-aged, fat, bisexual, disabled. And more. But though I have a disability in the same way I have my weight, the adjective works fine.

Interrobang said...

"Most" of the disabled people you know wouldn't change their disabilities? Seriously? I have the complete opposite experience. I have cerebral palsy, and have friends who are legally blind, motor-impaired due to injury, have fibromyalgia, and various other things, and we'd pretty much all ditch the disabilities in a heartbeat. I've spent my whole life trying to become as physically optimal as I can, because cerebral palsy sucks. To me, I think the notion that disability needs to be embedded as an essential part of your identity is, well, essentialist, and ignores the fact that people can and do change their identities all the time.

And I despise the idea that acquiring a disability somehow magically makes you a better person. You know what else it can make you? Unable to work, in pain all the time, cognitively impaired, cranky, and bitter.

I also disagree with the point about religion. It's a false analogy due to agency -- I'm in the process of a religious conversion, but that's something I chose. My late-acquirer friends sure didn't choose to become impaired. I wouldn't have chosen CP either.

That said, I also totally hate inspiration porn. You're absolutely right on that point. Just because yeah, it probably did take me some extra spoons to get out of bed this morning doesn't make me a miracle-worker. It just means I probably don't get as much done in a day as you do, and that I have to prioritise carefully, maybe moreso than the average person. Whoopee.

Chris Sakul-Thongbai said...

Thank you for this article.
I have many friends who are disabled and I myself have worked in disability field to many years and I have always hated inspiration porn ways before the term was used.
I just could never articulated the concept well enough to explain to people to stop them making everything a disabled person does becoming "inspirational". Now I know what to tell them.
Thank you.

Toni Snideman said...

Hi Cara,

I literally *just* started a blog. I've been kicking around the idea for a few months now and I tried a few websites that didn't suit. A friend of mine shared your blog with me just yesterday, and it inspired my first post with Blogger.

If you want to read it (no pressure), feel free to do so here: http://inklingsandsuch.blogspot.com/2014/03/just-call-me-square-peg-round-hole.html

I have CP as well. I really identified with a lot of the points you mentioned in this and other postings on your blog.

Please continue to do what you're doing. I think its wonderful work and I can't wait to see more updates from you!

Matthew said...

I agree with most of the content of this post. I am a t-12 paraplegic, and it irks me when people tell me i am an "inspiration">

For doing what?

I did a cartoon to express my feelings on this.

http://eddirt.frozenreality.co.uk/index.php?id=75

Will Smith said...

Someone else touched on this, but it really drives me crazy when people compare me to other disabled people. "That guy only has one leg and he climbed everest. You can do anything you put your mind to." Oh really? Well you know how to swim, so why haven't you won a crapload of olympic medals like Michael Phelps?

Will Smith said...

Great article. Someone else touched on this but it really drives me crazy when someone compares me to a person in one of those "inspirational" memes. "Look, this guy only has one leg and he climbs mountains. You can do anything you put your mind to." Oh, really? Well you have 2 legs and can swim. Why haven't you won a crapload Olympic medals like Michael Phelps?

Mikey said...

I just spent a lengthy amount of time with a friend of mine who was trying to explain Inspiration Porn. He eventually gave me the link to your post, and I finally got it! Yay. I learned something today! Thanks for the help.

Kim C Pelletier said...

I didn’t know it had a name, but whenever I hear people say that a disabled person is inspirational, that has always made me feel kind of awkward, but never could explain why. Thanks for providing the explanation.