Ableism is a central concept in disability rights. The term was originally popularized by Thomas Hehir, a special education scholar who defined it as "'the devaluation of disability' that 'results in societal attitudes that uncritically assert that it is better for a child to walk than roll, speak than sign, read print than read Braille, spell independently than use a spell-check, and hang out with nondisabled kids as opposed to other disabled kids.'" There are many varied manifestations of ingrained ableism in contemporary society and pop culture, but I see it most often in uncritical use of language based on ableist assumptions - even by speakers or authors who are progressive and who are against ableism as a concept.
There are similar problems in language based on sexist or stereotypical assumptions about gender. "Throw like a girl," "cried like a little bitch," describing men as aggressive and women as bitchy, or even the default use of "he" and "him" as a gender-nonspecific pronoun are all examples of language that rely on a shared underlying assumption about gender roles to be effective. Take the description of a professional woman as "cold" or "bitchy" - this invokes the implicit assumption that women should be warm, caring, likely have a family and prioritize that family, always kind and supportive. When women who differ from that assumption by pursuing a career or being aggressive or strong in the workplace are both labelled "cold" and "bitchy", this both labels them as different than women are supposed to be and penalizes them for that difference by characterizing it as negative. This isn't news to any of you - Bitch has consistently raised and discussed these issues (see, for example, Toni Bentley referring to Katha Pollit as "an enraged, educated woman (Vagina dentata intellectualis)" in the New York Times Book Review).
Similarly, there is a plethora of words which rely on a shared assumption that to be disabled is inherently bad, inherently less than a person without a disability, inherently unworthy of attention, consideration, or care. For example, I see the word "lame" tossed around regularly, not just in pop culture commentary ("Dude, Holden [Caufield] is so lame!") but used by people criticizing pop culture from a feminist perspective, such as a blog awarding the "You're So Lame Award of Shame" to BET for featuring Chris Brown in their tribute to Michael Jackson. When the term is used that way, it is not meant to imply that Holden Caufield actually had a physical disability that caused his gait to be uneven, or that BET has a body that could be disabled in that way. Instead, it is used to mean that the character or the network are uncool, disfavored, and worthy of scorn and shame. Using the word this way would not be effective or meaningful unless both the speaker/writer and hearer/reader understood the word to mean that the person or thing it describes falls short of some agreed upon standard for people or things. This means that continued use of the word "lame" to mean lesser or scornful reinforces and strengthens the underlying assumption that people who are lame due to a disability are also lesser and worthy of scorn, which in turn reinforces the underlying assumption that people
with disabilities are inherently lesser.
For this reason, continued use of these terms (associated terms include "retarded" "gimpy" "crazy" and more, for detailed discussions of individual words, please see the ongoing Ableist Word Profile series at FWD/Forward) reinforces existing cultural and societal stereotypes about people with disabilities and their presumed lack of worth. We will be moderating the comments on our guest posts here to ensure ableist language is not used, but more than that, we ask you to seriously consider the impact that this language can have and lessen or eliminate your use of it. (If you already do so - thanks!)Because I've had this discussion in varied forums with varied degrees of acceptance, let me go ahead and anticipate some of the potential reactions to this suggestion:
Why Are You Being So Nitpicky About a Minor Issue When There Are More Important Things on Which to Focus?
There's already a fantastic discussion of this at the Feminism 101 blog that I won't duplicate here, except to take issue with the underlying assumption of this argument that these language issues are not related to or intrinsically intertwined with the "larger" issues of ableism in contemporary society. These words are effective in conveying the intended meaning of the speaker only because of the existing stereotypes and prejudices regarding people with disabilities, so reducing their use will automatically weaken the strength of those stereotypes and prejudices by making people critically think about the concepts they are invoking with those terms. If they unthinkingly imply that people with mental illnesses have no place in rational discussion ("you can't listen to Michelle Malkin - she's totally crazy"), it's very likely those assumptions manifest in ways other than their word selection.
But I (or Someone I Know With a Disability) Don't Find it Offensive!
That's great! I do. And I know a lot of other people who do. And there's a lot of forums for feminist thought and discussion that don't monitor or moderate use of these terms either in posts or in comments, and I and those people often feel unsafe in and excluded from those forums and discussions. That is a fact. If you choose to go by what you personally feel is offensive or not offensive, you will consciously be choosing to exclude and dismiss that group of people. If that's a choice you're going to make, I think it should be a conscious one, taking into account these associated consequences and outcomes.
But That's Not How People Use the Word Now!
A lot of people argue that while these words may have been associated with disabilities in the past, modern usage has diverged so dramatically from those past uses that the words no longer have any relation to disability. This is usually just not true. For instance, the Mirriam-Webster definition of "lame" lists the primary definition as "having a body part and especially a limb so disabled as to impair freedom of movement." The official psychiatric diagnosis is still "mental retardation." But regardless of whether the term is currently used in a disability context, the current meanings of the word to mean flawed, weaker, irrational, or otherwise lesser than an expected standard. That connotation provides meaning to the word - and is the core of the ableism that makes the word problematic.
But There's no Words Left to Use
Really? The English language has over 600,000 words. This is an opportunity for you to get more creative in your insults - or maybe just more precise. Let's take one of the examples used in this piece - BET for featuring convicted batterer Chris Brown in a tribute to Michael Jackson right after his death. Instead of saying it was "lame," the author could have said it was inappropriate, misguided, disrespectful to Jackson's memory, dangerous in providing legitimacy to a batterer, misrepresentation of Jackson's values, etc, etc. All of those are more precise and descriptive than "lame."
Again, thank you for being mindful of these issues in the comments - and beyond!
36 Comments Have Been Posted
This post is (mostly) things
Lisa replied on
This post is (mostly) things I know, but I do anyway. I try not to say ableist things like, "that's so lame" but sometimes I say it without thinking. And I've never really thought that saying "crazy" might be inappropriate.
This post really emphasizes the importance to keep trying to change, but also it helps me find empathy for people who say sexist things like, "what a pussy." I would never say "what a pussy!" but I commonly say, "that's lame." It's just not as always-on-my-mind when it doesn't insult me personally, I guess. It should be. But it's hard to remember, and it's hard to remember that it's hard to remember.
This drives me nuts, pussy
Anonymous replied on
This drives me nuts, pussy was not originally sexist, it was short for pussycat! He's soft, he's weak, he's a big pussy. Sheesh. And Crazy is ableism now too? F off there's a whole new lexicon out there, that's why crazy isn't a part of the medical journals anymore.
chelsea replied on
Wait a second, Anon.
1. Pussy is okay to say because it ORIGINALLY meant pussycat? (P.S. I think you should do a little more homework before you get up to speak in front of the class. Is a dictionary that hard to come by? Seriously. They have them online.)
2. But crazy is okay to say because it DOESN'T mean what it originally meant?
Oh dear. Someone failed logic.
You completely missed his
Geofferic replied on
You completely missed his point, ass. (Notice I successfully used a non-ableist word.)
As a disabled person, husband of a disabled person, son of two disabled people and brother two another, I think his comment makes perfect sense and that you are cognitively challenged if you cannot understand it - and no, I don't feel sorry for you, twit.
Words mean what the speaker intends them to mean and nothing else. Intent is all that matters in the final analysis. If he intends the word to offend those who have a condition under which they suffer or with which they live or through which they thrive, then he's a jerk. If he only intends to use the vernacular, then he is not.
When people say that something 'falls on deaf ears', we deaf people (other than a few loonies) do not get bent out of shape. Why? Because LOTS of things fall on OUR deaf ears and - surprise - we don't ever hear it. The metaphor makes perfect freaking sense, you sensitive prick.
This article is garbage. People who buy into this are intellectually bankrupt thought police. Get a life, you losers.
Way to miss the point.
hexalm replied on
Way to miss the point. I think your comment makes you sound like an abusive troll, for what it's worth.
Nice ablism fail on the cognitively disabled comment, btw--just because you're not using a certain word, doesn't mean you're not being a complete jerk.
It's also funny that you use your deafness to speak for all deaf people (of *course* people who disagree with you are "just a few loonies"--that kind of talk *totally* isn't part of the problem of using ablist language). Maybe it's just the people who are aware of historical assumptions about deaf people's intelligence who take offense to "falls on deaf ears". That makes perfect sense? Your argument holds water--but did you miss the part where it's used to equate unwillingness and inability to listen? It's no different from saying that if you can't see (understand) something, you must be blind--because blind folks totally don't understand things! You act as if such implications aren't floating around comment like that.
Obviously it's fine if you don't want to be offended by something--but maybe you should examine your assumptions about the effects of associating disabilities with general badness and about language use.
If you think pointing out that certain language is disrespectful has anything to do with policing people's thoughts, you're sorely mistaken and really missing the point. It's about respect.
Something that you demonstrate very little of. Which makes me wonder, if you think intent is all that matters, why are you so quick to use language that slags off, for example, people with cognitive disabilities? I'm surprised someone with such apparently ill intent falls back on arguments about intent at all.
Well, since you're disabled
greg replied on
Well, since you're disabled then obviously you haven't the cognitive ability to understand the underlying complexities between language, power and oppression. Poor thing, it's okay, we understand.
Doesn't feel very nice does it?
The point is that language and meaning are not mutually exclusive just because you (or anyone else) says they are. Words have a history that exists beyond your own existence. Words (and other externalized modes of communication) are symbols of ideas around power and control, and who gets to define reality. Using the term "crazy" is something I did quite loosely for most of my life until I began working with people with mental health issues and I found out how hurtful it can be to be othered so casually by someone who was supposed to be an ally.
If you really are a disabled person (which I highly doubt) then you need to go back to How to Be a Compassionate Human Being school and learn a little bit of that because if your family is disabled, I shudder to think what kind of self-defeating messages you are feeding them from your own self-hating place of internalized ableism.
Orlando replied on
How is it not sexist?
hexalm replied on
How is it *not* sexist to denigrate men for behaving in ways that are associated with women via sexist stereotypes?
It's just another word based on sexist assumptions about gender. I recommend a re-read of this article until you actually follow it, because this was covered.
And do you really think people started using it on men because they reminded them of cats? Sounds a bit naive, to me.
So wait: I can't say 'lame'
Anonymous replied on
So wait: I can't say 'lame' or 'crazy' but you can write for 'bitch' magazine?
So wait, you can throw an
amandaw replied on
So wait, you can throw an orange against the wall but I can eat an apple?
"Bitch" is being used here as reclamation. It is being used by the people it is used against. It is being used in a way attempting to subvert the negative connotations of the word that reinforce harmful prejudices.
You using "lame" to mean "bad, weak, not worthy" and "crazy" to mean "bad, irrational, not worthy" is akin to a man calling a woman a bitch because she wouldn't have sex with him -- NOT akin to a woman using the word "bitch" in a reclamatory sense. If you were to actually construct a proper analogy, it would go more like this:
- The disabled community reclaiming the words "gimp," "crip" and "mad" in a prideful manner is analogous to "bitch" as used in this magazine.
- "Lame" and "crazy" as used the way they are in popular culture is analogous to "bitch" as used by men to subordinate women.
I'm not sure that's entirely
Adair replied on
I'm not sure that's entirely honesty--if "lame" and "crazy" are used to subordinate people who are perceived as actually having something physically or mentally "wrong" with them, then it's analogous to "bitch" used by men to subordinate women. But calling something "crazy-good" or someone using "lame" to refer to something that's a let down or perceived to be in bad taste when that person has never once had a thought in their head about "lame" referring to a physical disability is different. I'm not saying it's right, but it is different.
On another topic, reclamation (to me at least) can be a difficult line to tread--for someone who grew up with and is surrounded by the negative uses of a word, it's very easy (in my experience) for my own perception of the meaning to slip in and out of "reclamation". If I call myself "crazy", am I celebrating my identity and my ability to survive, or am I being down on myself? If I call myself a "bitch", do I think I'm saying the right things to say by challenging the dominant culture, or do I think I've narcissistically breached emotional etiquette, unnecessarily hurting someone who belongs to another subculture because I'm so absorbed in the way of thinking that comes more readily to my subculture?
I don't think that it's right for people to act outraged by disabled people's demands for them to avoid ableist language. That seems narrow-minded and unempathetic to me. But I also think that the focus here should be not that it's somehow morally wrong to use words that are common and aren't intended to be hurtful, but that these words can be triggering to people who, as a result of an already burdensome illness, have had them used against them over and over throughout their lives.
you can use whatever words you want
hexalm replied on
Like any words, it's just a matter of how they'll be received--and whether or not you're willing to make slight adjustments to (rather lazy) language habits that hinge on use of ablist terms to show a modicum of respect for people who are generally given a rough time of it by other people already.
Yes - I passed a law!
abby jean replied on
<p>I indeed went to Congress with proposed legislation to make it illegal and punishable by criminal charges for any person to use the word "lame" or "crazy." I filed special paperwork with them in order to write this post, to make sure it was officially documented that my use was to point out how bad the words are. Unless you've filed something similar in your jurisdiction, they may be on their way to your house right now!
</p><p>Actually - you are still allowed to use the word, and this post just asked you to think about what you mean by those words and whether you can accept the consequences that come from using them. But even if I had officially outlawed the words, titling a feminist magazine "Bitch" is an act of reclamation by an oppressed group, rather than a use of a term as a pejorative by a privileged group. For more discussion of reclamation, I suggest reading <a href="http://disabledfeminists.com/2009/11/03/reclamation-thoughts-from-a-fat-... post by Lauredhel at FWD</a></p>
Knowing what you are saying when you say it
Murphy Jacobs replied on
The article author does not ban the use of "lame" or "Crazy" (or even "Bitch"), but instead pokes at all of us to THINK about what we mean when we say it. Such words are, as she very carefully describes, verbal shortcuts, lazy ways of insulting people or things we do not like. The Chris Brown example is pretty clear.
In fact, the author in particular says no one is (or really can be) prevented from using a particular word in a particular context. She's just asking us to be aware of what we say, to think before we speak not just about what we want to say or how to get the last word, but about how our words affect other people, which is good advice in all cases. You CAN hurt someone with casual, unthinking words, whether you are using "lame" to mean you don't like something or blurting out an unintended comment to a friend. If you chose to use the word, use it with FULL KNOWLEDGE of what it means and how it might be taken by those around you.
Words do hurt. That old rhyme about sticks and stones is a big lie.
This is great
KARI RUDD replied on
This is an eye-opener because I use some of these words. All of the arguments that you counter in your post bring be back to my repeated and unsuccessful attempts to convince my classmates (in suburban Minnesota middle and high schools) to stop using the word "gay" as a derogatory adjective. They would make ALL of those arguments. It's so frustrating. I am going to stop using language that reinforces ableism. Thank you!
chelsea replied on
Thank you so much for this article. It's so interesting how people are perfectly comfortable extracting some words from their vocabulary but not others. People who have no problem not saying the N word will defend to their death their right to say "pussy" or "slut," completely unaware of the fact that all these words serve to marginalize human beings and allow others to treat them as less-than-human.
I also wanted to add to: But I (or Someone I Know With a Disability) Don't Find it Offensive!
Sometimes people DO find things offensive but are afraid to say so because they don't want to stir up trouble. OR they have already spoken up amongst a certain group and were ignored. Someone might tell you they don't find something offensive because they are so tired of being the only one speaking up every time the offensive thing is said. Sometimes women get tired of being treated like they're over-sensitive psychos every time they speak out against the word "pussy". Same with, "That's so gay!" And, likewise, I'm sure PWD get tired of having to speak up every time someone says "lame" or "crazy". That doesn't mean they're not offended. It just means that oppressed and/or marginalized people are made to feel like they're overreacting if they speak out against the many offensive, thoughtless things people say, and sometimes they find it easier to just let certain comments go.
Er. Your comment about how
jt replied on
Er. Your comment about how you don't want to use disablist language uses... disablist language ("psychos") to make its point.
Kali replied on
Yes, yes yes!
I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. I've got trouble walking, and my joints get injured from stupid things that wouldn't hurt anyone else.
It is HIGHLY offensive when my family teases me that I'm 'lame' or 'a gimp' because I get injured or I'm limping because of an injury. I think they've gotten it now, because I've gone off on them a few times about how damn offensive it is.
But my own family, people who've watched my struggles and injuries, thought it was funny to say shit like that.
I get that people don't think about it, because it's so embedded in our culture. But you're right, they damn well ought to! I make mistakes with it too, though, because it does take a lot of thought to remove this sort of language from your day-to-day speech. I've called myself a spaz, without thinking about the fact that it's a reference to spasticity, a derogatory reference to someone else's body. I'm not perfect and I don't expect other people to be, but I expect them to be willing to think about it and work on it when they've been called on it.
I don't think there's a response more offensive to me than the 'but I know someone who doesn't mind it!' I always think yeah, and abuse victims pretend that what their abuser does is nothing, too.
It's a good example of how
Meggy replied on
It's a good example of how people shouldn't do. I'm happy that my family, friends and I respect and understand people with disabilities. <a href="http://special-essays.com">Special-Essays</a> Good Luck!
So should doctors stop
Anonymous replied on
So should doctors stop trying to find a cure for disabilities because that implies it's better not to have the disability? it's not like they're trying to make a pill to *make* you blind, because being blind is so awesome and empowering, right? They only want to cure it. That's so ableist.
Anna Pearce replied on
Oh, hey, are there doctors working on a cure for blindness? Which type of blindness are they working on a cure for? I'd really like to see some of their research, I bet it would be fascinating.
Look, I know that it's very challenging to be told that people with disabilities are not all going around thinking that their lives are tragedies. But this sort of ridiculous, over-the-top misreading of what this post is discussing is not a counter argument. It's an example of reading your own biases into the post.
No one is suggesting that we put weights on the ankles of dancers, or put a neural disrupter in the ears of our geniuses. We're suggesting that maybe assuming that having a disability, or many disabilities, is a Fate Worse Than Anything Else is incorrect.
If I did not suspect you were a drive-by troll, I'd recommend some very good books on this subject. As it is, perhaps folks who are curious might enjoy Longmore's "Why I Burned My Book And Other Essays On Disability".
If you consider Jerry Lewis...
hexalm replied on
..and the MDA (muscular dystrophy association) telethon, for example, it becomes evident why there are issues with this.
They portray kids with muscular dystrophy (nevermind that folks like me, going on 28, have it too) as though they have a fate worse than death. They do this to raise money for a CURE! Because obviously the most important thing is a cure, because look at how terrible and hellish these kids' lives are! Jerry's an awful great guy to help us wretched cripples out (note my sarcasm--Jerry Lewis has made some pretty disgustingly ablist comments).
Certainly it's sad that many people barely get through adolescence with the severe forms of MD, but touting this single narrative makes it seem like MD must make everyone's life not worth living, or a living hell. It makes us sound monolithic and tragic, which is part of the problem with how our society views disability.
Let me add that the MDA does not focus 100% of their resources on a cure--only a lot of them--and they do some other good things like helping with treatment and doctor visits (btw, the notices they send to *us* don't ignore that there are adults with MD).
I think my point is, there are things to improve people lives *besides* curing every disability that it would be nice if people would feel as willing to fund to help people now--access for people with disabilities, adaptive equipment, etc. Instead, people get angry about these things, for example, when having to wait for wheelchair users to get on the bus and then move seats.
Anyway, to focus solely on a cure at the expense of people who have the disability *now* is part of the problem. The thing about cures is, if people *want* to be cured, that's great to work on curing their ailment! It's the removal of agency, "you will be cured", with a side of "so you can stop dragging everyone else down" that is really offensive. Using "lame" to convey badness is just moldy sprinkles on the rotten cake that is ablism.
So the point isn't that disabilities are all OK just how they are (that's a personal issue, and at the very least most of us do require adaptive solutions to cope with the difficulties they present). The point is that there are already disabled people here, cures and treatments in many cases may be a long way off, and the lives of people who are here are also important and deserving of respect as full human beings, not just inspiration or a word you can rely on to convey that something is "bad", because, you know, being lame, etc is the worst thing ever.
What a shame
A N Other replied on
It seems that these comments are being taken over by people who want to argue etymology.
The observation that a word means what the speaker wants it to mean sounds like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland - and that was being satirical, not academic.
The point of the article to me seems to be about being aware of the language we use and the impact it can have on other people.
The language we use not only transmits our meaning, it also transmits our emotional state and our views of the world, including stereotypical assumptions and discriminatory attitudes. It can also reflect our limited vocabulary through a reliance on expletives.
I think the only point that has been made successfully is that disabled people can be just as offensive as anyone else. I fully endorse their right to be challenging and confrontational considering the social model of disability and personal experience of disablist attitudes and structure. However, it does not excuse anyone being rude, offensive or insulting just because they feel vindicated through being disabled. Such language simply shows anger or frustration that cannot be expresed in any other way due to a lack of emotional maturity. Sometimes termed "a narrow mind" - which as far as I am aware is not ablist but descriptive.
Dictionaries Don't Always Work the Way You Expect.
Tablesaw replied on
There are lots of preconceived notions about the way dictionaries work that aren't necessarily true. For example:<blockquote>A lot of people argue that while these words may have been associated with disabilities in the past, modern usage has diverged so dramatically from those past uses that the words no longer have any relation to disability. This is usually just not true. For instance, the Mirriam-Webster definition of "lame" lists the primary definition as "having a body part and especially a limb so disabled as to impair freedom of movement."</blockquote>You seem to be under the impression that if a sense is listed first in a dictionary entry, then it's the most important or most common. But <a href="http://www.merriam-webster.com/help/dictnotes/def.htm">here</a>'s what Merriam-Webster has to say about how they ordered their dictionary:<blockquote>The order of senses within an entry is historical: the sense known to have been first used in English is entered first.</blockquote>So in noting that this is the "primary" definition is simply saying that it is the oldest sense of the word.
This doesn't diminish your general point, but you'll need to find a better way to argue this point. For example, I <em>think</em> that American Heritage does try to order their senses by usage (and their first sense is "<a href="http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/lame">Disabled so that movement, especially walking, is difficult or impossible</a>"), but Dictionary.com doesn't include explanatory notes, so one can't be certain without checking a physical copy.
Troy replied on
I can't argue with any of the article, but *inventing* alternative language can really be grinding, annoying, or just plain awkward. Your point about there being alternatives already in existence amused me, because there's a phrase my parents used for how someone might react to bad news, "They'll have pink kittens if they hear about that!" I'm thinking that we can always come up with colourful metaphors that don't involve some medical affliction, some reference to gender, or something else that indicates a lack of consideration. Adam Hills showed me that sign language is, like most language, made up as is needed (the sign for 'tampon' is amusing only because it is pretty obvious once you see it). Like Teller in "Dharma and Greg" I have been a pussy sometimes, umm but that is a whole other topic.
"But regardless of whether
the "mad" scientist replied on
"But regardless of whether the term is currently used in a disability context, the current meanings of the word to mean flawed, weaker, irrational, or otherwise lesser than an expected standard."
Uh, actually, that's what those words are supposed to mean even in a disability context. They mean, in a medical sense (in an accurately generalized and abridged format), that one's function is somehow hindered by some aspect of their biology.
While a "crazy" or mentally ill person might be ABLE to function reasonably, their ability to function actually IS less than that of a person who isn't classified as mentally ill, or "an expected standard," and they often ARE irrational in certain aspects of their thinking, regardless of the severity of their illness. Even "crazy" patients with mild depression tend to display disordered or irrational thinking, if to a significantly lesser extent than a patient diagnosed with schizophrenia. As a neuroscientist, who both studies mental illnesses and HAS a mental illness, I can with good faith say that these words are still being used accurately when applied to non-medical contexts for means of comparison between the nature of an idea or statement and the NATURE of one of various types of disability, NOT disabled people in particular.
As a "crazy" person, hearing the word "crazy" used in these sorts of "offensive" contexts does make me sad. However, I'm not really offended because that definition DOES in fact apply to me (loosely, of course, since it really is no longer used in a serious medical sense) and the comparison to the nature of the condition indicated often is fairly accurate. I'm not sad because part of my biology has been insulted, but because I am reminded that I DO deal with this condition, and it does make my life harder, for both functional reasons and reasons based on the social stigma attached to being actually made less capable of success in certain areas. I am not saying that these conditions eliminate one's chances of success, but it does decrease the probability that one will succeed under many different external conditions. Although other words exist to describe something similarly, the "offensive" words in question are often more suited to the tone of an argument or conversation, or in fact be the most accurate descriptor. And as an advocate of accuracy, I don't really mind being reminded of the problems I deal with daily for the sake of effective conversation, especially since I am reminded of them daily when I take my medication, or when I am confronted with an obstacle that is made more difficult for me than it is for others by my condition.
Of the other posts, yours
ZD replied on
Of the other posts, yours makes the most sense to me, "mad" scientist.
I hate to be the "But I don't find it offensive!" person, but here I go. I understand why not to use the word "gay" to mean "bad." First of all, when I use the word "gay," I use it to mean "homosexual" so I'm not going to give it a whole new negative meaning thus disparaging gay people and allies. That's easy, especially considering that the thing that's bad isn't homosexual, so it doesn't make sense, and if I hear someone do that I will call them on it. But I admit I have trouble getting upset about "lame" and "crazy" even though I have both physical and mental disabilities. Technically speaking, I am both "lame" and "crazy."
I have never in my life outside of the Bible or the phrase "lame duck" ever heard anyone say "lame" when they meant "physically disabled." I knew that was the old-timey definition because I learned it in a religious class as a child, but I've simply never heard it used that way in the outside world. I was quite surprised the first time I heard someone cry ableism. I read, I watch TV and movies, I have friends and...I've just never heard it. Not once. I wouldn't use the word "lame" in an essay or a college paper, but if a friend of mine tells me that she got a flat tire, I might respond with "Lame!" Don't shoot me. Frankly, I think that saying something like "dumb" is more offensive to deaf or mute people, but I've yet to see anyone complain about that. I had a classmate in elementary school, and he was called "deaf and dumb," an outdated phrase. "Idiot" and "imbecile" were technical terms that are no longer used in a medical sense.
I'm crazy, and don't appreciate being called such. But if someone tells me about his "crazy day," a "crazy boss" or even something cute a "crazy cat" did, I just can't get worked up about it. Sure, they could tell me about their high-activity day with lots of scheduling conflicts or their "irrational boss with high expectations." A lot of people are angry about Donald Trump's recent behavior, and I've seen some backlash online towards people who have called him "crazy." What's the problem? He's acting in a similar fashion to a person likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness! I don't understand how calling someone "irrational" is less offensive than calling someone "crazy." I'm willing to be educated on the subject.
A lot of this has to do with context. I know that even things said with good intentions can be hurtful, but there are things that go to far. Many things in life are in fact "flawed, weaker, irrational, or otherwise lesser than an expected standard" so what is wrong with referring to things as such?
The Transcontinental Disability Choir: What is Ableist Language
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I don't think this subject is
Anonymous replied on
I don't think this subject is being represented for how complicated it truly is. What we're talking about here are larger issues of insulting and swearing. Almost every single insult or swear in the English language has a root in disparaging a group, whether it is women, disabled people, or animals. (And yes, I am being serious about animals and speciesism here. If you do not understand why this is important to the conversation about oppression and intersectionality, please educate yourself before having a knee-jerk response by reading Carol Adams, Joan Dunayer, and others who study women, animals, oppression and language.)
First off, there are many words like idiot, imbecile, moron which have similar histories to the word "retard" but are taken for granted. "Dumb" is another, and even "stupid"-- the idea that someone's allegedly lesser intelligence makes them lesser person-- is problematic from an abelist perspective. We do not tend to talk about these words when we talk about abelist language. Lately the conversation has been focused instead on "lame", a focus which I think really waters down the larger conversation because lots of people who cry foul at "lame" also use "stupid", "idiot", "dumb", "moron" etc all the time.
Even "ass" is problematic. Actually, this is a speciesist insult originating from asiunus, or the animal called the ass, but even if we ignore that, it's still an insult to a human body part. Same with "shit", which is a bad word because it is insulting a basic bodily function.
Let's move on to other insults that I hear all kinds of folks, disability rights activists included, say a lot. In fact let's talk about the word "fuck". This is perhaps the most unchecked offender of all. Fuck is literally a rape insult. Fuck you means literally, well, I am going to dominate you sexually. There's a reason the middle finger, the longest finger, is used here. It's the most violent of all words (fuck) yet we all use it ALL THE TIME.... plenty of people who call out "lame" included.
I won't get started on the whole host of other words that refer to women, animals, or some combination of both, creating an intersection.
Here's the point: the largest, most honest conversation we could be having about this, is a conversation about insults and swearing. I'm thinking about how in Ursula K Le Guin's The Disposessed, on her anarchist planet there aren't swears, not because people are uptight, but because swears are metaphorical disparagements of Others, and to engage in that is not a part of anybody's psyche. It is virtually impossibly to effectively swear without insulting a group or body. This fact would naturally lead to a conversation about whether, in general, it's ethical to even swear. Nobody wants to have that conversation. I don't want to have that conversation, frankly. I like to swear. I like language. I think swearing makes language and expression fun, colorful, interesting, and it connects me to some of my specific cultural roots. So I don't know what the answer to this problem is. But I think we're all being a bit disingenuous and frankly really irritating when we focus so much on a handful of words like "lame" and "crazy" while so flagrantly not checking ourselves on the rest of our language.
Another way to say this is, if I hear one more person say "don't fucking say lame!" next time I slip (a spirited indictment which I've heard over and over, including in punk rock songs and manifestos about the subject), do I get to say "don't fucking throw a rape word at me?" and be taken seriously, or will I be poo-pooed as I usually am? Where do we begin and end this conversation? Why do we continually find new words to get upset about and then refuse to check ourselves on others, as if our personal pet peeve word is the most important and not saying it means we've fixed oppression? I'm including myself in this problem. I'm asking yall to include yourselves with me and take a deep breath.
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Michael Jackson's Memory
Anonymous replied on
I was with Abbyjean until the second to last paragraph. My memory of Michael Jackson does not include anything that resembled values or legitimacy. Poor example.
wisnoskij replied on
It is worrying how Forums/Discussions/Conferences/Events who accept all ideas, people, and speeches can be interpreted as "exclude[ing]" people, because those people (cannot stand)/(do not "feel safe") around all ideas/people/free speech.
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Altas replied on
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lion adrison replied on
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