About this “can’t defend themselves” stuff.


I’ve seen some other people, such as Dave Hingsburger, begin to get really irritated with responses to a certain situation. Basically a movie that says ‘retard’ a lot and stereotypes people with developmental disabilities. Many people have been responding saying that it’s awful because disabled people are defenseless, incapable of defending ourselves.

I commented in one spot about that, and nobody responded to me. But Dave Hingsburger commented on it, and lots of people responded to him. They said that they had very young children, and that no child can defend themselves, and therefore it’s okay.

But can’t anyone see that doing this on the (strongly implied) basis that we’re all children is the problem?

If a movie were putting out horrible stereotypes of women, enough that women felt the need to protest, and of course those who cared about women also felt that need, would anyone say, “Poor things, they can’t defend themselves”?

Well yes, some people might. It’d be recognized as a damaging and inaccurate stereotype though.

And I don’t think anyone would dream of saying, “But… but… I have a little girl. She’s only four months old. No four-month-olds can defend themselves against this stuff. So it makes total sense that people say women in general can’t defend themselves.”

It’s no different if you say it about babies or young children with developmental disabilities. This is stuff that affects us all — everyone it’s applied to. Most of us are adults. To defend a stereotype of us based on the fact that it’s true of children, is just one more added stereotype.

I hope this makes sense, I’m having trouble getting the words for it. But I am finding myself more irritated at the assumption that it’s okay to talk about an entire group of people as if we all have the same defenselessness as a young baby (and that a young baby in a certain category being defenseless, means it’s okay to call everyone in that category defenseless — hey, I guess everyone can’t defend themselves then, yes?), than I am at the original thing people are objecting to.

About Mel Baggs

I am a highly sensing person. I am a child of earth and water, I was born into a redwood forest and I left the forest but it never left me. I'm 34 as I wrote this. If I had an alignment like in role-playing games and MUDs, I'd be chaotic good all the way: I don't think it's possible to fill ethics into a moral code, the world is far too complex for that. I let the world be complex and chaotic and try to respond situation by situation from a small number of principles of right and wrong. My responses may seem to contradict each other, but that will be because either the situation has changed, or I have changed. I am a poet who is trying to practice more every day, hence the poetry blog. I am a cat lover and live with a wonderful elderly cat. I am a painter when I have the time, energy, and resources. I have multiple cognitive, physical, developmental, and psychiatric disabilities, and my health is not usually stable. Put all together, I'd be considered severely disabled. I get a lot of assistance throughout the day. I am a real living cyborg, part human part machine: I have a GJ feeding tube to feed me through one tube and drain my stomach through the other,, an InterStim implant for urinary retention, and a port (a permanent central IV line). I love life. I think Love (not the sentimental emotion, but the property of the world) is the most important thing that human beings can offer each other. Being near death enough times has taught me that, and has also taught me that I have no time for bullies or pettiness. I'm involved in disabilty rights and other causes that people these days would call 'social justice', but I don't consider myself part of the 'SJ community' or the 'anti-SJ community' because of that thing I said about pettiness -- they're more about one-upmanship than fixing the world. I wish they had not taken over the words 'social justice', which used to mean something else. I love talking to just ordinary people about fixing the world, they have far more realistic ideas and more likelihood of putting them into practice. I'm a Hufflepuff to the core, with some Gryffindor tendencies and even a little bit of Ravenclaw. I admire some Slytherins but I don't have much ambition or cunning at all. I still think the Slytherin common room is second best, with Hufflepuff coming first. My favorite color is brown, especially when combined with a bit of yellow or blue. My favorite music is country, and my favorite country artists are Kathy Mattea, Lacy J. Dalton, Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, Merle Haggard, and Loretta Lynn. I don't like most new country but i occasionally hear something on the radio I like. At an early age, my family listened to country almost exclusively to the point where I thought all the different types of country were all the different types of music! I couldn't put Lacy J. Dalton, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, and Kris Kristofferson in the same category. Although now that I've grown up I can hear that they are all country, but as a kid my ear was trained more for minute differences in country styles, than for recognizing country from other types of music. Country isn't all I like. Some other bands and artists I like: The Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Rasputina, Jefferson Airplane, The Beatles, Rich Mullins (I'm not Christian but some Christian music is amazing), ), The Raventones/T.R. Kelley, Planet P Project/Tony Carey, Sinead Lohan, Donna Williams, Suzanne Vega, Phideaux, and Jethro Tull, to name a few. I love the Cocteau Twins in particular because they are everything being sensing is about: Words are chosen for their sound, not their meaning, the voice becomes yet another instrument rather than a conveyor of words, raw emotion pours out of them, there are layers upon layers, and they were around for long enough there's lots of their music in a variety of different styles -- including their later stuff where the words have more meaning than just sounds. Each period in their music has its benefits and drawbacks but I love them all, or nearly so. Their music comes as close as any music can come to conveying how I experience the world, as what Donna Williams calls 'pattern, form, and feel'. And Elizabeth Fraser has a beautiful voice, I once had a teenage crush on her. As I type this, I have a cat sitting on my shoulder, cheek to cheek with me, peering around and occasionally rubbing me. My relationship to her goes back 15 years to when she was six months old, and we've rarely been parted since. It's been an honor to watch her grow into a wise but crotchety old lady cat. She knows she's technically older than me and tells me so sometimes, especially during arguments. She has trouble with the fact that there are parts of the human world I know better than she does. She sees me as her big, dumb kitten who needs protecting, and is beside herself with worry if I end up in the hospital (which seems to happen frequently these days). I don't experience myself as having a gender identity, I call it being genderless. You'll sometimes see the pronouns sie and hir in my work, they are gender-neutral pronouns pronounced 'see' and 'hear'. I was raised female, which gives me both disadvantages (outside the trans community) and advantages (inside the trans community). You don't have to remember my pronouns, lots of people have trouble with gender-neutral pronouns. I won't be upset with you. People make mistakes, and some people just can't get the hang of new words, and that's okay. I have vocabulary problems myself (mostly comprehension), I'm not going to penalize other people for having vocabulary problems of their own. Right now my father is dying of cancer that's metastatized so many places they can't figure out where it started, my mother has severe myasthenia gravis that can land her in the ICU (and she's my father's primary caretaker), my "second mother" (who took over when I grew up and my family didn't know how to prepare me for the world) has endometrial cancer, and my cat is getting old. All of this is bringing death to the forefront of my mind and my poetry. In fact I think I've been able to write more poetry because of all the feelings about so many people dying or with precarious health. It was easier to handle when it was me that was going to die (averted by diagnosis and treatment of severe adrenal insufficiency that'd been going on for years). It's harder when it's someone else, someone you love. My other hobby is crocheting, and a lot of the time if I'm not writing, it'll be hard to find me without a crochet hook or occasional knitting needles in my hands. I love to be able to make things. I have been making hats and scarves with spare yarn (which I have a lot of), and putting them in City Hall Park wrapped in plastic, with notes saying "If you're cold, take this." I know what it's like to be cold in the winter, and if anyone takes them and stays warm I'd be overjoyed. You may have noticed I'm long-winded. This is actually the result of a language disability that makes it difficult for me to leave out details, to see two almost-identical things as perhaps something that doesn't need repeating, and to summarize or condense down my writing. I know this is a flaw in my writing, and it even prevents me from reading it sometimes, but I've found no solutions. Sometimes on my longer posts I'll put a "TL;DR" ("too long; didn''t read") summary at the end in bold letters for people to skip down to.. But even those don't feel adequate, even when I can do theme, which is not always. I think I'm getting better though. Learning haiku and other short poetry forms helps me condense my words better. Anyway, I hope that gives you enough idea of who I am. At my most basic, I care about Love more than anything (whenever I come near enough to death, I feel like I get asked the question "Did you Love, and did you express that Love properly?"), but like everyone I get sidetracked into things that are much less important. I try to make my writing an expression of Love. Sometimes I succeed.

8 responses »

  1. Yes Amanda! I have seen all these sorts of comments too and been turned off by them. It’s as if some people are trying to get the word dropped out of pity.

    I couldn’t even be bothered to comment on Patricia Bauer’s posts as there was so much of the very attitude you describe.

  2. I’m glad you posted this, showing that you can indeed “defend yourself.”

    When I first read a response to the situation that said “it’s awful because disabled people are defenseless, incapable of defending” themselves,” my first thought was that this was more directly, and intentionally, offensive than off-hand uses of “retard” is. Of course, it may just reflect the general ignorance of the public at large about what it really means to be autistic (or anything else not considered “normal”).

  3. yes. yes yes yes.

    in addition to what you’ve stated, i’ve been having a hard time w/ some of the organizing around tropic thunder (though i am waiting until after all the actions and negotiations have been won to bring them up). the fact that a lot of parents/parent organizations were spotlighted when a lot of self advocates did the leg work and are most affected by this, the protest signs that said the r-word was bad was because we are not connected to our disabilities instead of saying the r-word is oppressive and hateful, the connections that were not made to other movements (i.e. rather than celebrating the fact that the n-word wasn’t used, our strategy has been to say “hey! you didn’t use the n-word but you used the r-word”,) etc..

    anyways. glad to read this.

  4. That is discomforting. Especially since it is so much a part of oppression that people within the group are talked down to (such as a woman being told to “behave like a good little girl” or a black man being called “boy”), and that this is already very much in line with how people with cognitive disabilities are treated.

  5. I think when groups first start to stand up for their rights, such as with the Tropic Thunder fiasco you were referring to. People try to keep them down by infantilizing them. If it isn’t, “Well they should stop throwing a temper tantrum over a silly word!” it’s “They can’t defend themselves, how sick do you have to be to beat up on the defenseless!” It’s the same type of behaviour people have used throughout time when they wanted to keep people down.

  6. Hi, I’m Rachel – nice to meet you. I’ve supposedly got cognitive stuff from a brain injury and have struggled with work. I also cry easily which caused me to lose my career in teaching. I cry a lot about that one. I heard from a video clip that the teachers teased you too. That’s awful and I wish you could have known to say something sooner so you didn’t have to endure that pain. I’m sorry for the pain you’ve gone through. I guess my family has been dysfunctional so my situation is quite different. You seem to have a much more stable life. I get fatigued easily and will be starting a full-time job. I have a two year old son so I’m concerened about having energy left at the end of the day – and never getting downtime if I get sick. It’s hard for me to understand my problems because doctors have spoken two ways to me in terms of being able to get any help and the government has not offered. So I’m gonna give it my best shot to support us but it seems unfair to not get equal employment opportunities when that’s what is touted as being the American way.

    write sometime if you ever see this :)

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