Saturday, March 29, 2014

Unnecessary Dominance

If she hadn't done what she did, I wouldn't have seen what I saw.

We were meeting a friend for lunch and had arrived early. As the restaurant was in the mall, we stopped to shop along the way. Getting to the cash was accessible but we decided that Joe would line up and pay for it as that would give me time to push myself through the long hallway. I arrived, well ahead of Joe and turned and sat, at an angle, waiting for one or the other to arrive.

It's a busy mall, filled with shoppers, many of whom are in groups, family groups, groups of teens, groups of moms with toddlers in strollers. So I wasn't really noticing anything more than the flow of people.

Then, a group came by, and they were almost by me, when a young woman reached over and straightened the collar of a woman who was nearly twice her age. It was then that I noticed that it was a group of people with intellectual disabilities accompanied by two support workers. I also noticed the woman who had been touched turn, at the touch, with a look of annoyance on her face, towards the staff. Telegraphing, through facial reaction, her displeasure with the interaction. The staff didn't notice, she was busy talking with the other staff.

That one little touch.

That one little unnecessary touch.

Centred out the woman, centred out the group, made it very clear who they were, made it very clear who's role was what, made it very clear that power rested the one with the power to touch unnecessarily.

The collar may have been slightly kinked, I don't know, I didn't see anything wrong with it. What ever it was that called the staff's attention wasn't calling mine, or anyone else's.

That one little touch.

That one little unnecessary touch.

Made it clear, who was who and what was what. And maybe that was the point of it.

I don't know.

But what I do know is that there are many ways to call someone down, some ways use words, some use action, and some use a collar and an unnecessary touch.


Anonymous said...

Dave, thank you for writing this today. The philosophy we try to instill in our staff is that they never-ever touch someone without permission. It is great to hear someone confirm that even if it seems like a natural and caring gesture, it is power taking and not acceptable.

Liz said...

Thank you. I know I do some 'mum fussing' I will remember to stop because you are right, the touch draws more attention than the perceived problem. I had never seen it like this before.

Anonymous said...

It wasn't JUST the touch - though that was bad enough. It was that the person doing the touching wasn't even paying attention because he/she was talking to the other support person.

Talk about 'intent to dehumanize.' To ignore. To patronize. Like picking a piece of lint off the carpet while chatting with your friend.

You called it.


Anonymous said...

This is why I don't like being touched when I'm in the wheelchair. It's not (just) that I mind being touched. What I mind is the way people casually show dominance. (And it seems to happen every single time I go out in public). They way they put me in a category with children and pets.

If you don't know ME, why do you think you can touch me?

FunMumX3 said...

But but but... OK Dave, I understand that your personal experiences are your experiences and I wouldn't question them. But this is an observation about other people only and who really knows the backstory? I'm in my late 40s and my experience growing up was recognizing those with intellectual disabilities by their utilitarian clothing (why do they need to be dressed up?) their greasy hair (institutions can only arrange showers every few days), thick glasses (why pay for the new technology that allows for thin lenses and stylish frames? huh!) with crusty mouths and mismatched buttons. I'm quite serious.. we had an "inclusion" program at high school but kids seemed to disappear very quickly. It felt then, and it sure feels now, like it was an experiment to see if these kids could be included and it was doomed to failure by low expectations.

My point is, the smoothing of a collar, the wiping of a face, the brushing of hair out of eyes, the re-buttoning, the general care and attention to appearances... don't dismiss it. I'm with Liz that I do some 'mum fussing' but now that my daughter is 18 I do set out to do it respectfully. I point out to her that she has a crusty mouth, or make sure I brush the dandruff off her shoulders before she leaves the house (and show her how to do it when she is by herself). Because you know what? People do get judged on appearance. It's our human nature to do so, as appearance gives us cues as to who that person is.

If the touch of the staff was aggressive or confrontational, sure, I get it. But without knowing the people involved I'm not sure we should be so quick to make assumptions. Do you?

Anonymous said...

I have a pet peeve it is the tag sticking out of the back of someones collar. I have fixed peoples tags as I tell them "I am fixing your tag". I do this with everyone. I have never thought of it as assuming dominance over someone before. Thanks for someting to think about.