Is the media finally 'overcoming' their need to fix us?
15th May 2023
Amber Faulkner writes about noticing a shift in the way the media is talking about stammering.
Earlier this year, Watford footballer Ken Sema (pictured above) gave a televised post-match interview that showed the world he stammered. When I saw this and the media reaction afterwards, I was pleasantly surprised to see how far public perceptions and opinions about stammering have come.
I was a child when shows like Pop Idol dominated pop culture and you couldn't turn on the radio or open a newspaper without learning all about that week's episode. One of the most prominent figures to come out of Pop Idol was Gareth Gates. He was one of the very few people who stammered on television at the time and I loved having someone to look up to. As many stammerers my age will probably relate to, if you told someone you stammered around that time, the response you got was, "Oh, like Gareth Gates?"
I personally always hated this idea: that I was broken, or that something was inherently wrong with me.
I admire Gareth Gates as much as I admire anyone with a stammer who chooses to put themselves out there in the world. It is a scary thing to do even for so-called fluent speakers! The problem I always had growing up was the media's intense focus on people 'overcoming' their stammer. Every time I read an article, watched a news segment or a documentary about stammering, the focus was always on the subject 'overcoming' their speech impediment.
For me, that phrase forced me to see stammering as a problem that needed to be fixed, rather than accepted. I can't speak for everyone who stammers but I personally always hated this idea: that I was broken, or that something was inherently wrong with me. That I needed to feel embarrassed and ashamed about something that was just as much a part of who I was as my natural hair colour or my personality.
...to hear someone speak so confidently about it in this way made me realise that I didn't always have to keep fighting so hard against something that was such a huge part of what made me, me.
As I got older and began discovering media outlets outside of the mainstream, I came across an interview on the London Real YouTube channel featuring the poet and rapper Scroobius Pip. He explained that to him, his stammer was "like an accent", that he "stuttered sometimes, and that's just how (he) talks". After being constantly told as a child that I had to 'overcome' my stammer and to 'fix it', to hear someone speak so confidently about it in this way made me realise that I didn't always have to keep fighting so hard against something that was such a huge part of what made me, me.
This is why it is so important for people who stammer to be in the media talking about their experiences openly and being allowed to do so.
Following Ken Sema's interview, unlike back in the days of Pop Idol, the media coverage focused less on the person who stammers having to change how they speak, to hide it, to fix it, to overcome it. It seems that the conversation is shifting to allow people who stammer to do so openly; showing the world that it is OK!
There is nothing wrong with stammering, and to see the media finally start to understand this is a huge positive step for the younger generations of stammering children. It gives me hope when I see incredible public figures like Ed Sheeran and TikTok stammering advocates @mimidarlingbeauty and @ge0rgiatalks talking openly about their experiences with stammering, because it sends out an important message to the media and society as a whole.
I also strongly believe the recent STAMMA campaigns like No Diversity Without Disfluency and A Love Letter to the TV & Film Industry are huge powerhouses behind the shift in attitude when it comes to how the media talks about stammering.
Pop Idol first appeared on our screens in late 2001 when I was seven years old. The change in how stammering is treated in the media in the 22 years since has been dramatic and while there is still a long way to go in terms of representation, I'm looking forward to watching the growth in acceptance for stammering in the coming years. It is looking good!
Read our blog post on the same subject: A little less 'suffering''