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As a person with dwarfism, I feel safer now that 'midget wrestling' events have been cancelled

We do not put people who use wheelchairs, people who are deaf or blind, or people with learning difficulties on a stage and laugh at them

Erin Pritchard
Friday 14 September 2018 15:55 BST
Extreme Dwarfanators Wrestling promo video

It might be surprising to you to find out that “midget wrestling” is not just a figment of fiction writers’ imagination, or a spectacle relegated to our embarrassing Victorian past of treating people with disabilities as objects to point and laugh at. In fact, the “Extreme Dwarfanators Wrestling” is a decent money-spinner even in 2018.

However, a number of venues across the country, including the Leicester Arena and Devizes Corn Exchange, have recently decided to cancel these events after protests from people with dwarfism and their associations.

As someone with dwarfism, I was relieved to hear the news, but disheartened by people’s lack of understanding about why these events are so incredibly offensive to me and many members of the community.

The use of the term midget alone is extremely problematic. Partly because we are used to people in the street shouting it at us, reinforcing the idea that we do not belong and are seen as nothing more than figures of fun. But also because the term “midget” derives from the word “midge”, meaning sand fly. Being referred to as such is incredibly dehumanising. The term’s origins are within the “freak show”, places where people with dwarfism were put on public display for people to stare at and mock.

Although the “freak show” as it existed in the 19th century has practically disappeared, people with dwarfism are still used in lowbrow entertainment just to be mocked. You can hire out a “dwarf” for your stag do or to prank on your mates. There are still venues that will hold dwarf-throwing events.

Would this be acceptable if it was any other minority group? Of course not. We do not put people who use wheelchairs, people who are deaf or blind, or people with learning difficulties on a stage and laugh at them.

It’s easy to suggest that because the performers are consenting adults who are paid for their services, it somehow legitimises the event, but this neglects the wider implications it will have on the majority of people with dwarfism in society. An academic study I published last year showed that due to the rarity of dwarfism, how they are represented in the media has unwanted implications for them in society.

There are numerous reports of people with dwarfism being picked and touched up by others. Names such as midget, mini-me and Oompa Loompa are often shouted at them in the street and we are often photographed, laughed at and pointed at while simply going about our lives.

This has led to people with dwarfism avoiding certain places and only going out at certain times – our access to public spaces is restricted just because of our disability. In my PhD study, some participants told me how they will not go to their local shopping centre on a Saturday afternoon, or will avoid walking past a school. One in particular told me how she never wanted to be by a sign advertising a pantomime as she knew she would be photographed.

Disability equality is more than just providing physical access, such as drop kerbs or lifts in train stations. It is also about ensuring that a person’s disability is not represented in a derogatory way, which leads to social abuse and ultimately the marginalisation of the community.

This is why people with dwarfism, including myself, are protesting against midget wrestling. It is not because we want to stop others doing something they supposedly enjoy, but because we want to be treated like everyone else and not go out and worry about what social abuse we will encounter from simply leaving the house. Name calling over time has been found to cause anxiety and depression. This is why we want to be equally represented like other minority groups have fought for over the years.

As an academic who strives for disability equality, I would actually welcome wrestling for people with dwarfism, provided it demonstrated great athleticism, instead of a sideshow that uses freak show terminology and encourages dwarf throwing, a “sport” that is banned in many countries. As the lawyer, and a woman with dwarfism, Angela Van Etten explains, if five people with dwarfism want to take part in dwarf throwing and it has a negative impact on 10 people with dwarfism, is it fair to allow it? Shouldn’t the lives of the 10 be given consideration too? While you will see a few having fun, you will not see the abuse the majority of us endure as a consequence.

Nobody with dwarfism protested against people with dwarfism competing in the Paralympics. I was happy to see Ellie Simmonds winning many medals and breaking records, not only because she was representing Great Britain, but because she, along with others, showed that people with dwarfism are more than just something to be laughed at for your amusement.

Erin Pritchard is a lecturer in disability and education at Liverpool Hope University

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