Honorary Lady of Comicazi: Shoshannah Stern
It's been a while since I've done an honorary lady post, but I think it's time. For those of you new to these posts, this is where we want to highlight and all attention to those who are out there fighting the good fight, highlighting issues, blazing paths, creating, and building community. You get it, yeah? We want to give some love back to Ladies (and some non-ladies) who are doing things we love and want to see more of. There is a lot to be said for positive reinforcement and I feel like these days it's even more important to acknowledge those who make a positive impact on you and prompt you to learn more about something that you might not be totally familiar with. So my Honorary Lady this time around is Shoshannah Stern!
So, who is she?
Shoshannah Stern is a deaf actor and writer who has most recently been on Supernatural (but has also been on other shows like Lie to Me, Jericho, and the lady-led comedy Another Period). I'm gonna keep this write-up spoiler free about that because really this post is about the actor, not the character. But suffice to say, Shoshannah has made a huge impact on the SPN fandom in her few appearances with her portrayal of Eileen Leahy, a hunter who happens to be deaf. This is an important distinction as deafness is not what defines the character, but rather is merely one aspect of who Eileen is. Not having deafness as the central character driver is a point of representation that Shoshannah feels passionate about. So often when deaf characters are represented in entertainment being deaf is what defines their character and their story is a discussion of struggle or hardship solely around being deaf. Deafness is often seen as something that one must overcome to be successful. It can have an encompassing hold on the character and prevent other aspects of a character from being explored. This type of representation can carry over to how how people see deaf people outside of the media, and that's not great.
How is she helping representation?
Shoshannah works hard to push back against one dimensional representation of deafness. In her own writing characters are deaf because they are, and that's because people just are. There isn't a point to be made about being deaf except to show that while being deaf is a minority experience, within that experience there are many levels of how deafness is part of ones life (and many different levels of deafness itself). Shoshanna has played character with more or less levels of hearing than she herself has and her character on Supernatural can read lips much better than she can. Her most recent work The Chances is a series about deaf characters written by deaf people. The hope is to highlight the intersectionality of the lives of deaf people and move toward portraying them as full 3-dimensional characters rather than ones with only one note. Like all representation this can also help educate those who may not have interaction with deaf people on a regular basis about the different aspects of the deaf experience. But more, and perhaps most importantly it helps to break down stereotypes about deaf people and opens doors to new opportunities and experiences.
A cool thing she did that you should know about.
Shoshannah established the Eileen Leahy Scholarship, named after the character she played on Supernatural. Shirts and mugs were sold and the majority of the proceeds from these items support the scholarship that will help a deaf woman attend Gallaudet University, the premier university for deaf students and Shoshannah’s alma mater.