Daily Archives: May 4, 2006

How to suppress disabled people’s writing.


The cover of _How To Suppress Women's Writing_ by Joanna Russ I have a book. I have to confess, I’ve never actually read the book. I’ve tried, but the language in it is difficult for me to understand. This does not prevent me from loving the cover of the book. The book is pictured here, but for those who can’t read it from the picture, it says:

She didn’t write it. (But if it’s clear she did the deed…) She wrote it, but she shouldn’t have. (It’s political, sexual, masculine, feminist.) She wrote it, but look what she wrote about. (The bedroom, the kitchen,her family. Other women!) She wrote it, but she wrote only one of it. (“Jane Eyre. Poor dear, that’s all she ever …”) She wrote it, but she isn’t really an artist, and it isn’t really art. (It’s a thriller, a romance, a children’s book. It’s sci fi!) She wrote it, but she had help. (Robert Browning, Branwell Brontë. Her own “masculine side.”) She wrote it, but she’s an anomaly. (Woolf. With Leonard’s help…) She wrote it BUT…

And the title of the book is How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ.

Not having managed to understand more of the book than the cover, I’m not going to comment extensively on the book. But for this post, I’m going to concentrate on the ways I see my writing, and other people’s writing, suppressed constantly, before it even gets to all those “buts”. The “She didn’t write it” part seems to be where a lot of people get stuck with us.

She didn’t write it, because someone was touching her when she “wrote” it.

This is the standard argument against facilitated communication. If someone touches us to help us write things, then obviously it is the person touching us who wrote them.

She didn’t write it, because she wasn’t looking at the keyboard.

See my last post for in-depth information on that myth.

She didn’t write it, because her speech sounds different from her writing.

People often assume that speech and writing should be congruous, and that if writing is somehow more articulate than speech, or contradicts what is said in speech, then it is the writing that is suspect. Speech nearly always trumps writing in what is believed of us. So, if we have speech that goes on autopilot while we write, or if we say the opposite of what we write, it’s our speech that’s believed.

She didn’t write it, because she was just being exploited.

This is one I get a lot, especially in the offline world, especially if I’m saying something simultaneously with someone who gives off a lot less of an air of cognitive impairment than I apparently do. What happens is, while people may accept that I am doing the mechanical act of writing, the assumption is that I didn’t come up with any of the ideas. I got all the ideas from another person, who is exploiting me for their own uses. The interesting thing about this one is that I can actually be the one coming up with some of the ideas, but the other person gets blamed for putting these same ideas into my head.

So, none of my ideas are really my own, they’re just other people’s, exploiting me, supposedly. That’s how the theory goes. I am just the poor innocent pawn of these evil nasty exploiters. And I’m supposed to feel protected by this rather than insulted???

She didn’t write it, because… just look at her!

I don’t quite get this one, but I’ve seen it a lot. Apparently only people who look a certain way can write. Especially, people who look like we might be cognitively disabled, particularly severely cognitively disabled, can’t write, apparently. Not that I’m totally sure what that looks like, but I know I’ve been told that I look like it. So, all you have to do is look at us, and you know, that we didn’t really write what we wrote. Because people who look like us can’t write. End of story, no need for proof or anything.

She didn’t write it, because she can’t be educated enough to write like that.

There’s two assumptions in this. One, that all people of certain sorts didn’t get an education. That one isn’t true. Two, that all people get educated in the same way. That also isn’t true. Donna Williams had a really scattered education until adulthood, and she writes books. Other auties speak of being integrated in regular education even when they didn’t show standard signs of comprehension. And many of us learn in non-standard ways.

She didn’t write it, because she has a mental age of 18 months.

Being able to score well on an IQ test, and being able to write, are two different things. I know of many eloquent writers who scored anywhere from slightly low to very low on IQ tests. I know of several accomplished university students who only discovered they had low IQ scores after they had already gotten advanced degrees. The notion of “mental age” is a meaningless abstraction of the ability to do IQ tests in a certain way.

She didn’t write it, because she writes better than I can, but she’s a retard.

I’m using the offensive word ‘retard’ in here for a reason. It’s an appropriately offensive name for an appropriately offensive sociological category a lot of people get put into. I don’t happen to believe that anyone matches the thought that is in people’s head when they say ‘retard’, no matter how they do on IQ tests. But it is a thought they have in their heads, and it comes into play a lot in these situations. If a so-called ‘retard’ does better than they do at something, that throws their whole mental construct of the world off. So it’s easier to say that we are not really writing. But, no matter how many people think retard at us, it doesn’t mean that some of us can’t be more eloquent writers than some non-disabled people.

She uses an interpreter, so the interpreter is really the person doing the talking.

This happens to me a lot, because I use a cognitive interpreter. That means, someone who is intimately aware of my body language and use of language, as well as my background, who can take a posture and a word or two and elaborate it into what I really mean. I can tell the person at any time that they’ve gotten it wrong, but having such an interpreter can be vital to a communication process because of my trouble with word-finding and other people’s trouble with reading the cues I give off.

Of course, the job of interpreting for me also has a problem attached to it: Quite often the things that I am saying with my body language are things that people want to ignore, as much as possible. A good interpreter will be able to see those and elaborate on them. Like the time my interpreter walked into the room and saw me huddled into a corner terrified of the two staff who were trying to talk me into something, and who told them exactly why I seemed cooperative. They wanted her to leave the room, convinced she was putting words in my mouth (or at least as she said things they didn’t want to hear), even as I said “No, she’s right, she’s absolutely right, let her stay.”

There have even been times when people saw the interpreter, who told them rightly what was happening in my head underneath the appearance of passivity, as a threat, and insisted that I was just fine until the interpreter came in. If I get angry at that, my anger is a sign of the interpreter’s “disruptive” presence, and they try to get the interpreter to leave so they can badger me into submission in peace, or something.

Another problem is the invisibility of my body language and other subtle signals to most non-autistic people. Because they can’t see me as having body language, I am assumed to have none, and the interpreter is assumed to be pulling interpretations out of thin air. Rather than, the interpreter can see what signals I send and is correctly interpreting them. Obviously, if particular non-autistic people can’t see my body language, then nobody can. Or something.

At any rate, when I use an interpreter, what the interpreter says is often not believed, even though the interpreter is often telling them exactly what I am thinking, and even though I always tell the interpreter if she’s getting something wrong.

* * * * * Anyway, I wrote this as an outgrowth of one of the comments on my last post. Someone had asked me, “Why is it that people don’t listen to us about things like how we type?” I am pretty sure the answer lies in the above: They don’t think that we have anything to say, and they don’t think that we actually wrote anything, therefore there’s no way we could have written anything worth listening to, at that.