19 July 2014
Francesca Martinez' memoir is about growing up with Cerebral Palsy. Rosaleen McDonagh reviews the comedians reflections on her life - an arduous journey through crippledom, illustrating how the public persona of wanting to be the ‘funny girl’ contradicted her internalized oppression.
Martinez’s picture on the cover - standing up straight, looking sultry and sexy is refreshing – but this is caught between the bind of global marketing and manipulative imagery. A symbiotic signal of impairment is a spark of interest, recognition, but minimalizing and controlling her body for this picture would seem contrived, given the content of the book.
The cache of being a comedian with Cerebral Palsy is what Martinez trades on, but creating an image for mainstream readership gets more sales. No reference to her CP, even in the strap line, is troubling, it’s only referred to on the back of the book. This, alongside the ambivalence of the image on the cover is confusing.
Raised in a middle class, Bohemian family, Martinez was cherished and loved. Her primary school experiences were playful and idyllic.
"I was happy to play with other disabled children. I just didn’t want us to be lumped together in some educational ghetto…" This somewhat clumsy statement refers to her parents wanting her to be mainstreamed. Up to this point, one assumes she has very little contact with Disabled peers. Later in life, she gives comedic accounts of her friendships with other disabled people.
Her experience in a posh female secondary school, eating brie and avocado sandwiches, she became singled out as a target for bullying because she used an assistant and didn’t have a television. The large, archaic typewriter didn’t help. A description of discrimination, where a teacher made her play basketball as a form of humiliation brought a tear to my eye.
Martinez openly confronts her self-esteem deficit and explains as a young Disabled woman, she felt unattractive. In her late teens, she describes an almost ‘coming out’ to herself regarding her Cerebral Palsy. These vignettes explored the pressures of interpersonal friendships with non-Disabled peers, the pressure to be ‘normal.’ Funny narratives of unrequited love are familiar and cathartic. Romance recurred as a theme – the opportunities to explore her sexuality were written with passion that matched her idealism.
Waiting for the letter offering the role in Grange Hill was palpably exciting. The subsequent impact of a Disabled girl in a mainstream drama was an enthralling section to read as was the description of her winning the Open Mic Comedy Award, 2000.
Overall, her analysis is a bit wobbly but her prose and politics are in the right place.