There is NO such thing as a Norm!
this image was taken from:
Why is it that being disabled like being a man or a women means that there are no gray areas, but simply black and white? Why must one be ostracized from the categories that entail the so called norms of society because they do not fit into them clearly? I think that society has grown up around this idea that any disability in which the individual body or gender does not coincide with the norm, is not correct; that it is not proper and standard and therefore should not be accepted. This concept of a norm has been so engrained into our way of being, that we even construct categories out of norms, and we subsequently create more and more outsiders.
When it comes to disabilities, invisible markers scare people; It makes them feel as though nothing is conclusive and therefore goes on being questioned, never allowing for that individual to function in the real world. In an essay written by Lenard Davis entitled “Constructing Normalcy”, Davis concurs. Davis states that the “problem” is not the person with disabilities; the problem is the way that normalcy is constructed to create the “problem” of the disabled person. Because the idea of normalcy exist, we tend to want to normalize the deviants of the bell curve. But yet again we hit a bump in the road, because we end up trying to “normalize” even the so called good qualities in people.
Kate Bornstein addresses this idea through her own experience as a transsexual lesbian in her book entitled Gender Outlaw. As a transsexual lesbian, she fit neither in to the male/female society nor did she fit into the lesbian world. According to Bornstein, her failed acceptance in the lesbian community had a lot to do with how another transsexual has previously wanted to take over the community in such a manner that was viewed as over powering and therefore manly. They shunned her from the community because they felt that not technically being a “women” meant that there was no way she could be a lesbian. This is a great example of how norms arise within already ostracized groups due to an overall compelling sensation to be the “rule” rather than the “exception”. We second the emotion that standards are to be met. Now, I am not sure if I completely disagree with ridding the world of categories, but I think that there is room to make categories more welcoming. It seems to me, that categories are built before there are people to fill them. Categories are the labels we must be I think that categories are what we live by in order for us to avoid chaos and avoid a feeling of having “evolved” without any real knowledge. People are afraid of not knowing. But this not knowing, would not be a bad or hard to comprehend issue if we had not been derived out of make believe. If we all had been born at par with one another: with a lack of knowledge, of how to function- then we would not feel as though there was a standard to fulfill.
In the world of physical disabilities, the norm has to do with fitting into the abled body world. Although we do not really discuss what we think of as abled, we somehow seem to know what it is not when we see it; how this makes any sense I do not know, but it does. We label those in wheel-chairs, who have missing limbs, who are deaf, who are blind, and who are overweight as disabled, but what we also see as disabling is things like unequal eyebrows, or even height, but where do we draw the line? Some people may say that disability really only involves those with obvious disabilities or those with disabilities of which they cannot alter, but although this is can be the case for many, I think that we are all disabled in the sense that we want to “fix” what we think needs to fit an ideal that was created by a norm. According this norm that society lives by, no one can function in the world one hundred percent because we all lack something or another.
In Nancy Mairs’ Waist High in the World, Mairs talks about amniocentesis and this “increasingly common practice…to determine the sex of a fetus” and how that at times is “followed by abortion if the parents don’t want the sort they’ve begun”. What I thought particularly interesting was that a baby according to the world can only be one of two things: a girl or a boy. So, if a fetus was shown to be a girl, she would be aborted, according to Mairs, for most parents wanted to have boys. What would make a parent say “No I don’t want that one, get rid of it.”? We use “sex” as a “birth defect” knowingly acknowledging that although it has been through history viewed in this way, it still continues. But what about “men” and “women” who also have unchanging physical defects? In a world full of superficial norms we cannot deny that these people are ostracized on a daily basis for not being “normal”. Every stare that say’s “OMG, look at that” makes another person feel inadequate. Although we are taught not to stare at people with disabilities, it is so engrained in our minds, that it is hard to retain oneself from doing so. But how does one explain the emotion the individual goes through knowingly contemplating another individual with disabilities? I think the answer lies in the fact that we are built but raised. We are robots, but follow the norm of the society we were raised in. We are programmed by our surroundings, but still have room to change the way we view our functionality. I believe that this is why for most part, sadness overwhelms a person’s reaction towards disabled bodies. We understand that staring can cause one to feel out of place but we manage to do it anyway, because of it’s repeated programming.
Nancy Mairs had a mother who “never faced the option to “spare”” her fate; but she still doubts her existence ever becoming a reality if her mother had known that her daughter would “develop a chronic incurable disease of the central nervous system” later on in her life. I think that this doubt springs from this never ending idea that disability brings forth negative repercussions. But what we do not see is that deciding to abort a fetus or child, based on this sole conclusion, already puts that child at risk. Our standing view of the being, reflects upon what is not; thus we ultimately set the tone of how one is supposed to react to such people. Life is a book; one page after another, it all connects.
According to The New Disability History: American Perspective: “Seeing the Disabled” by Rosemarie Garland Thompson , photographs are “like all representations, they construct the object they represent as they depict it, shaping it through the conventions of presentation and through cultural ideas and expectations…” “Like all representations” are the operative words in the phrase, for they suggest that human perception is a representation of it’s own, and like photographs, we present an image that forces the seeing eye to follow in the same path. This can be seen through our representation of the norm. We paint images both literally and metaphorically of the “broken” body . The majority of disabilities images depict individuals with obvious physical defects in a powerless stance, giving leeway for the viewer to see it in this way as well. Society is constructed to pity people with disabilities and treat them as though they were sick and unable to perform on a regular basis. Some may say that images of today’s generation contradict my opinion, and I do not disagree, but I think that our inability as a society to see the disabled as human beings, prevents us from seeing the art in these so called images. We find ourselves focusing on the disabled portion of the body and thus focusing on the part of the body that makes one appear inferior, or that the seeing eye makes inferior.
This image was taken from:
I was a mentor for 4 years in high school, and never did I think I would have to teach a disabled person. I was in my sophomore year of high school when this happened. She was not physically disabled, but she did not know the English language and only could speak Arian. I was told that her parents would not put her in special education classes because she was NOT “disabled”. At first I was appalled at the fact that her parents would put her though that situation because it felt as though she would at least be learning something instead of nothing at all. But then I realized, as I sat there teaching my mentees of the A-G Requirements, and she just sat there while all the other kids made fun of her for not being able to comprehend, that that was what was flawed; it was not the fact that she couldn’t work and learn with the rest of the class, but that the school system had no other options. I found myself asking why could she not learn the material in her own language? I came to the conclusion that the reason lied in this idea that English is the norm in this country- English is the norm in this category of societies.
This image was taken from:
It’s no wonder that life is so hard. We spend our entire lives trying to fit into something; trying to fit circles into squares, and instead of acknowledging that it does not fit, we just reshape it by cutting it up into that square. We fail to realize that the notion of was is “normal” does not exist and therefore continue to ignore the ostracism of those considered “deviants”.
Bornstein, Kate. Gender Outlaw: On Men , Women, and the Rest of Us. New York: Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc. 1994
Davis, Lenard. “Constructing Normalcy”.
Mairs, Nancy. Waist High in the World: A Life Among the Nondisabled. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996.
Youtube. "Get Back"