Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Social Violence

For those of you who followed it, we had quite a discussion on this blog regarding yesterday's post. There was a lot of differing opinion and several suggestions, some I liked as ideas, some I could never do. But there was a statement made about me and about what I like and don't like that leads me to want to clear up a misconception that I may have left with you as readers about me and what I need from the social environments in which I find myself.

The comment was about my 'helping' the woman in question and how I don't like unwanted, unasked for help - like with doors. It is very true that I don't like it when people insist on helping me physically when I don't need, or want their help. That is different however, from when I am in a social situation being stared at, laughed at, pointed at, or mocked because of either my disability or my weight. I see this as social violence and I am used to (as some didn't seem to realize yesterday) street harassment on a several times daily basis. It's about my body, it is aimed to hurt and I feel very, very vulnerable in those situations.

But when someone steps in like the guard at the ROM I am completely and totally grateful. The link here is to an article about Ruby, not the guard, but I wanted to mention that guard in the post because what she did is remarkable.

Do you know why it is remarkable?

Because it never happens.




I was in the same museum when a group of young teens were going through and I had to wait until they passed. A goodly percentage of them openly and loudly spoke of me, saying hurtful things. Their teachers heard them, the guards heard them, other people heard them. And no one spoke. Including me. I felt that the silence of others signalled their agreement with the ugly assessment of those teens. I got what I deserved.

I was on a street corner, crowded, waiting for the light to change. I was surrounded. There was a police officer there, waiting for the light with us. One person started talking about the 'ugly laws' and how people like the 'lazy, fat dude in the wheelchair' shouldn't be allowed out. His tone was mocking and it was clear he expected no one to speak up in my favour, to challenge what he was saying. He was right.

I feel alone a lot.

I like it when I don't.

This isn't the same as helping with a door when I don't want it.

Not at all.

Others may feel different, of course, but me - I am in awe whenever someone does something.

Like the guard.

Who did her job.

Because she thought I mattered.


Antonia Lederhos Chandler said...

I wear my hair short, and I like men's shirts. I work at a grade school.
One day, 3 little boys walked up to me, giggling, as if they had dared
each other to do so. One of them asked, "Are you a girl or a boy?" I
smiled at them and said, I'm a girl. I'm a grandma. Some girls like
to wear their hair short. This did, however, hurt me a little, although
I hope I didn't show it, knowing that I was an anomaly in their limited
experience, whether it was fueled by the opinions of the adults in
their lives, or not.

Every once in a while, a girl or a boy still asks me, "Are you a girl?" I
tell them, "Yes. I like my hair short." I'm used to it. It's my new
*normal*, since starting to work with children, last December.

Sometimes, an adult will tell me, once my hair has two months' growth,
"You're looking good! I like your hair that way!" I inform them, "I get
it cut about once every 2 months. I like it short. I'm due for another
haircut, soon."

I think about people who have had cancer treatments, and whose hair
has fallen out, how these questions -- oh, I also get, "Are you okay?
You don't have cancer, do you?" -- how these questions might feel
to someone who doesn't choose to wear a wig, hat, or scarf, and
hasn't chosen to have cancer. . . .

I also think about the people who make my overweight body feel small,
to whom I am ungraciously grateful, at times, and next to whom I'd
like to walk, to hide in their shadow, in order to feel like people aren't
staring at my double chin and love handles, but rather, at theirs.

And reading what you write here, Dave, about how it feels to be the person
stared at and experiencing social violence makes me ashamed of myself for
EVER even THINKING such a thing.

Thanks for sharing the real you, whom I am coming to know and admire

Liz said...

Speaking up against injustice isn't 'helping' it is simply the right thing to do. It isn't on the same planet as 'helping' because you see another person as somehow incapable or inferior. To me, that kind of helping is on the same spectrum as abuse because it is a denial of personhood.

Mary said...

I note with interest the people you speak about in this post. Teachers. Guards. Police officers. In other words, authority figures who have an explicit or implied licence to intervene in situations like that, to insist upon the attention of others.

To the young woman in yesterday's post, you were not an authority figure. You were just another man, trying to demand her time and attention, just like the men who were catcalling her.

The difference is that while *they* were doing it in a way that she could ignore, keeping a certain distance, allowing her to choose not to become part of that morning's public circus... *you* did what they had not dared, you got in her space and *demanded* a response, gradually upping the ante from visual to vocal to touching her. In doing so you removed her ability to remain separate, engaged in other activities, letting it run off her like water off a duck's back. You forced her to become part of their entertainment.

You posted a few days ago about communication... a woman and her staff at the cinema? About how even if words aren't being spoken, communication is more than words? Well, headphones in/music up/fiddling with phone/ignoring people around you, this is all crystal clear (if non-verbal) communication that interaction is not welcomed.

I hear you saying that you were projecting your own feelings about being the object of derision and social violence onto her and assuming that she felt the same. I hear that your intent was to protect her from the thing you fear and are so often subjected to (although you're unclear on what protection you could offer). But she didn't, couldn't, know that. Intent Is Not Magic. Nor did she know that you were a newlywed and that her response would widdle on your cornflakes. All she knew was that when she was clearly communicating that she did not *want* anyone in her space, some man decided he was entitled to overrule that.

I doubt she was traumatised, but I really do think it was a wrong move and I find her response understandable. And I understand why you're feeling hurt and upset and "but I'm not like that! I'm nice! I had good intentions! I was worried for her!" but I still support her response, and I don't think she's obliged to feel towards you the way you felt towards that security guard.

(Example from my pre-disability life: when I was walking home one night, a guy seemed to be following me. I took various tactics, finally altering my route so that I could go to the nearest petrol station (eg a place guaranteed to be open and have an attendant, a phone, and CCTV). Then I confronted him. He said he had noticed some verbal aggro from some other men I had walked past and had decided to follow me "to keep me safe". The verbal aggro had happened, true. Perhaps he was telling the truth, perhaps his intentions were pure. Who knows, maybe he was an amazing street fighter and if those lads or anyone else had jumped me, he would have fought them off! But even IF that was the case, I couldn't know that and I certainly couldn't prioritise his potential hurt feelings over my own feeling of personal safety - I was right to be scared, right to be angry, and right to yell at him to eff off and leave me alone otherwise I'd call the police.)

Dave Hingsburger said...

Mary, I may have listed those folks because, as you say,they have the authority to act. But, let's be clear, I'd be gobsmacked if ANYONE ever stood with me or broke through my sense of aloneness when being verbally attacked, stared at or mocked. ANYONE. EVER.

I get a sense of anger from your comment, that may just be my reading of it, but I thought I'd made it clear that I get it, I shouldn't have touched her. I do find it interesting that everyone seems to just know that she knew what was going on. I was there, I don't think she knew. I acted in a way that I thought best at the time, the reason I wrote about it though and asked for opinons was because I was unsure. I don't claim and have never claimed to get it right every time.

I wasn't wanting a bow down grateful response from her, I just wanted to alert her to the danger that I saw and that I still believe she didn't realize was happening. I get it that I should have just saw the 'danger' as being in my head and that I should not intervene in situations like that one. It feels wrong to me, but I get the reasoning behind it and take that advice very seriously.

THIS post was to state that I have never written about social intervention in the same way as I have with physical help being forced upon me. I see them as very different things. I also wanted to clarify that the assumption that I do not know or experience social violence is an incorrect one.

Again, her response to my touch is understandable. I really do get that.

Angela Clancy said...

This is a fabulous dialogue and one that has been needed for quite some time! Well done on raising this to the surface and talking openly about it! The topic of social violence is one that is deep in my heart! Last month my brother was visiting us. He lives in another city. As we often do we engaged in several activities...one of which was shopping for new bathing suits so we could swim at the local pool. i have 3 young daughters ages 5, 7 and 9. They know their uncle as a beautiful, funny, loving, gregarious guy! They really don't know know much about his limitations, labels etc....thankfully! From the wisdom of our beautiful Judith Snow "You know Inclusion is truly happening when you don't see it anymore". This is true in our family. While in line at a local department store, my 3 girls took their uncle over to show him something a ways away from where I was standing. An elderly woman nudged me, pointed at my brother (who she very obviously did not know was with me) and said "I don't know how people tolerate people like THAT being out in community." To this I frowned, called out "Hey Al, come over here for a minute." When he arrived, I smiled, rubbed his back and said Al, I could not resists introducing you to the most ignorant person I have ever met in my life." Alan's response??? "Nice to meet you." and he put out his hand to shake hers. She turned away and did not turn back. I have gone over and over this day in my mind since it happened. All of the things I could have done; should have done. The bottom line is though - that woman was socially violent towards my beautiful brother. He didn't know...but I did. What bothers me even more is that fact that this woman did not just think it - she was looking to build alliance around the very topic of exclusion and difference being less than. It is not only hurtful - it is vindictive, damaging and alienating. People need to be called on this behavior! We need to have more people stand up for what is right. I think we need alliances to battle ill intentions. I get the door thing Dave - I actually get both sides though. i think, in my mind, we are better to have helpful, generous people rather than the ones who would lock the door to keep you on the outside.

Mary said...

Dave, you're right, there is a certain amount of anger - I apologise for that. It's not really that you touched her though. I feel I "know" you well enough through your blog to know that you're on the ball about appropriate and inappropriate touching, I don't think for a second that you were posing a physical menace.

No, the anger is about the attitude that another person should deal with social aggressions towards *them* on *your* terms. The patriarchal assumption that men - nice, good, kind, well meaning men! - so often seem to make without even realising they're making it, of believing (a) that they know best, better than she does and (b) that they have the right to overrule a young woman on her own, that they have the right to compel her to interact even when she very clearly does not want to.

You say "I'd be gobsmacked if ANYONE ever stood with me or broke through my sense of aloneness when being verbally attacked, stared at or mocked. ANYONE. EVER." and I think this is key to why we differ.

You are an authority, an expert, a person who I greatly admire, for your work on disability advocacy and all that goes with it. You know disability inside out. Furthermore, as you share with us here, you know from personal experience what it's like to be the victim of disability discrimination, to be subjected to hostility on account of disability. This experience and expertise is also informed by your exposure to hostilities on account of being disabled/fat/gay/other *plus* the intersectionality thereof.

But you do not have the experience of being a woman, particularly of being a young non-disabled woman, and it simply doesn't transfer across. The social violence I experienced as a woman of (IMO) "normal" appearance was an entirely different kettle of fish to that which I experience as a wheelchair-using woman. One of the key elements is that it's *not* so isolating because women aren't a minority. Domestic violence, that was isolating... but social violence? I could go to school, college, work, cafe, pub, friend's house, random shop, ladies' loo, anywhere and say to whichever woman I happened to see first (and I would definitely see another woman, in a way that I rarely see another wheelchair user) "aargh, I had a bunch of jerks yelling at me on the way here," and they would immediately express sympathy, solidarity, the fact that it was a shared experience that we are ALL familiar with. No one ever asked if I'd misconstrued, or told me it couldn't have happened, or accused me of exaggerating (all things I know you know happen regarding disability-related attacks), because such a very large segment of my social circle knew first hand that this was reality.

You know and experience social violence, of course. But you do not and you can not know or experience social violence as a woman, nor the thought processes and reactions to it.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Mary, thanks for your response. I have thought about this more and wondered if I did it because she was a woman. I then realized if it had been a gay man, standing in exactly the same way, with a group taunting him, I'd have done the same thing. It was the danger that I perceived that I responded to, not the gender of the target. I'm NOT defending what I did, I'm just saying that, in a variety of scenarios with a variety of people standing in the same place, I still would have done the same. I wouldn't do it in the future, after this discussion, but the me then would have done it.

This has been a fruitful discussion. I've much to think about.

Utter Randomness said...

Can I ask you how you would have reacted to a stranger touching you unexpectedly in a situation where you were in danger?

Dave Hingsburger said...

Utter Randomness, I don't know, I think every situation is different. But I have had a few occasions where I was not paying close enough attention to my driving and almost rode out onto a busy street against a red light. I was touched then, even yelled at, "Hey, Stop!" I reacted with gratitude because I immediately saw the danger. That's not a comparable situation I know. Part of the difference is that as a disabled person I'm touched way more than I was as a non-disabled person. I have learned to fend off most touches quite quickly. But the times I've been touched because of some kind of pedestrian mistake have never resulted in anything other than 'thanks.' In a situation of social violence that I wouldn't immediately see, I don't know. I'm not a yeller though.

Can I ask that we move away from the subject of touch now? I've said, over and over again, that I get it I shouldn't have touched her. I haven't defended the touch, once, throughout the discussion.

H.ellen said...

I have been so disheartened and depressed by this discussion. I am a woman who would not have been raped if someone had acted. Part of my difficulty with healing is that I now feel that there is no safe place because people don't care about others. I can't believe that Dave has been talked into walking by a situation of danger without doing anything about it. This is so fucked up. Really fucked up. I can't read any more of this. It's triggering all kinds of destructive thoughts.

Purpletta said...

H.ellen - I am so incredibly sorry you had to go through all of that and that the healing process is as hard as it truly is. I too am in a process of healing. I agree this dialogue was surprising and that the notion that 'we' as a group convinced Dave to plan not to intervene in the same way his instincts had told him is very concerning. Yet I do believe Dave has tremendous instincts and in spite of this conversation Dave would always do what he thought in the moment was needed to help someone else be safe. We all bring our experiences with us to each new situation and I for one truly appreciate your sharing your story as it serves as a strong reminder of why we as people do matter to one another... and why 'draw the circle wide' is so important. Please know there are others of us out here who will do all we can for one another and for each other's safety. May the journey bring you closer to healing each day.

AnyBeth said...

@Dave: I know you said you want this to move away from touch, so I feel really awkward saying something to do with that same comment. But it's not about that touch and it's not judgmental at all.
You said, "[A]s a disabled person I'm touched way more than I was as a non-disabled person."
Between ages 21 and 23, my mobility problems waxed and waned before finally sticking so that I always use a wheelchair or walker when I'm out. And from mid-teens on, I was touched much more when I was (or appeared) able-bodied. Maybe there's some reason unknown to me such that I'm not touched as much as the average person with disabilities, but I'm pretty sure the reason I was touched so much when I didn't appear disabled was gender-based. Seems to be a thing.

Ooo! I just thought of something I've done before (but not in quite such circumstances) that could be interventional but non-threatening. But you'd have to be willing to make a spectacle of yourself. Stay nearly as close to the possibly threatening presence as you deem comfortably safe, and sing not quite directly at them. (Like a tantruming toddler you're pretending to ignore.) Probably a lot of other ones could do, but popular hymns have served me well at this. One, it may well shame them into shutting up. Two, even if it doesn't, they'd likely move on since you've drowned them out -- if not by volume, then by the sheer oddity of singing. Heck, you could probably go full operatic in singing about what you think of them and why you're doing that so long as you pick out a tune (especially something embarrassing, like the Sesame Street theme). As silly as it is, it's worked for me. Specifically, the Sesame Street theme worked to silence a group of half-a-dozen middle-school boys harassing a group of girl peers (including me), "Just As I Am" worked by getting a couple of late-teen guys to move on from making fun of someone, and three kids (4-16) singing "Jesus Loves Me" at the top of our lungs apparently stopped an act of domestic violence in apartments across the street (we did the same the second time we heard them and never had occasion again).

My second-grade teacher had a very sexist playground rule (girls may not chase boys but boys may chase girls) that led me to seek a creative solution that would work but not get me in trouble. (Defensive ring-around-the-rosy worked so well most girls in the class sought my services.) So I learned early that so long as you don't care how it makes you look, there are lots of possibilities. Shame them, embarrass them, but more than anything, disrupt their power, take away their control of the situation. It's an idea anyway, and maybe it could get you thinking about the possibility of other creative ways you might act to accomplish your goal of righting any such a wrong.