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Two months ago, Hannah Diviney sent out a tweet.
As the Australian writer and disability advocate shared with the Future Women community via The Download, it was a tweet like any other.
Except it wasn’t.
‘I’ve tweeted thousands of times about all sorts of things, and never had this happen.’
Hannah had written to music artist Lizzo following the release of her single GRRRLS, to explain why her lyrics contained an ableist slur.
‘Friends of mine and I have experienced that word being used against us. Not necessarily by kids who knew why it was offensive, but they knew enough to weaponise that word against us,’ Hannah explained.
‘I think for someone like Lizzo, who is so intersectional and promotes so much positivity for other marginalised communities, it felt important to point out that using that word might not be the best lyric choice.’
Though not her intention, the tweet went viral and worked. Three days later, Lizzo updated the lyric, re-released the track and took to her own social media to explain to followers why the song changed.
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‘It was a masterclass in how to be an effective ally, and how not to make a fuss about something, but also to just kind of learn, and then do better once you know better,’ Hannah shared.
So it was surprising and upsetting to hear the same lyric repeated in a release from Beyonce mere weeks after the exchange with Lizzo.
‘I was pretty devastated when Beyonce used the word too, because I felt like we’d had this big conversation and made all this progress and it didn’t actually matter,’ admitted Hannah.
Again, a tweet from Hannah prompted a response. The offending lyric was replaced and the conversation about ableist language in music and media generally, continued online.
But for Hannah, ensuring ableist language doesn’t pervade pop culture is just the tip of the iceberg.
‘The only two narratives of disability that I grew up seeing were either Paralympic success or tragedy,’ she noted.
The two extremes always struck Hannah as unfair, and speaks to a broader problem of a lack of visibility for people living with disabilities.
‘We have to be able to see disabled people everywhere… and improve the ways in which disabled people are represented on screen, so that they are actually visible in the community.’
Hannah refers to her work as Editor In Chief of Missing Perspectives, a global social impact newsroom founded ‘with one mission: to challenge the underrepresentation of young women in news worldwide’, as demonstrative of the kind of change she wants to see.
‘95 percent of our pieces are first person opinion pieces from girls with lived experience of the issues that they are writing about because we really believe that lived experience is something super valuable.’
‘So we’ve done a lot of work with women in Afghanistan for example, since the Taliban took over last year, we’ve done a lot of work in Ukraine, and we tell all sorts of stories about period poverty, and climate change,’ Hannah explained.
Watching her, it would be easy to mistake Hannah as fearless. She is articulate and passionate with an indescribable kind of je ne sais quoi that leaves you hanging on her every word.
In truth, she has only leaned into her advocacy in the last two years. And while those two years are punctuated by a laundry list of achievements – a petition urging Disney to create its first disabled princess, a spread in Australian Women’s Weekly and an upcoming TV show debut, to name a few – she is still coming to terms with the power she wields.
‘That sense of responsibility is something I wasn’t sure I wanted for a long time,’ she admitted.
‘It’s something I tried to avoid. Because there was a long period of my life, particularly when I was a teenager, when it felt like the only thing I could do was keep my own head above water. And I want to make sure that anyone who’s going through that right now knows that that is a completely valid response to have, and you don’t have to be an advocate.’
‘It’s a choice. It’s not something you should have to do – if the only thing you can do is advocate for yourself, then that’s doing plenty.’
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