Miley Cyrus and the Several Disabled People

02/12/2013 13:08 GMT | Updated 30/01/2014 10:59 GMT

What do you do when your life is so empty that you crave the attention of the world? Well Miley Cyrus would tell you to 'twerk it girl. Twerk it hard.' Indeed, Cyrus has achieved her aim of shedding the clean-cut persona she developed during her time at that non-exploitative, pro-Semite, altruistic, not-for-profit charity known as Disney. In the process, she has infected a countless number of young, innocent girls with premature sexualisation.

My aim however is not to précis the criticisms of Miley Cyrus (that's just a bonus). At the end of the day she's her own woman, free to make her own decisions. Maybe Emily Davison did have a dream that one day girls could live in a world in which they could feel empowered by wiggling their bare bums, whilst their 'equal', fully-clothed, open-jawed, salivating male counterparts lust after them.

My real issue is with the obvious overlooking of attitudes towards the disabled. When Cyrus twerked at the MTV EMAs, headlines the world over rushed to note that she twerked with a dwarf. From the Mail's headline "Cyrus twerks up against (and gropes) a latex-clad dwarf," to the Rolling Stone's "Cyrus. . . Twerks With Dwarf at MTV EMAs," there seems to be implicit negative connotations attached to the term, dwarf. To my mind, the fact the dancer is a dwarf surely is impertinent. A dwarf is merely someone who has a shorter height than the average. Why not then categorise everyone's height? Why not go a stage further and just describe every single thing about every single dancer on stage? 'Cyrus twerks with dwarf while sexy, blonde women of 6 feet, one of whom has a lazy eye, and another has a mole on her thigh, dance in the background in an attempt to overcome their daddy issues,' is surely as acceptable a headline? It may be long, but hey, apparently superfluous, extraneous descriptions are now allowed in headlines. The original headlines could just as easily have served their purpose of noting Cyrus' outrageousness/novelty/creativity, call it what you will, without alluding to the irrelevant disability of a dancer. Unless of course these media are evil, soulless entities, profiting from preying on people's prejudices. But that can't be true.

I am not the dwarf advocate. Unfortunately my reach isn't that far (poor prejudicial pun wholly intended). In this supposedly cultured post-2012 Paralympics age, one would expect attitudes towards disabled people to have changed for the better. One would hope that handicapped individuals would be treated with more respect, dignity and understanding. After all, have not the achievements of Ellie Simmonds, Natasha Baker and David Weir proven that disabled people can actually do things in their own right? What about Stephen Hawking? Or Stevie Wonder? Have they not shown that capability does not necessarily correlate with physical ability? Yet, even in our 'Enlightened Age,' disabled people still face the same age-old problems. For example, polls by disability experts such as Scope, who have studied the effects of the Paralympics legacy, have demonstrated that in the UK, "81% of disabled people say that attitudes towards them haven't improved in the last 12 months," and that's with one of the most successful sporting achievements of the disabled in the history of the UK.

Maybe we should then just accept it as fact that disabled people have always been, and will always be, stigmatised against, irrespective of our efforts and good intentions. Indeed famed sociologist Murray Davis, found that 'obviously disabled' people (such as dwarves as opposed to dyslexics) must pass through three barriers when meeting strangers for the first time before being fully accepted by 'normals': 1) 'fictional acceptance' - the polite acceptance of the disabled person by the 'normal'; 2) 'breaking through' - the 'normal' realises that the disabled person is also normal apart from the stigmatising feature (such as missing limbs); 3) 'consolidation' - the 'normal' accepts the disabled person also as a normal, provided that the disabled person does not challenge this by some quirky behaviour.

Therefore, if disabled people must constantly jump through these hoops (a Herculean task for the paralysed) every time they meet someone new, how can we expect attitudes to change? By extension from Davis' model, we can infer that even after the Paralympics legacy, though the awareness of disability has increased, this awareness has not, and cannot, translate to full social acceptance, because each disabled person is judged on his/her own merit- they are prejudged as 'abnormal' until they prove they are 'normal'.

Being disabled is clearly not easy. Despite popular (erroneous) notions of disabled people in the UK enjoying an easy life living off benefits, not working, and being given hired help for free (well at the taxpayer's expense), life for 'obviously' disabled people is radically different. Not only must they combat the physical challenges life throws, such as high shelves and high door handles, they must also combat the social and emotional challenges of life.

Many of life's obstacles are taken for granted by 'normals' because, for them, they are not obstacles- just life being life. These can include general daily tasks, or something profounder with emotional and social involvement. Disabled people have enough to worry about. Life for every man, woman and child, is a constant battle between dreaming, and making that dream a reality. Having a disability can make this battle a little harder to win- whether by the existence of the physical barriers of the world, or the mental barriers of others' preconceptions, ignorance and prejudice. Let us not make life more difficult for the disabled by stigmatising them. Let us not make life more difficult for them by demeaning them. Let us not make life more difficult for them by humiliating them.

Disabled people can indeed be an easy target, and a rich source of humorous material for comedians. In fact, aside from overtly offensive comments (remember Frankie Boyle and Katie Price?), tongue-in-cheek humour about the disabled rarely provokes criticism. Even when the House Speaker was mocked for his 'short height' by then-Junior Health Minister Simon Burns, I cannot recall a semblance of reproach of Mr. Burns for his equation of disability with negativity; no disapproval at all for his implicit assumption that there is something inherently wrong with being a dwarf. In fact, I seem to remember PM 'call-me-Dave' boasting about how Burns 'burned' Bercow. These offhand comments may seem harmless enough perfunctorily; perchance 'a bit o' banter.' However, they come at a cost- the cost of the lives of disabled people: the stigma they experience; the destruction of self-esteem; the feeling of inferiority.

Maybe then it is true, contrary to wisdom, that not all men are created equal. However, it is our moral and social duty, to ensure that we do not give in to lazy stereotypes. Intellectualism must prevail over ignorance. We must keep the ethical fires of egalitarianism burning, even against the besieging, potent breeze of parochialism. Unlike Miley we must not move our bottoms, but rather move our bowels, and defecate over the chauvinism of the bigots. As Goethe said, "There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action."