By Momena Sheikh
Reading time 5 minutes⏰
Media, in all its forms, has immense power over audiences. It has the ability to inspire, influence and shape peoples’ perceptions of the world. Not only can it affect how we see the world but also how we see ourselves. This is one of the reasons why female representation in media, especially in mainstream media, is so important.
What sort of image is usually conjured up when people think of dyslexia? Usually what people think of is a young white boy with below average intelligence, who has difficulty learning. However this is not always the case. Dyslexia can affect a variety of people at many different ages. According to Mayo Clinic, dyslexia is a learning disability that “involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words”. Dyslexia is specifically a reading disability that affects how people process language. Dyslexia does not indicate someone’s level of intelligence. It is not exclusive to the male population and can affect females as well. There are many females who are also dyslexic that don’t have the same representation in media that males often do.
In the few representations of dyslexia in mainstream media, the majority of characters are white males. For example, Percy Jackson from the popular book series Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a well-known example of a character with dyslexia. The start of the book series really gives a good impression of how dyslexia impacts his life. In comparison, a fellow character in the book, Annabeth Chase is also dyslexic, however her lived experience with dyslexia is not elaborated on or shown as much as Percy’s is. This is just one example of the disparity; often women are not even represented at all when it comes to any kind of representation with disabilities.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, one of the definitions of representation is "the fact of including different types of people, for example in films, politics, or sport, so that all different groups are represented”. Representation in all spaces is extremely crucial however, media has the unique power of comprehensive representation, in the sense that media such as films or books are able to depict all or the different facets of a situation or person. Through positive and effective representation, harmful stereotypes of marginalized or underrepresented groups can be torn down and accurate information can be shared. This allows people to have an insight into the life of someone whose lived experience may be drastically different from theirs, thereby cultivating empathy and compassion as well as awareness of different issues. It can also provide validation and support, especially for youth of marginalized groups. In addition, positive media representation can be helpful in increasing self-esteem and self-worth.
Historically and in the present day, women with disabilities have been underrepresented in mainstream media. This is why the need for positive representations of dyslexia for women is extremely important. By increasing female representation in the media, more awareness can be brought to the experiences of women with dyslexia. This can result in real support within communities to support dyslexic women, such as more aid in schools and even community programs. Most importantly, it can allow women to feel heard and empowered to live unapologetically and with confidence.
Cambridge Dictionary, s.v. “representation (n.),” accessed July 2, 2022, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/representation.
“Dyslexia.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 2021. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/conditions/dyslexia.
“Dyslexia.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, July 22, 2017. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dyslexia/symptoms-causes/syc-20353552.
Wright, Lexi. “10 Movie and TV Characters with Dyslexia.” Understood. https://www.understood.org/en/articles/10-movie-and-tv-characters-with-dyslexia.