Friday, August 27, 2010

Subject to debate

Since I have been a member of the Board of Directors with Little People of America, there has been a lot of conversation about stereotypes stigmatizing people of short stature. This conversation begins with the question: what embodies a stereotype and what, if anything, should the organization do to deflate those stereotypes? Coinciding with the discussion around stereotypes has been outreach and action around the word midget. Last year, the organization passed a resolution recognizing the word midget as derogatory. Many people within the organization hope LPA also implements a policy that condemns, or distances the organization from, stereotypical representation of little people. I can empathize with people who are pushing for such a resolution. I personally believe that use of the m-word and stigmatized representation of little people have similar outcomes -- the dehumanization of people of short stature.

The problem is deciding what is stereotypical, or stigmatizing representation of people of short stature. LPA as an organization does not want to do anything to promote stereotypes, or worse, contribute to the dehumanization of people of short stature. But how can the organization make a concrete determination of what is a stereotype? Because it is impossible to make an objective determination of what is a stereotype, and for many other reasons, the organization has not developed an official statement or policy that distances the organization from stereotypes, at least not at this point in time.

Thinking about the relationship between use of the m-word and stereotypical representation of little people, I found the article attached to the link below very interesting. The article is about a young woman who appears in the reality program called “The Pit Boss” on the Animal Planet Channel. The program follows a guy who runs an operation that rescues pit bulls and also manages an agency that hires out little people for entertainment. The entertainment is usually elves, munchkins or something like that. Many people pushing for LPA to speak out against stereotypes would identify elf and munchkin as a stereotypical, stigmatizing role. For that matter, some people would put reality television in general into that category, arguing that many little people reality programs have been created not because of who we are as individuals, but because of what we are – dwarfs. I found the article interesting because the woman interviewed speaks out adamantly against the m-word, but she used to perform in roles such as elf and the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Characters – the Oompa Loompas. She takes no issue with these representations. In the article she says, “I never had that issue of people stereotyping me. I don’t think if you’re in an Oompa Loompa costume that it’s going to change anything.” Of course, opinions differ. That’s why I think the organization can’t develop a policy based upon opinion. If an organization creates a policy statement around “stereotypes,” how the policy is implemented will change from year to year according to the opinions of the board. Others have said that policy statements aren’t meant to please everybody. They take a stand on a particular issue. People on the opposite side of the issue may be left angry and disenfranchised.

I don’t know where the current discussion will lead. With the policy against the m-word, with our media commentary, and with our proactive outreach, I think the organization is doing a pretty good job of presentation a well balance image of people of short stature and challenging social stereotypes (this is a very biased point of view). And at this point, LPA will not have any involvement with the traditional stereotypical dwarf industries ( e.g. Radio City and Elves) unless we have diverse representation from other employment industries as well. I personally feel that if we adopt a policy that applies to the membership of the organization, we need a policy that applies to all groups and individuals equally, and does not ask for subjective judgment from a rotating membership. But that’s only my opinion.

Here is the piece from an online journal about the young woman with dwarfism.

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