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Writer and disability advocate Hannah Diviney on finding her voice – and her power

August 3 | 5 minute read

Hannah Diviney Hero 16x9

Words by Georgie Abay

Originally published on | July 10

Here at MECCA, advancing equality is a key focus of our social change initiative, MECCA M-Power.

In our MECCA M-Powered interview series, fearless people from around the globe share their incredible stories – from overcoming adversity to following their passions and inspiring a future generation of changemakers.

At just 23, writer Hannah Diviney – who was born with cerebral palsy – is one of the most exciting and impressive new voices in media. As a disability advocate, she successfully campaigned for both Lizzo and Beyoncé to change ableist lyrics in their hit songs, as well as led a petition encouraging Disney to create a Disney Princess with a disability, scoring 62,000 signatures and praise from the company itself: “We love Hannah’s passion and hear her important voice on why inclusive and representative storytelling matters.”

Next, she is set to make her acting debut in December 2022, as the lead in SBS’s Latecomers – and if that wasn’t enough, she’s also the editor-in-chief of global grassroots youth newsroom Missing Perspectives, which is dedicated to platforming the lived experience of girls and young women around the world.

Here, she tells us about why representation matters, speaking truth to power and changing the future.

The world wasn’t going to be waiting to listen to me; I had to make them.
Hannah Diviney

Growing up, you didn’t necessarily see yourself represented in mainstream pop culture. Who were the aspirational figures who inspired you?

HD: “Kurt Fearnley [gold medal-winning Paralympian] and Stella Young [the late comedian and journalist] were the only examples of life with a disability that I resonated with. Other than them, I have always gravitated towards strong women that reflected parts of my personality that sat alongside my disability – so people like Taylor Swift, Emma Watson, Michelle Obama and so many more.”

The way we speak to and about girls, as a society, has shifted – and hopefully for the better. Do you remember what you dreamed of doing or being when you were a little girl?

HD: “I dreamt of doing and being exactly what I am now – I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was four years old, and now, that’s what I get paid to do. I’m working on a book! Beyond that, I just wanted to be a creative little sponge who felt seen, and I’m so lucky that my life has fallen into that shape over these last few years.”
I think having people disagree with you is a real marker that you’re making people think and create change.
Hannah Diviney

You’ve made your mark – and international headlines – recently with your campaigns to remove ableist lyrics from the songs of stars like Beyoncé and Lizzo, as well as your disney petition. have you always been so unafraid to use your voice? and if not, what helped you find it?

HD: “I’m really lucky to have grown up in a family that always encouraged me to use my voice. In fact, they made sure I could, because my parents both knew that I would need it. The world wasn’t going to be waiting to listen to me; I had to make them.”

When you’ve used your voice, you’ve also been trolled and attacked online. How do you deal with this and continue to be such a strong advocate?

HD: “I honestly try really hard to take it as a sort of twisted compliment, because I think having people disagree with you (sometimes viciously, in ways that you hope they’d never say to a person’s face) is a real marker that you’re making people think and create change because you move outside the echo chamber of wonderfully supportive people who are always going to tell you you’re doing a good job.”
The idea that I have to work twice as hard for half as much is very much ingrained into me.
Hannah Diviney`

You’re the editor-in-chief of missing perspectives. Why are organisations like missing perspectives so important for our future?

HD: “Because they shake up the status quo. Because they force people to interrogate the power structures around who gets to tell stories and why. Missing Perspectives prioritises lived experience, which is rare for organisations – and it shouldn’t be. We’re changing who gets the power and rearranging the world order so that it becomes more reflective of the world we live in as young women. This persistent myth that young women have nothing to say and that when they do speak, there’s no value, is completely disproven by our brand and platform.”

Tell us a bit about your role, and what you look for in the stories you cover…

HD: “I am the editor-in-chief and creative officer here at Missing Perspectives. Because we’re such a tiny team (there’s only really two of us!) no day looks the same but always starts with text threads and FaceTime calls between Phoebe [Saintilan, co-founder and CEO] and I. We go over our to-do lists for the day, which could be absolutely anything: answering emails, writing applications for grants, Zoom meetings with potential investors or project partners, scouring social media for young women or stories that we find interesting, keeping up to date with world news (which can be expansive and exhausting), writing newsletters, doing behind-the scenes business stuff or even recording interviews for our podcast.

“We just look for young women and girls who have interesting things to say, telling stories or breaking things open that traditional media won’t touch; or, if there’s a world event – like the war in Ukraine, for example – we’ll specifically go and find a young woman whose lived experience humanises that news for our readers, followers and listeners.”

Self-care looks like music, time with friends, time to let my brain charge creatively, time to rest.
Hannah Diviney

Many young women deal with imposter syndrome – let alone women who also occupy other marginalised spaces. Have you ever struggled with this, and how do you combat it?

HD: “Every single day – and combatting it is not easy for me. Some days I’m really good at keeping it quiet, and others, it’s the only thing I can hear. Reminding myself that I deserve to take up space has to be something I am really intentional about, even down to listing the things I’m good at out loud and making myself re-frame luck as hard work.”

You’re only 23 and you’ve already achieved so much, including being nominated for young australian of the year and now writing a book. where does your drive come from?

HD: “I think it comes from the very early realisation I had as a kid, driven in part by my parents reconfirming it, that nothing would ever be handed to me – society would never just hand something to me or assume I was capable, because that would mean fundamentally changing the way we view people with disabilities. It was never going to happen – especially not while I was growing up. Now, representation has improved so much; we’re seeing people with disabilities in more and more public spaces, in regular public roles.

“But yeah, I think the idea that I have to work twice as hard for half as much is very much ingrained into me, even insofar as understanding that, for me to live the life I need and want, things are going to exponentially cost more because I need equipment and help.”

When women create things, they’re immediately held to this unconsciously higher standard by audiences.
Hannah Diviney

Let’s talk about burnout, because as much as grit and drive is so important, so too is self-care. How do you manage all of these projects and passions without spreading yourself too thin?

HD: “It's a constant balance, I think. It’s something you have to be very aware of and tuned into. That means listening to your body, prioritising rest, knowing how your brain works and being willing to say no as a full sentence, without guilt. I don’t always get it right, and while my time management is pretty great, I do drop the ball. Self-care looks like music, time with friends, time to let my brain charge creatively, time to rest.”

We’re celebrating International Day Of The Girl, and you’ve written about the way that girls are so often dismissed in society, saying, “there is an immediate devaluation of art or content made by young women, for young women, as soon as it becomes publicly available. Young women, whether they be creators or fans, are instantly dismissed as valid and legitimate culturemakers.'' Can you explain a little about this?

HD: “Wow, you guys have done your research! The context for that was this idea that when women create things, they’re immediately held to this unconsciously higher standard by audiences – whether that’s music, films, books or even advocacy and allyship statements. Women have to be constantly new to us as audiences, always put in more effort; they can never rest on their laurels or make the same thing twice.

“The second half of it is that something is immediately less important, less valuable or should be taken less seriously if its audience and fans are young girls. That’s been happening for decades. It’s also apparent in the things we’re taught to pick women apart for and let slide with men. For example, if a woman looked as rumpled and messy as former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson did every day, she’d be crucified. There’s no way anyone would take her seriously – and that’s exhausting.”

I’d love to get to a place where the only decisions made about a woman’s life are made by her.
Hannah Diviney

One of the stereotypes about disability that you rail against is that disability is equivalent to a life of hardship, despair and burden. Of course, that’s not the case at all. What brings you the most joy at the moment?

HD: “I love you guys for asking this question! Things bringing me joy at the moment are writing, my family, my friends, building Missing Perspectives, getting to spread my wings creatively in all sorts of exciting new directions and being surrounded by good movies, music, TV and food!”

What would you most like to see change for girls all over the world?

HD: “I would love to see girls everywhere have access to education, be taken seriously as leaders and changemakers and I’d love to get to a place where the only decisions made about a woman’s life are made by her. Anything else can disappear, please.”

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