Before we arrive at our #1 most popular post in 2015, we would like to review some vital posts that we had the pleasure of publishing. They may not have made the top eleven posts, but we think that they were vital to creating a world of unapologetic radical self-love.
When some of us were over for a visit, Baby suddenly wanted none of it. Passed from one person to the next, she wailed like a banshee until finally given back to one of her moms, where she instantly quieted.
“Don’t take it personally,” Mama said to everyone, bouncing Baby. “She’s just entering that stage where she’s developing some healthy stranger danger.”
And so the new process emerged: One of us would attempt to hold Baby every once in a while. And if she cried for more than 20 seconds, we’d hand her back to one of her moms.
If Baby didn’t want to be held by certain people, Baby didn’t have to be held by certain people.
It was as simple as that – and something her moms are determined to keep in place as Baby gets older.
Seeing them regard their child like that was admittedly an eye-opening experience for me. I’d grown up in a world where you hugged relatives or family friends no matter what. To deny them was considered a huge sign of disrespect, and nothing was worse than disrespecting someone older than you.
It was icky, as my six-year-old self would say.
To be fair, I recognize the reasons why some parents or guardians would want to—shall we say—enthusiastically encourage their children to hug relatives and family friends. Hugs are positive, right? They instill trust, good will, and healthy connections to the people closest to you, right?
That trauma makes itself plain in the ways men attempt to sublimate feelings of emotional need and vulnerability. While women tend to internalize pain, men instead act it out, against themselves and others. As Real told me, women “blame themselves, they feel bad, they know they feel bad, they’d like to get out of it. Boys and men tend to externalize stress. We act it out and often don’t see our part in it. It’s the opposite of self-blame; it’s more like feeling like an angry victim.” The National Alliance on Mental Illness states that across race and ethnicity, women are twice as likely to experience depression as men. But Real believes men’s acting-out behaviors primarily serve to mask their depression, which goes largely unrecognized and undiagnosed.
Recently, during a training session for my work sector in a Muslim-majority country, a white American male associate started a discussion on gender development projects. “There’s still so much oppression that these women have to endure,” he lectured. “We have to take initiative to start these female projects, and we have to start by going to the local authorities—who will be male—and helping them see these issues.”
As a woman of color intersectional feminist, I was immediately on edge and on guard at these words. The familiar feelings began creeping in—frustration curling my fists and fear slithering down my spine. However, despite all that I wanted to scream about imperialism, imposition, paternalism, sustainability, and power dynamics, I simply took a deep breath and tackled one small aspect of his hugely problematic oration. “Well,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady, “You know, there are local authorities who are not men.”
The man smiled indulgently at me. “Gender roles are different here, sweetheart,” he said. “Males have more power than females. I mean, you must understand. Isn’t it like that in your culture, too?”
Various studies have found that fat people suffer profound discrimination at work; they are more likely to be fired or suspended, less likely to be hired in the first place, earn smaller salaries in comparable positions, and receive fewer promotions for comparable job performance. In another study, 54% of doctors reported that they believe physicians should have the right to withhold treatment from “overweight” or “obese” patients. You read that horrifying sentence correctly: Of these professionals who have taken an oath to heal, more than half think that it’s perfectly all right to deny healthcare to people seeking healthcare!
[Headline image: The photograph shows a person, shadowed, walking into a bright hallway.]
I am always very curious about those who believe that words are “only” words — as though they do not have tremendous power. Those of us who use words understand the world through them. We use words to construct frameworks with which we understand experience. Every time we speak or write, we are telling a story; every time we listen or read, we are hearing one. No one lives without entering into these stories about their fellow human beings. As Arthur Frank writes:
“Stories work with people, for people, and always stories work on people, affecting what people are able to see as real as possible, and as worth doing or best avoided. What is it about stories – what are their particularities – that enables them to work as they do? More than mere curiosity is at stake in this question, because human life depends on the stories we tell: the sense of self that those stories impart, the relationships constructed around shared stories, and the sense of purpose that stories both propose and foreclose.” (Frank 2010, 3)
The stories that disability metaphors tell are deeply problematic, deeply destructive, and deeply resonant of the kinds of violence and oppression that disabled people have faced over the course of many centuries. They perpetuate negative and disempowering views of disabled people, and these views wind their ways into all of the things that most people feel are more important. If a culture’s language is full of pejorative metaphors about a group of people, that culture is not going to see those people as fully entitled to the same housing, employment, medical care, education, access, and inclusion as people in a more favored group.