International ^DISABLED Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is: “Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girls”

People with disabilities have a variety of difficulties across their lives, not just from the intrinsic problems associated with the disability, but also the handicaps they face socially. Disabled people are much less likely to finish secondary school, even less likely to go on to further education in university, have more difficulties acquiring jobs compared to their equally qualified non-disabled peers, and therefore generally earn less. Around the world, women in general also are much less likely to finish secondary school, even less likely to go on to further education in university, have more difficulties acquiring jobs compared to their equally qualified non-disabled peers, and therefore generally earn even less.

Not surprisingly disabled women fare worse than disabled men. But hey, you don’t have to take my word for it. According to a report by the Independent Living Institute, disabled women:

  • Data referring to the E.U. shows that percentage of employment in men without disability is 76% versus 36% in disabled men. Regarding women, the percentages vary from 55% in non-disabled to 25% in disabled women.
  • Studies done on specific groups (autistic, for example) show that they are more inclined to remain in institutions for longer periods of time than men.
  • There are a lot of barriers that make access to birth control and family planning very difficult, such as physical barriers, communication barriers etc.
  • In hospitals disabled women are used as models for trainee doctors, without previously asking them for their permission. Videos and slides are taken of disabled women to be used as teaching aids without any control over their use.
  • There are permanent debates on the role women are supposed to play, and that assigned to disabled persons. As a result, while women in general are pressured by society to motherhood, disabled women are forced into not having children, and this many times leads to unauthorised sterilisation, or denial of adoption on the basis of the “incapacity of the mother” to take care of them adequately.

In theme with this year’s International Women’s Day, there’s also the issue of violence against women. Again, women who are disabled fare worse off than those who are not. Furthermore, it is even more difficult for women with disabilities to recognise, prevent or stop such problems.

The report goes on to describe the various kinds of violence that happen to women with disabilities. These are described as Active Violence (physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, economic abuse) and Passive Violence (physical neglect, emotional neglect). These can be manifested in the following ways:

Physical abuse:
Any direct or indirect action that can damage the life, welfare or health of disabled women, provoking pain, unnecessary suffering or health deficiency.
Manifestations:
* Aggressions in different parts of the body
* Unjustified administration of drugs.
* Restrictions of mobility.
Alert Signs:
* To be found in sedative or nervous conditions.
* Motor dysfunction not due to their disability.
* Signs of physical violence: marks in wrists and ankles, fractures, bites, internal damages, burns, etc.
* Detriment in their remains of physical capacity.

Emotional abuse:
Behaviour model that results from damage to the welfare and emotional balance of a disabled woman.
Manifestations:
* Isolation, prohibiting or limiting the access to means of communication (phone, mail..), to information and to keep in contact with other relatives and neighbours.
* Oral cruelty, by means of insults, constant criticism, making fun of their body, punishments in the presence of others.
* Over protection.
* Speaking, deciding or giving opinions in her name.
* Intimidation, and /or emotional blackmail.
Alert Signs:
* Depression.
* Communication and interrelation difficulties.
* Insecurity, and low self-esteem.

Sexual abuse:
Actions that are a sexual aggression towards disabled women, and can produce physical or emotional harm.
Manifestations:
* Rape.
* Sexual vexation or humiliation.
Alert Signs:
* Marks or/and injuries in genitals.
* Fear to relate with certain people.
* Undesired pregnancies.
* Venereal diseases.

Economical abuse:
Actions that pursue the loss of control and rights on properties, money or family shared inheritances. The use of the image of a disabled woman against her will, to gain money for third persons, is also considered economic abuse.
Manifestations:
* The use of disabled girls or women in mendacity.
* Employing disabled women in poorly paid jobs usually linked to clandestine employment.
* Limiting the access to information and management of personal economy.
* The use of money as a sanction.
* The family denies the access to external economic resources (jobs, grants..).
Alert Signs:
* Depending too much on others.
* Little expectations regarding herself and her personal or professional projection.

Physical neglect:
It is understood as such, the denial or privation of the basic aspects to keep the body in good shape, in relation with health, hygiene and image.
Manifestations:
* Negligence in feeding.
* Personal carelessness.
* Neglecting hygienic measures.
* Lack of supervision.
Alert Signs:
* Malnutrition.
* Frequent illnesses not caused by disability.
* Inadequate cloths regarding sex, climate, and the persons’ handicaps.
* Dirty clothes.
* Long periods of time without supervision.
* Physical problems worsen due to lack of treatment.

Emotional neglect:

Those actions that deny or deprive attention, consideration and respect towards disabled women.
Manifestations:
* Ignoring their existence.
* Giving no value to their opinion.
* Feeling ashamed about them.
Alert Signs:
* Lack of interaction.
* No motivation concerning their personal development.
* Scarce or no participation in family or social activities.

The study came up with the following conclusions:

  • Many disabled women see themselves as subjects of maltreatment and abuse, while society ignores the problem.
  • Many disabled women do not see themselves subjects of violence, because they consider these situations habitual in their lives and associated with disability.
  • Disability is a risk factor when suffering abuse and maltreatment situations, which added to the fact of being a woman, increases the risk to higher rates than those of the violence suffered by women in general.
  • Women with sensorial, learning, and communication problems, are more likely to suffer abuse and violence.
  • Not having the traditional female roles assigned contributes to lower self-esteem and increases vulnerability, elements that favour becoming an object of violence.
  • Violence against disabled women shares common characteristics with the female collective, but has specific characteristics as well.
  • Most professionals in charge of counselling and interventions in maltreatment to women ignore that many disabled women are in the same situation. Either because information does not reach them, or because they do not typify as violent acts those they believe associated to disability.
  • Depending on others to cope in daily life increases the risk of being objects of violent actions. This risk is believed lower when personal assistance is given with former professional training and psychological aptitude.
  • Violence against disabled women has more to do with the fact it is considered an extenuating circumstance that these actions are perpetrated against “a faulty being”, than on using a woman’s body as a demonstration of power and control.

The report goes on to describe specific details from several countries. Near the end, the authors describe some of the difficulties that disabled women face when trying to extricate themselves from abusive situations:

It is extremely difficult for any abused woman to leave a situation of abuse. A woman is hit by a husband or a partner an average of 35 times before she calls the police. Battering undermines self-esteem and can make a woman feel she is somehow responsible for her own abuse. For a woman with a disability, this situation is even more difficult. She may be dependent on her abuser for affection, communication and financial, physical and medical support. If she reports the abuse, she may risk poverty and loss of housing and support. She may fear she will not be heard or believed is she speaks out. She may face further violence, institutionalisation, or loss of her children if she seeks help. She may not have access to information about existing support services for victims of violence. Even if she has this information, many sources of support may not be accessible. She may not be able to contact the police or women’s shelters because they do not have communication devices as telecommunication devices for the deaf. She may not be able to physically leave her situation because of a lack of accessible transportation. Her lack of options may leave her feeling so powerless and despairing that suicide seems the only viable choice. And if she seeks help in dealing with suicidal thoughts or attempts, she is unlikely to find counselling which takes account of her own reality. And so she is left isolated and possibly suicidal.

Just as the problems are multifaceted, so are the solutions. The report recommends:

  • Abusive behaviour needs to be acknowledged as a serious social and in some cases criminal problem, rather than being considered a private matter.
  • Protocols need to be developed for institutions to screen potential employees and volunteers.
  • Protocols need to be developed to address the abuse that occurs in institutional settings.
  • Community living alternatives need to be made available for women with disabilities.
  • Courses need to be made accessible and available to women with disabilities (in self-defence, assertiveness training, and sex education).
  • Appropriate suicide consoling which meets the special needs of women with disabilities needs to be made available.
  • Transition houses and other existing support services need to be made accessible, and frontline workers in shelter facilities need to be sensitised to the needs of women with disabilities.
  • Women with disabilities need to be hired to provide this training and to work in these centres and
  • Women in all communities need to work together develop a co-ordinated approach to dealing with the abuse of all women.
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No Congratulations Needed

When I was assaulted, robbed, grossly insulted,
Framed for infractions I didn’t do,
And then went to the authorities
They called me a liar.

When I ignored pretentious fashions
Avoided parties of catty gossip
And shunned drinking and drugs
I was denounced as rebelling the wrong way.

When decided that I needed job skills
Concensus dictated I should take courses
That took advantage of my weakest abilities
Thus guaranteeing my employers’ disdain.

When I had the temerity
To suggest following a dream
That used my natural aptitudes
It was dismissed as pie in the sky.

When I was ill, and put off surgery
To struggle through the semester
They said I wasn’t a good student
And that I didn’t belong in school.

When my spirit broke down
And I could barely teach on weekends
Or write my monthly column
I was deemed not a contributing member of society.

Disability doesn’t mean much
When I’m off in my own little world
I function quite well
Working in my own way.

I work around my weaknesses
And do what I do best
Just as everyone else does
Even if not the same way everyone else does.

I become handicapped
When shoved into situations
That exploit what I cannot do well
And don’t acknowledge my skills.

There’s no need to congratulate me
For having “bravely overcome”
The insults and artificial obstacles
That people put in my way.

Devils and Angels

Reading the morning news is dreadful for the happy digestion of my breakfast. Everywhere I look there are devils and angels, pantheons and freak shows, all in the name of disability.

It’s hardly not a new trend. But this millennia-old attitude does a terrible disservice to disabled people everywhere to be cast as either devils or angels. It is dehumanizing, and removes us from our humanity, and thus our basic human rights.

Being disabled is seen as a condition so horrid that no one could imagine living a happy, (otherwise) healthy, productive life. Not despite the disability, and not especially with the disability or even because of the disability. Being disabled is a fate worse than death. It turns a person into a “toxic train wreck” or it’s “worse than cancer” (because a person with autism, unlike a person with cancer, has a normal lifespan). So horribly unimaginable is being disabled that euthanasia is often deemed acceptable and even an appropriate “solution” to disability.

It has been not very long since people with various disabilities (and other differences) were routinely institutionalized (unfit for being in human society), and often sterilized. A person could be subjected to forcible surgery for such eugenic reasons as being blind, deaf, epileptic, poor, of a native (aboriginal) race, of mixed races, alcoholic, having a physical deformity, cognitive disability or perceived mental illness. Had I been institutionalized as a teenager, my children might not exist.

Being disabled is also seen as a condition where a family is divinely blessed to have been given such a special child who is looked after by angels. I’m not slamming those parents who feel that their children are blessings, but rather saying that all children are such – having a disabled child in the family does not earn a person extra cosmic “brownie points”.

The angelic disabled person is not-quite-human, a tragic but romanticized virgin on a pedestal of virtue. Certainly not an everyday sexual adult; a female person should never do anything as inconvenient as menstruate. Like 19th-century women, the disabled are sometimes cast as cherubic, above the base animal instincts of men, and held in divine favor. In medieval times, the town’s fools were excepted from normal citizenship, either as unclean or sometimes soothsayers, if given to (epileptic or other) fits.

In current news there is the case of the “Ashley Treatment” where a young disabled girl’s parents have elected to have her undergo several surgical treatments plus œstrogen therapy to keep their “pillow angel” a small, manageable size and to remove her breast buds and uterus to prevent her natural sexual development. Removing breast-buds to prevent cancer is a specious argument. I don’t know if the history of cancer is from the maternal and/or paternal side(s) of the family, but it’s pretty telling that we don’t hear of mom and/or dad also having mastectomies to prevent cancer. After all, cancer is more commonly found in older people. Likewise it’s another specious argument that making her infertile will prevent the potential for sexual abuse from caregivers – children are just as easily targets of molestation (it simply makes any abuse more difficult to discover because she won’t unexpectedly come up pregnant). Were she male, would the child have similar surgeries?

At that rate, one could simply hobble a child so they never ran away. Or one could mute a child so they wouldn’t scream loudly when upset. Or one could remove all of a child’s teeth so they couldn’t bite anyone when scared – oh wait, people have already done that …

I have to sympathiese with her parents; caring for someone on a daily basis is difficult. But trying to prevent sexual abuse or care difficulties by surgically removing body parts is working at the wrong end of a major social problem. It’s completely backwards! The problem is not that disabled people exist, but rather that there are not suitable social support networks for disabled people and their family members.

Many handicaps are socially created — it’s not the person who has the problem, it’s the way society is set up.

No longer is the disabled person a sick lurid spectacle to be hidden away. They are once again on parade, the freak show turned into infobites. An insidious side effect of freakifying the disabled as devils and angels is that it not only creates the disabled as Other, but it also does a great disservice to those who view themselves as nondisabled: it makes a person glad to be normal, and content to be average. It perpetuates the divisions and reinforces the dualities. With such positions, we can never create inclusivity.

What could be worse than being cast as devil or angel? Being totally discounted as a non-person. Being neglected and dying a slow, painful death like Sarah Crider or Tiffany Pinckney.

The human race has a lot to answer for.

“Who the hell are you to complain?”

While washing dishes I started off thinking about the things I was thankful for (the usual census: family, health, good weather, employment and so on), and then by the drying stage my thoughts had wandered off (as they are wont to do), and I realised that I had some things that were more on the Relief side of the bookkeeping, such as “I’m so relieved that my life isn’t full of bitter, angry, crazy-making people.” That wasn’t a very cheerful sort of relief, because it meant that my life used to be. There is also a sort of spiritual weariness that comes from being thankful for the bad things that aren’t happening to you.

Trying to figure out, “How does one get into those kinds of situations?” isn’t hard, because unfortunately, the world is chock-full of them. The blogoshere is rife with weary stories about people’s struggles. But later on while soaking in the philosophical font that is the bathtub, I realised once again that so many of these struggles revolve around the same faulty premises.

There is a pervasive myth of scarcity in our society. I’m not talking about physical resources, even though some of those truly are physically scarce, and many are actually badly shared. Rather, I’m talking about the myth of social scarcity. The fabric of the story line has these warp threads running through it, and given how obnoxious they are, we might call them Warped Threads:

There’s not enough caring to go around — if you get what you need, then I can’t get what I need.

Everyone is being judged, and if I can “prove” that my problems are “worse” than yours, then I win and will get the caring I need, and you lose and won’t get it.

If I don’t get the caring I need, then I can’t be held responsible for being upset, and acting out my frustrations by punishing others.

If I feel slighted because others won the contest, then I’m justified in doing what I feel I “have to” to get substitute needs met.

These lines are getting very childish sounding, aren’t they? And yet they form the foundation to a tremendous amount of infighting for resources or services, and blaming others for creating problems so they can be charged for restitution, and excusing abusive or murderous actions against innocent people.

Wow. There is in fact a deep level of social immaturity, selfishness, lack of empathy and pettiness to the whole scenario. I would call this a cultural immaturity, but it is hardly limited to one culture.

Indeed, these scenarios are widespread and are seen in every bureaucratic, legal, scholastic, and economic system. At these broad levels of pervasiveness, we don’t even notice the underlying errors so that they seem to be the natural order of things.

Underlying all of them is the wholly artificial concept of scarcity: There’s not enough to go around — it’s you or me.

This perceived scarcity even extends to assisting others. A strange virtue is sometimes seen in “guarding” the services-as-scarce-resources from people who would use them.

You’re not fit to judge what services you need, or whether or not you need the services.

We can’t give you these services because other people need them.

You’re not the worst off, so you don’t need them badly enough to get them.

You’re so badly off that you wouldn’t be able to really make good use of them, so they would be wasted on you.

You’re just being greedy, going around asking for services.

If you’re not failing, you’re obviously getting by okay.

Anyone who fails like that is just being lazy or noncompliant. We’re not giving you any services until we can see you putting forth enough effort.

(Bang head here.)

But it doesn’t do any good to whine and complain about how “unfair” things are, and how you “deserve” better. I’m not saying that you don’t deserve better, but rather that we all deserve better. The sad fact is that the people who are doing these things also deserve better. They perpetuate the problem because they don’t recognise the causes of it, and because they lack the tools to build something else.

Most importantly, we don’t want to punish people for having problems. This screwed-up social paradigm is certainly a great problem that besets us all. Instead of antagonism, we need to help each other. We need to quit staking out lines between Us and Them. We need to help by teaching each other how we can help each other. After all, the reason that humans are social animals is because we can work together to create solutions for problems that we cannot solve as individuals. We are all dependent upon each other for a multitude of things.

We don’t need better ways of “beating” the system, because we are all part of the system, and the beatings must stop. (They haven’t improved morale yet.) What we need are ways of overhauling the system by sidestepping these terrible games and introducing different ways of working together.

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never allow us to bring about genuine change.” ~ Audre Lorde

Tailor-Made

Tailor-made, I was.
Though all my clothes hung on me
And I was awkward as hell
Shoelaces usually tripped undone
And my hair ties came loose.

Tailor-made for being the victim
Geeky, younger, smaller, four-eyed,
Clumsy, studious, totally clueless
Socially awkward, unpopular
And best of all, face-blind.

I never knew who it was that poked me with pins
Stole my purse, squashed my lunch
Took my street clothes while in gym
Groped barely-developing breasts
Slammed me against the lockers.

Smeared clay on my chair like shit
Marked on my books, tore my assignments
Called me names, oh so many names
Or briefly pretended to befriend me
To make me the butt of a joke.

Not that I didn’t protest repeatedly
I reported the abuses properly
Told many official, protective people
Friends, family, teachers, administrators
But their responses were unilateral

“Boys will be boys,” said dad.
“You’re just being whiney,” said mom.
“If you can’t tell us who these people are,
that you ‘think’ are doing things to you,
then we can’t do anything,” said the officials.

Perhaps the real problem
Was not in what I said,
But that I was speaking up.
When I asserted myself
They redefined my reality.

Saying that what I perceived did not exist
That I was crazy, hallucinating, or on drugs
That I was just trying to attract attention
That I was making things up
When I wasn’t.

The perfect victim is someone
Who can’t identify the people that did things
Who tries to be good and please people
Who misses danger cues
Who is easy to silence.

The anger and frustration at being disbelieved
Turns into confusion and self-doubt
Maybe it’s just me
I must be wrong
Everyone says so.

Depression sinks in
I must be crazy
I keep perceiving this as reality
When everyone says it isn’t so
Isn’t that the logical conclusion?

You must trust people to help you
They are important people
They are the ones in charge
They know what’s best for you
They keep asserting you’re wrong.

When the reality is given to you by others
And they keep changing the story
It’s hard to keep your facts straight.
This is of course is only further proof
That you are crazy, and making things up.

Trust is earned, not demanded.
Funny how trust erodes
When reality is allowed to reassert itself
And I re-assert myself
Even though they re-assert:

I’m just acting out and making up stories.

Tying the Knots

A series of vignettes strung on a chain, now broken.

My mother just wanted a “normal” girl; maybe it was that entrenched social conformism. By 5th grade she kept stressing this idea, so I observed what girls were interested in, which was horses and romances. Therefore I ordered one each of horse and romance stories from the Weekly Reader book club, and found them to be profoundly disinteresting. I could not fathom either the attraction or the point! When I was a high school freshman, Mom decided that I lacked femininity and grace, so enrolled me in a “charm school” held at Sears & Roebucks, where we were taught the proper way to apply makeup, walk with a book on our heads, kneel to pick up an object from the floor while wearing miniskirts, sit down in a dainty and discreet manner, curtsy and such. Somehow this failed to make me more normal.

Shopping for my clothes invariably provoked more complaints; I was “so picky” about clothes, meaning there are many fabrics I cannot stand to touch or wear, not to mention the collar tags (which I now remove). I remember getting overwhelmed at the department store as a child, one of those seriously old-fashioned places with an elevator operator, glass display cases of merchandise, multiple floors of merchandise, and pneumatic tubes slinging upstairs to the cashier’s cage. One department, or maybe the dressing rooms, had high-contrast vertical striped wallpaper that gave me slithery-jangling-willies. Sometimes the floor seems to ripple; busy surfaces like speckled/tweedy commercial-grade carpeting or color-streaked linoleum or striped wallpaper acquire a quivering aspect, like wavelets upon great bodies of water. I know from repeated experiments (done as a child) that these surfaces do not really ripple or undulate, so I generally ignore the effect, but sometimes it takes me by surprise. I get vertigo and things seem to spin around, or close distances yawn far away from me. Mom hated dragging me with her, because I’d want to hide in the center of the circular coat rack, muffling out the noises and smells and colors in the darkness and comfortingly-heavy pressure of yards of dense fabrics. I was just trying to cope with the sensory overload, but all she could see was that I was being disobedient and an embarrassment to her from by attracting attention to my weird behavior …

Unfortunately, in the long run my mother seemed more concerned with assigning blame than resolving problems, and she decided that my long-standing academic difficulties were due to rebelliousness; I was just “acting out.” One day in high school, after I handed over the dreaded report card, she grounded me with the fierce proclamation that “All children rebel, but you are doing it ALL WRONG!” For her, there was one way things were supposed to be, and I did not fit her expectations: granted I didn’t drink or do drugs, but I also didn’t date, didn’t drive, and didn’t excel in school, sports or social activities.

There I was trying to rationally understand how people thought and interacted, and instead I had someone who was (alcoholic and) inconsistent, inexplicable, and unpredictable. I kept trying to wrap my head around making sense of what she said and did, and kept getting my mind tangled up in Laingian knots. What I needed was access to strategies that would allow me to learn how to meet my own needs. Instead, what I got was a denial that those needs existed. She could not, or would not understand that my needs were different than hers. Her denial, disbelief, or dismissal caused me to doubt my own self-understanding, and thus prevented me from helping myself. Years later I finally understand her actions as being narcissistic, for all she asserted that she was only trying to prove to others how hard she worked to “help” me. It wasn’t just about her “not understanding” that I was different, it was about my not being able to give her what she needed. It was all about what she needed. Repeatedly, the scenarios played out, as she:

  • Told me how I “really” felt emotionally or physically, or told me that I could not possibly be feeling something, that indeed I actually was feeling.
  • Discouraged questions, saying that they were either stupid, or that I didn’t need to know such things, or that everyone knew about ((whatever), and that I was foolish for bothering her to ask about things.
  • Asserted that I must be either crazy, lying or on drugs when I described experiencing colors while listening to music.
  • Said I was being “too picky” because I could not stand to wear some kinds of fabrics, or got sore spots on my neck from collar tags, or could not stand to have my bedroom curtains open on sunny days, or could not stand the noise when some kinds of woodshop machinery were being used.
  • Delivered me curious “compliments” that did not feel like such, “You know, if you just wore a little makeup, you might be kinda pretty.”
  • Denigrated my interests as being stupid because they were not “normal”; I should be buying cute hair ties or makeup instead of a Latin dictionary or an antique volume on structural design & engineering by the National Park Service.
  • Told me, “Don’t listen to what I say, listen to what I mean!” (This to someone who misses out on so much unspoken dialog?)
  • Took to red-inking my personal diary and creative writing efforts for grammatical errors, ridiculed my social concerns as being absurd, and the story plot ideas as being stupid.
  • Periodically would go through my locker, purse, notebook or bedroom contents in an effort to find something incriminating (drugs I did not use, or notes from non-existent boyfriends), and then accused me of being devious because she could not find anything.
  • Would not admit when she was wrong; I was obviously confused, or lying, or making things up.
  • Accused me of stealing clothes when my Spanish teacher gave me one of her used blouses, then changed her story and said I had been lying to the teacher and misrepresenting myself as poor and neglected.
  • Considered my expressing frustration as being “rebellious.”
  • Disbelieved my scholastic problems when I tried to explain them to her, but then turned around and saying that I had been “hiding” problems when teachers or my school counselor told her about bad grades from unfinished tests, missing assignments, jumbled math homework, bad spelling and such.
  • Asserted that my problems from bullies were all because I had “brought it upon myself” and was causing the bullying, and simply being “whiny” and “just trying to get attention” when I told the problems to various teachers and the school principal.
  • Ridiculed my concerns about scholastic problems, and demanded good grade results but would not accept the fact that I needed help to achieve those goals, saying that my lack of results was due to merely being lazy and not trying hard enough.
  • Convinced others that that my problems were burdens that I created intentionally for her out of rebelliousness.
  • Denied my problems or belittled them as being much less important than any of her own problems.
  • Complained about the cost/ shopping effort/ need for basic school items (such as a required style of gym socks or graph paper for geometry class) as though these were unusual demands I had invented just to make her life more difficult.
  • Assigned guilt by association – badmouthing my father (her ex-husband) saying I was just like him.
  • Curtailed contact with others (my teachers or counselor, interest clubs) and discouraged me from doing things on my own, then said I couldn’t do things because I had no experience or skills.
  • Gave me responsibility and consequences of things getting done, without giving me the means to do them effectively.

As ever, she was more concerned with finding faults and assigning blame than with resolving problems, because it was all about “saving face” on her part. It was my fault; she was trying so heroically to help me, but I was just being stupid or stubborn or rebellious. “Damnit Andrea, you know what your problem is? You don’t have any self-confidence! That’s just so pathetic!”

Although I now understand the essential errors in this denial, disbelief, and dismissal, these kinds of statements are still things I run into once in a while, from other people. It is a shame, really. Once I began to make sense of the world, I kept trying to change the family dynamics, to improve things, to help her understand, but she actively resisted change, even on those rare occasions when she would acknowledge that things were not right. But, you cannot make people what you want them to be.

You can’t change the past, but you can change how you react to it.

I Didn’t Ask For That

“Boy, you’re asking for it!” The teen towers over me despite being a stair lower, and the fierce glower makes me flinch away, which moment is my undoing. The world spins as I am elbowed away, lurching drastically over the railing at the vertiginous two-story drop, then my footing slips and I am skidding down steps to crash on the midway landing. The herd of students storms past me, an impediment to their passage between classes. I didn’t ask for that, I protest silently as I taste blood, still unsure of what had precipitated the swiftly violent interaction in the first place.

“Well, if you’re going to choose to be irresponsible and leave your math book at school every day, then you’ve just made the decision to not have any reading time tonight,” declares my mother righteously. I meant to bring my algebra book home, really. I’m not trying to avoid the homework at all. I didn’t “choose” to forget my math book again. Nor am I deciding to forgo my favourite leisure activity. Not at all. In fact, I don’t remember being a part of any of that “decision” process whatsoever. I didn’t ask for that.

My graduate school advisor leans back in his desk chair and announces, “I need to know what your decision is.” I’m still numbly trying to absorb what-all his two page letter means. A few months earlier after my first research proposal meeting, I had described some of my learning difficulties to my committee members, and each had said they would help. But now the results of such difficulties are being flung back at me, described herein as deficiencies. He is informing me that I am being removed from a research Master’s degree. Decision? I have choices? Apparently so. “I don’t make snap decisions about important things,” I hedge, mostly because my brain’s freezing in shock at this unexpected turn of events. The hourly bell jangles out in the hallway, making me wince as usual, which in turn produces a twitch of annoyance in him at my “over-reaction”. “Well, let me know what you want,” he says by way of dismissal. After a few re-reads, the “decision” proves to be rather a dilemma between outright quitting the program (not mentioned in his letter, but implied) or taking a terminal degree. Which one did I “want”? I didn’t ask for that.

There is a seriously heavy, late-summer storm brewing outside, and the air is damp and prickly. I finished the daily reading lesson ten minutes ago and am squirming hyperactively around in my seat with nothing to do. My tights itch, and my dress sashes have come undone again, causing the calico to billow ticklishly. I’m six years old and in second grade, and have not yet learned how to fidget acceptably; “good sitting”, like “good penmanship”, is something that I struggle to achieve. I’m wobbling on my chair from sitting on an ankle, and leaned over sideways across my desktop with one arm rocking back and forth off the side, staring distractedly out the classroom window. Cumulus clouds are piling up into tumultuous towers and flattening at the top into an impressively green-grey anvil. An actinic far-violet flash of lightning rips from one end of the cloud to another, and impulse wins out again – I am plastered to the window to see more. “Andrea! Sit down in your chair.” The teacher trots me back to my assigned place, and no sooner than I get my behind on the chair seat, she clamps my shoulders to the chair back to emphasize how I am supposed to sit. “You really want to miss recess, don’t you? It’s reading time. You need to stay in and read your assignment.” But I’d already read the stupid story … spending half an hour more confined to my chair and reading it all over again, thus losing out my only opportunity to vent some energy and to go spinning on the playground carousel, wasn’t what I wanted at all. I didn’t ask for that.

Decisions? Choices? Hardly.

Choices are between things you want, or at least will accept. Situations like these aren’t even “forced choices”. Even the phrase “forced choices” is part of the problem. (A forced choice should really mean a situation more like, “Okay, you’ve narrowed it down to coconut or fudge ripple; the ice cream store closes in five minutes, so you need to decide now.”) It still implies volition upon the part of the person.

Situations like these really aren’t choices; given more than one option, they are dilemmas or predicaments between bad option and worse option or intolerable option. Some “option” indeed.

Sometimes the situation is couched in the language of “choice”, but has nothing to do with the person choosing for their self. The consequences are really decided by someone else, and the language is a distractor meant to bamboozle everyone. It’s doublespeak meant to transfer the apparent (symbolic) power to the one person who in actuality has little power over the situation.

It’s also about obedience deceptively, attractively, cloaked as “responsibility”. If you’re not being submissive to someone else’s wishes, then you’re “choosing” to be irresponsible even if there is no malicious intent. The punishment chosen for the transgression is tagged as self-selected and self-imposed, when it’s anything but.

If you “choose” to have difficulties or misbehave, then you’ve “decided” to be punished by losing privileges like a much-needed recess, or having major plans derailed, (or if you’re a student at JRC, missing some of your daily food ration or getting zapped with electric shocks) or –

I didn’t ask for that.

Baffles

They are playing a game. They are playing at not playing a game. If I show them I see they are, I shall break the rules and they will punish me. I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game.

~ R.D. Laing, Knots

Oh, here we go again. I assert negative opinions about bad conditions, and people who don't like that opinion will assert that the problem is neither the bad conditions nor the bad conduct found there, but rather that:

I'm crazy.

"Be happy in your delusion" says "ann" on Kevin's blogpost on the JRC.

Ad Hominem attacks are always popular for dismissing the validity of people's arguments. That particular blogpost is an exciting thread for fallacy-spotting; there's also the related Tu Quoque, the good ol' Straw Man argument, retreating to Appeal to Common Practice to defend the use of pain-aversives, and in the above example, Appeal to Ridicule. Let's make trading cards and collect 'em all! But I digress.

It's not surprising to see this kind of reaction from people who are working at or have worked at places like the JRC. Such blanket rejection of the content or validity of someone's opinions by declaring them to be delusional very much reflects the whole power paradigm of such places.

Ditto the assertions that no one can know what is appropriate for the students in those places, unless they've actually seen the students to appreciate that somehow those students are worse than any others elsewhere, and that they both need and deserve electroshock punishment.

There's a whole recursive sequence of irrational statements and assertions that create this kind of entrenched mindset. It is, unfortunately, found in a great many wretched places, most of which present themselves as being good, helpful places for troubled people, such as psychiatric institutions.

I'm in charge. I know what's good for you. I'm responsible. You don't know what's best for you. If you disagree then you don't know what's going on. I know how things really are. If you disagree then you don't know how things really are. You must be delusional. No one will take what you say seriously. You have to accept that what we tell you is really real. Until you do, you're really just crazy.

Crazy people deserve what is being done to them. That's why you're here, after all; you're crazy. You're not capable of leaving until you become a good, sane person. Sane means you believe what we tell you is real. Good means you accept that you are wrong and are crazy.

If you were okay you wouldn't be here. You're here because you're not okay. You should be thankful that we're doing this for you. You would understand why this is necessary if you weren't delusional. Denying your problems just shows how bad you are.

Don't you go being smart! I never said we'd let you go if you told us what we wanted to hear. You're delusional. You don’t understand what’s going on. You're dangerous when you get delusional. We have to manage your behaviour because you're incapable.

Quit confusing people with nonsense stories. You need to apologise for bothering them! We can't let you talk to them any more because you've chosen to misbehave.You're just asking for it; now you have to face the consequences of your actions. This is for your own good––

Et cetera, ad nauseum. It's the kind of thing that ties one's brain up into horrid tangles. Some chilling details of such situations are described by a survivor on Ballastexistenz blog.

Schools are sometimes like this, too, as are some workplaces. These others are the sorts of situations that more people can relate to personally. The names and the details vary, but not nearly enough. The whole rationale is much the same.

Substitute "bad" for "crazy" if the student or employee complains about the system.

Or, substitute "lying" if the student or employee complains about the people there.

The whole purpose of this is to keep the people manageable by convincing them that they can't understand what is really going on, and that their own personal realities cannot be valid. Keeping people confused by deluding them as to what they are really experiencing will preoccupy them, and keep them from getting uppity. Learned helplessness prevents them from taking effective action.

If nothing else, one very, very important thing I have learned over the years is that,
When something seems confusing, it means that we don't have the whole story, and that we need more information.

All these knots of dismissal, denial and denigration are disabling. They are designed to snare one in traps, recursively wandering about in a standstill, and getting nowhere. They are meant to stifle enquiry.

Pain is always an alert of danger to an organism, be the pain physical or mental. That horrid, familiar sensation of wading through confusion should not freeze us, but rather send out warning klaxons:

WARNING! Obfuscation and deception.

Time to gear up in your Personal Protection Equipment. Grab the shovels and waders and engage the Bullshitometers, because it's gonna get deep …

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