Ableism: when educating people on their own struggles is harmful
This is not my usual post and contemplated not writing this at all, however the urge kept coming back and the reason for this was simple, I had been silenced and needed to be heard. Before I begin this is in no way a post to shame anyone, it is to highlight an issue which many do not take seriously as they are privileged in not experiencing the persecutions and discrimination that people such as myself have to endure most days.
There is this woman, called Laura who has a popular blog called Skinny And Single
and she often writes day to day stuff. Her tag line is already problematic as it states:
“Single and Over 40 and Not Suicidal About It”
Recently when reading her posts, which has been over the last few month I noticed her use of certain language, which was stigmatising towards mentally ill people and people with disabilities – as well as finding her writing exceptionally privileged, with little care for who she judges, belittles or creates further stigma for. Under the disguise of humour, with the attitude of “well it’s all OK if I didn’t really mean it” kind-a-thing. With a get out clause which seems to be a very “in” thing to do at the moment, which is to state, “I am just being honest or real” as if this were a license to cause harm wherever one wishes.
After her most recent post “Seven People That Need Punched In The Crotch
” I decided to un-follow her blog and social media sites as I just didn’t like her style, judgement and writing, having tried to see the funny side but failing as her use of what she calls “satire” is not my understanding of it. Being French/British – in both my countries we relish in satirical humour which is a great way to poke fun at current affairs, it is by definition:
In England and France we use this humour to expose and ridicule the elites, those in power and the upper classes, and now celebrities; it is rarely used against people from minority groups. This is why when I saw her blog posts in our online community of #LinkYourLife I gave them a read before coming to these conclusions. This is what led me to contact her with my feedback as a mentally ill person, in a calm way – to maybe highlight something which she may not have realised was even in her writing.
I tweeted her and told her in a playful way:
“I am glad I am in the UK so you can’t punch me in the crotch”
thinking this would be a nice way to address the issue, trying to be humorous was my attempt at connecting on a level (especially on twitter with so few characters). The tweet didn’t really get me anywhere so thought to myself:
“just be direct Charlotte”
tweeting her again and telling her that she had used stigmatising language and I referenced her latest blog post and the last sentence; which needed addressing, where she stated:
“I am not a crack pot either. I am a regular woman,”
which was in reference to not being a feminist.
You can disagree with feminism all you wish, but the use of the word crackpot just left me feeling stigmatised, for I have been referred to as crackpot, and have been pushed down by so many with these kinds of words – ringing in my ears.
In response to this she became very defensive and told me outright that this was not the case, she even had a friend join in who writes a blog on her issues with bipolar disorder, (someone who I thought would at least let me speak), but they both decided to educate me on how this language was not stigmatisation and that in fact, Laura does a lot to help people with mental illness.
Not me – but others.
This was very silencing for me – an actual mentally ill person, who has sever mental illness and has had this since being a child, I know first hand what discrimination against the mentally ill can feel like, having to fight for almost every right I have, and still my civil rights are very limited, with no earning privileges or work opportunities, no medical health care due to austerity in the UK and there not being the services, having to fight my way through education to get the same chance as other students, and these are just a few examples.
Laura, decided to bombard me with questions and was pressuring me to tell her exactly what it was she was doing wrong, the tweets felt like someone knocking loudly on my skull, I couldn’t think and twitter wanted me to write it to her in so few characters, the pressure mounted so high that I experienced sensory overload and had to lay down, before leaving my laptop, I tweeted her to say this had happened and that I would do my best to reply to her as quickly as possible.
Feeling so defeated by this I left it for a week before trying to respond to Laura with my rebuttal to her questions and stance. The following Friday the same post of hers came up in my news feed and reminded me that I had not replied to her and needed to. I tweeted her and explained my position.
She tweeted back:
“I don’t care and I feel sorry for you”
Wow! This hurt so much, I could feel the tears rising in my eyes and my throat got tight, my thoughts started racing and the anxiety hit me like a ton of bricks. Laura then decided to tell me that I did not know what ableism was?
She even sent me a handy Wikipedia link, this was devastating, again it was like she was reaching inside my throat and ripping out my vocal cords as she took my disabilities and used them to prop herself up and exert her privilege over me even more.
This woman does not know me, or what I suffer from, which are both physical and mental disabilities, as I have mobility issues as well as my mental health and neurological issues. This may have been an attempt to make me look stupid, as she had clearly just googled “ableism” and thought in this quick search that she knew all there was to know about the community of people including myself – fighting everyday to have our rights taken seriously and for the abusive language which has kept us as an under class in society for hundreds of years – to stop, making us untrustworthy, unemployable and so many more things which of course are not true and just discrimination.
Ableism was first a movement for people who were discriminated against by able-people, this was just a “physical” thing at first, however as the community grew and became more aware of the discrimination people with mental illness and neurological conditions faced, the movement merged with what was known as sanism, so that there was no difference made between physical and mental as we try and educate people that mental/neurological, is also physical as it causes so many physical problems for its sufferers. With more and more research being done within these fields, we now know that physical differences can be seen in peoples brains who have mental illness as well as certain conditions such as PTSD (which I have) can cause physical pain, and is considered neurological damage.
This is why when she tried to educate me on my own discrimination it felt so isolating and cruel. There is no hate for Laura and her blog, all I wish she could have done is taken a moment to listen to me, understand where I was coming from and possibly check her own privilege over the matter.
Never would I tell someone to not post something, but rather to think before posting, and if you don’t care about upsetting the cause then own this too. Don’t pretend to be a champion for us when you stigmatise us with your own language.
All I had to do was un-follow and move on, however before moving on, my voice had to be heard and my cause had to be fought.
The last comments before she blocked me were that she felt sorry for me. Another terrible thing to say to someone with disabilities, in no way do I need anyone to feel sorry for me, especially when it is said with disdain.
All I and others want in our community is less discrimination, stigma, marginalisation and the chance to be the voice of our own lives.
As an example let us dissect what “crackpot” actually means and how it has been used against the mentally ill and those with neurological damage and injury.
‘crackpot’ is a shortened form of ‘cracked-pot’, which splits into its constituent parts, cracked and pot.
Cracked is itself a shortening of ‘brain-cracked’ (or cracked-brained’). ‘Cracked’ simply meant ‘impaired’; ‘faulty’. Both of these terms were current in the 17th century. For instance:
In John Canne’s A Necessity of Separation from the Church of England, 1634, we find:
If Mr. Bradshaw had found such a reason in Mr, Johnson’s writing, he would surely have called idle head, cracked-brained, fool etc.
In the Middle Ages, ‘pot’ was used to mean ‘skull’ or ‘head’; for example, this piece from Guy de Chauliac’s translation of Grande Chirurgie, circa 1425:
Ye pot of ye heued
So, a ‘cracked pot’ was a ‘faulty head’ and crackpot is synonymous with our more recent terms ‘numbskull’, ‘blockhead’, ‘brain-dead’ etc.
Here is some further information on the continued discrimination of the mentally ill depicted and perpetuated trough media:
These key facts and statistics about mental health problems can help to challenge the myths that can contribute to the stigma that many people still face.
And here is a great list of things which need to change and I suggest anyone who is unfamiliar with this movement and issue read this too: