Blog: Centre stage but miles to go
Our Comms & Social Media Manager Neha talks about how some reactions to the recent media focus on stammering show how much work there is left to do.
It's been an interesting couple of months here at STAMMA, with plenty of media focus on stammering and press requests rolling in. First, Gareth Gates' outstanding performance on Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins prompted well-deserved laurels, including an emotional interview with STAMMA Patron Ed Balls on Good Morning Britain. Last month, Tooting MP Rosena Allin-Khan came out about her own stammer on Loose Women, and spoke about the devastating impacts of society's narrow ideas of fluency. Then, our Deputy CEO Kirsten Howells was invited onto BBC Woman's Hour where she spoke about the support available for people who stammer and their loved ones (listen back to the programme). The coverage and comments were overwhelmingly positive, and we were honestly delighted with it all.
Yet a few days after his win was announced, Gareth shared a story about how a group of women on a cruise continuously mocked him for his stammer (read about it in the Daily Mirror), with the same old joke many of us have heard a thousand times. Oppenheimer actor Emily Blunt, who has long been open about her stammer, was also on Woman's Hour last week (listen back to the programme), where she spoke about wanting to make a film about someone who stammers. This was picked up by news outlets and with media attention inevitably came the barrage of comments: 'w-w-what do y-y-you m-m-mean? B-b-blunt, f-f-f-film, s-s-s-stutter?‘.
Emily Blunt has a Golden Globe and a Screen Actor’s Guild Award and is loved by millions around the world. If they still do this to her, then what hope do I have?
Every time stammering is in the news, these comments remind us just how much higher the mountain is, and how much further we have to climb. The same jokes: not enough to overwhelm, but just enough to sting. Always, always the same. The names change, the people change, the fake accounts renew, but the jokes remain. Year after year, decade after decade. We never really mean to keep track of the jokes, but they'll still wisp ghostlike into corners of our lives, just to make certain we know our place. From school playgrounds in Singapore and Stuttgart to the great, tangled metropolis of London.
...still I remain incapable of understanding what exactly it is that makes fragmented speech so funny to the fluent.
It's easy for many to turn away from the jokes because they don't have a taste for this sort of world, only the thin, scholarly interest of an onlooker — oh, a stammer joke? It's not as bad as a wheelchair joke though, is it? Maybe they're a little funny even, because fluency comes so easy to you that you can't imagine disfluency, and what is unimaginable is unreal and so very amusing. For some of us though, there are times when we cannot help but remember jokes — b-b-big jokes, l-l-little j-jokes, jokes about sssstarts and jokes that never, never, never end. There are very few jokes left to discover, so the same ones are recycled. The jokers have spent a long, long time making certain of this. I know these jokes by heart, studied them for years with an almost anthropological fixation, but still I remain incapable of understanding what exactly it is that makes fragmented speech so funny to the fluent.
That's where we come in, as an organisation. Not to proscribe what you must think of these jokes, jabs, in jest or otherwise — that is entirely up to the individual. Nor to censor anything, and certainly not to tell you how to view your own stammer. But God, sometimes life is one long, dim expanse of grey school playground. From coffee shops to banks to cinemas, the Joke, the Smirk, the Look hiding behind every corner. Some people and their almost admirable commitment to cruelty: not satisfied with taunting a child into silence, they need to come back around and finish the job on the adult. And that's not right, is it? Surely, we don't want to say that it's fine if some people are mocked for their difference, if some of us have to navigate school playgrounds for life. Do we?
We don't. I'm glad about how often we, as STAMMA and as people who stammer, have sat firmly down in the public eye and said, right then: don't just listen to us, hear us. In addition to Woman's Hour this month, we interviewed the fantastic footballer Ken Sema earlier this year, told off publications for constantly using "stuttering" to denote a negative, and held a panel discussion between authors who stammer at the world renowned Hay Literary Festival.
We told the BBC and Lee Mack to think before they speak (as we're often lectured when we stammer) when he joked about stammering on Would I Lie To You. We've spoken to ITV about the brilliant Georgia Scott who lives her best life alongside her stammer rather than despite it (search for @ge0rgiasc0tt), and to People's Friend about the ways one can find help and speak to people who stammer. And that's only this year, mind you! We're not stopping: keep an eye out early in the new year for an interview with the influencer and I Kissed A Boy contestant Vitor Moreira about his job as a flight attendant and stammering across languages.
Onwards, upwards, centre stage: we hope you'll stay with us all the way.