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

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

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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