The Word “Stupid” and Why You Shouldn’t Use It

The word “stupid” exists to justify discounting and disenfranchising individuals and groups. The idea behind it is “Some people are inherently inferior, so I don’t have to treat them with basic human respect.” The supposed mental inferiority of women, black people, people with disabilities ranging from cognitive to physical to emotional, fat people, and convicts has always been a primary argument and justification for their mistreatment.

Now, I know people are going to object to this. They’re very attached to their “right” to use the word stupid without critique. They will defend their use of the word and what they “really mean” when they say it. But if what you really mean is “willfully ignorant”, then say “willfully ignorant.” If what you really mean is “what you say is hateful and hurts people”, then say “what you say is hurtful and hurts people.” If you mean “that makes no sense”, say “that makes no sense.” If you mean “that’s factually incorrect”, say “that’s factually incorrect.” “Stupid” is not a precise label. The reason you want to use it is the exact reason you shouldn’t: Because it has power. And that very real power has been used to hurt very real people.

The concept of stupidity was used to justify keeping the right to vote from black men and women and from all women. Around the world disabled people are denied the right to vote, based on their presumed mental incompetence. The idea that cis women and trans men are too inherently “stupid” to make their own reproductive choices in regards to birth control and abortion is alive and well today. The idea that cognitively impaired adults are “stupid” and therefore worth less helps enable the subminimum wages paid to those same adults.

Calling someone “stupid” is no better or different from calling someone “crazy.” It has the capacity to do tremendous splash damage and it is not a word devoid of baggage. The word and the concept behind the word are both ableist and they have both been used to subjugate real horrors on real people. Horrors like institutionalization and incarceration, forced sterilization, political disenfranchisement, job discrimination, wage discrimination, and higher rates of bullying victimization.

“Stupid” people, whether that means people with a low IQ, women, fat people, racial minorities, or people who couldn’t afford to go to college in this economic reality, are more likely to be unemployed or under employed, more likely to be politically disenfranchised – yes, here in the US too – and are more likely to be bullied.

Lay the fuck off “stupid” people. “Stupid” has been used as a weapon and as a tool of oppression long enough. Let it go.

Comment policy for this post: I don’t wanna hear it. There will be no comments on this post.

On Sexim and MicroAggressions

What are microaggressions? They are small acts of non-physical aggression, which combine to create a hostile environment. “Small” is a key feature and it is this feature which enables plausible deniability, which I would argue is another feature of microaggressions.

Sexist microaggressions include talking over women, interrupting women, telling women to “smile” or instructing women on how to be more pleasing. Each of these acts is small in and of itself, but combined with all the other small acts of countless other men, constitutes a pervasive problem.

“But everyone interrupts” you may object, or else “Men interrupt other men, too!” While these are both true, they obscure the facts. The facts show that men interrupt more often than women, and they interrupt women more often than they interrupt other men. And women who do interrupt are more likely to interrupt other women than they are to interrupt men. All this adds up to a world where men and women interrupt women, but not really men. Women’s voices are silenced while men’s voices are amplified. (Look here and here for more information on interruption and gender.)

Over the next week, I’m going to be counting the number of microaggressions I encounter, online and off. I’d like to challenge you to do the same. Notice who you interrupt and how often, as well as who interrupts you. I’ll be interested in comparing notes in a Facebook discussion next Monday.

On Advice and Being a Child

Trigger warning for sexual abuse, child abuse, incest, rape

I was a sexual assault survivor by age seven. I didn’t start hearing the litany of Things Women Shouldn’t Do Unless They Want To Get Themselves Raped until I was twelve, right around the same time adult men decided to yell their opinions about my body from their moving cars.

Since about 1 in 5 US girls, and 1 in 20 US boys are victims/survivors of sexual assault before adulthood, and since incest is the most common form of child sexual abuse, I think we really need to ask ourselves how useful or harmful our “Don’t Get Raped” advice might be. 

Women are told to arm ourselves, preferably with less effective weapons like pepper spray. I hope I don’t have to explain why this advice is useless for children, who are not allowed to purchase or carry weapons and are most likely to be abused by their parents or other family member.

Women are told not to drink, or to keep a close eye on our alcoholic beverages. Since children are already likely to be non-drinkers, this clearly isn’t helping.

Women are told to walk in groups or drive ourselves or avoid bad parts of town. Children do not have freedom of movement, particularly from their rapist parents.

Women are told not to wear sexually enticing clothing (and simultaneously sold little else.) Children have little to no choice in what they wear.

Women are told to have short hair or avoid hairstyles that are easy for attackers to grab. Children in homes with abusive parents may be entirely unable to choose their own hairstyle.

Women are told to fight back, scream, and bite. Children being abused by their own family may be terrified of the consequences of resisting. They may have good reason to be terrified.

Women are told to avoid rape more often than men are told not to commit it, even though men, women and children are all victims of primarily adult men rapistrs. The people who are the problem are largely adult men. The people who are not being asked to do anything about the problem are largely adult men. This strategy is failing. Do better.

On the Choice to Parent

I  have spoken before about the lack of cultural and financial support for people choosing to terminate their pregnancies, but what about people who choose to continue them? And how much do we present abortion as the solution to other people’s pregnancies, like when we discuss teen pregnancy, or pregnancy that results from assault, or pregnancy of a fetus diagnosed with a disability like Down’s Syndrome? How much or how little do as a culture support the right to keep a pregnancy?

Continue reading

On Vaccines, Autism, and Andrew Wakefield

Let me tell you a story about a man named Andrew Wakefield. Former Dr. Andrew Wakefield patented a new, single virus vaccine. It was in no way better than the multi-virus vaccines currently on the market, and had the drawback of needing far more jabs and probably far more doctor’s visits to manage all of them. Wakefield wanted money, lots of money. He found a way to make his vaccine look more appealing than others; suggest the others were unsafe! For this he faked data in a fraudulent study which was printed in the British medical journal The Lancet. In this faked, completely untrue study, Wakefield claimed that the MMR vaccine was causing autism in previously neurotypical children.

Parents freaked. I was one of them! Moms I knew online in forums told me about their one year old who was developing right on schedule, and suddenly after their vaccines lost all speech. Who would want that? So I chose to delay vaccines for my son, or maybe not get them at all. I’d been born at home and was completely unvaccinated myself, so a “wait and see” approach seemed best to me.

At about 8 months old, I noticed my son was not responding to me talking to him the way other babies his age did. I took him to his pediatrician, and then to the Children’s Hospital for multiple hearing tests (one awake, one asleep.) I took him to Easter Seals for a developmental evaluation. He was diagnosed with a speech delay and started getting speech therapy and occupational therapy services.

In the years since then my son has been diagnosed with autism, my son has been fully caught up on his vaccines, and I’ve learned a lot about science and about Andrew Wakefield.

Wakefield had his medical license stripped for his fraudulent, money-grubbing, public safety destroying lies. The Lancet posted an extended retraction and many scientific rebuttals. Numerous studies have conclusively shown that no vaccines cause autism, and the MMR vaccine definitely does not cause autism.

Autism is most likely genetic. And you know what? It’s not something I would avoid, now that I know the truth about it. My autistic son is amazing and I’m ashamed to have ever wanted to prevent him. Even worse, I risked his life to do so. Because of bigoted fears about a neurological difference I knew little about and didn’t understand, I risked my son’s life. That appalls me today.

Vaccine preventable diseases are child killers. They are not mild. They are not rites of passage. They are not a normal part of growing up in the 21st century. They are child killers. Protect your children from actual threats, like measles, mumps, rubella, and polio. Don’t protect them from autism. We don’t even know how to do it, and even if we did, I think it would be the wrong choice to make. Diversity of minds is as good for society as diversity of bodies and cultures. My son is amazing, autism and all. I would not want to change him or prevent him. I’m glad he lived long enough for me to see the errors of my ways and getting him fully immunized.

To the “Intersectional” Feminists of Skepchick

Earlier this week, the atheist feminist blog site Skepchick put up a post that was ostensibly to/complaining about the people responsible for a recent DDOS attack, titled “A Love Letter to our DDOS Hackers”. However, they used multiple instances of unnecessary ableist language. When called out on it, they doubled down and insisted that none of the language they used is ableist. So, for the sake of argument, let’s pretend they really don’t get it and make it easy to understand.
The Skepchick post contained a text segment and an image with words. The text on the image on the Skepchick site is as follows:

FUUUUUUUUUCK THOSE GUYS.

I got shit to say

and you’re a fucking idiot if you think I can be shut up.

For real.

You are the stupidest mother fucker on earth.

Like, I’m literally impressed you remember to breathe every day

if you think taking down a few blogs

for a couple of days 

is going to do anything

other than prove us right. 

 This is ableist. “Idiot” has a history mirroring that of the term “retard”. It became so pervasive a slur it could no longer be used as a diagnostic label. The word “stupid” is likewise ableist, though so accepted that most people fail to recognize it. But the truly astonishing phrase is “I’m literally impressed you remember to breathe every day.” I have friends with a variety of conditions that cause difficulty breathing, including difficulty “remembering” to breathe. These are life threatening impairments, not a joke, and they have NOTHING to do with a DDOS attack or anti-feminists or whatever the hell these people did that was actually egregious (a point not actually established amongst all the ableism.)

 Above the image there is a block of text trumpeting the social justice creds of Skepchick, which I have to seriously call into question now. Here is that text:

This time of year, like every time of year, we draw a lot of attention to ourselves at the Skepchick Network for being a fierce and outspoken, lady-run blog. We bring up controversial topics like, vaccine awareness and the need for harassment policies at conventions. We talk about the lack of women in STEM and we organize events like the Science Track at Convergence (a.k.a. SkepchickCon) to encourage more women to get involved in those fields. We have the brazen nerve to discuss things like equality for women and minority groups and the highly controversial topic of simply wanting to be treated like a human both online and away from the keyboard. We say hey, you don’t need a god or even a spirit guide to be a great person and to love this one, precious life you have found yourself in. We think life is worth living and learning about without superstition. We support a science based perspective that helps us make decisions on medicine and social science and economics. We think women are funny and valuable. With hot-button topics like the need for safe abortions (a.k.a. reproductive healthcare for women) and the idea that religion is simply unnecessary, we expect and even welcome vocal criticism from people who disagree with us. It’s one reason why we have a blog with a comment section.

But we have set standards. You have to be able to hold a conversation with us. You have to be able to argue your point rationally. You have to be able stand up to us with intelligence and a quality argument. You have to actually add to the conversations being had instead of derailing or just shouting in SUPERCAPSLOCK teenage angst.

And over the years, what we have noticed is that a few of you simply can not do this. These few resort to harassing us on twitter and other social media, they make fake blogs in an attempt to mock us, they email us death and rape threats or tell us to “kill ourselves” or they produce poorly photoshopped images of us doing things they want us to do. We have become their obsession.

Some of our self-proclaimed “critics” have launched multiple year, ongoing harassment campaigns. These people go so far as to make up complete lies about us and contact our employers and patrons with these lies. We have seen these same people post our home addresses online in an attempt to frighten us and hobble our ability to communicate- or sleep well, or to peacefully exist. And every so often, when the photoshopped photos of us and the rape and death threats don’t get our attention to their liking, this same quality of “critic” takes the route of frustrated-cyber-silencer and we see our blog network start to load slow or in the case of last weekend, it goes offline all together in yet another successful Denial of Service attack.

It happens. We expect it.

The thing is this, we actually have feelings about our relationship with these cyber warriors fighting to maintain the status quo. They have a hard time understanding the issues we bring up and their place in the future seems uncertain. We know they are upset and they disagree with us and they want to be heard. We want them to feel special and acknowledged.

And it’s ok.

Really.

In an effort to put what’s wrong with this in words Skepchick editors can hopefully understand, here are their own words, edited to omit ableist (and ageist!) bigotry and suit the topic. You may notice a striking similarity between the above and below, and that is my point. The silencing tactics used against feminists are used against disability advocates. The threats and violence and abuse are too.

This time of year, like every time of year, we draw a lot of attention to ourselves as disabled self-advocates for being fierce and outspoken, and unapologetically disabled. We bring up controversial topics like, Social Security standards that make it financially impossible for many disabled people to marry the person they love and the need for accommodations at conventions. We talk about the lack of disability representation in media and we organize events like Boycott Autism Speaks to encourage more disabled people to get involved in self advocacy. We have the brazen nerve to discuss things like equality for disabled people and the highly controversial topic of simply wanting to be treated like a human both online and away from the keyboard. We say hey, you don’t need a body or mind that functions in the most typical ways to be a great person and to love this one, precious life you have found yourself in. We think life is worth living and learning about without bigotry and ableism. We support a science based perspective that helps us make decisions on medicine and social science and economics. We think disabled people are funny and valuable. With hot-button topics like the the dangers of adult guardianship (a.k.a. healthcare and other life decisions for disabled people) and the idea that ableist language is simply unnecessary, we expect and dread the inevitable endless vocal criticism from people who disagree with us. It’s one reason why we most of us who have a blog with a comment section heavily moderate it.

But we have set standards. You have to be able to hold a conversation with us. You have to be able to argue your point without resorting to ableist slurs. You have to be able stand up to us with integrity and a quality argument. You have to actually add to the conversations being had instead of derailing or just shouting in SUPERCAPSLOCK ageist angst.

And over the years, what we have noticed is that a few of you simply can not do this. These few resort to harassing us on twitter and other social media, they make fake blogs in an attempt to mock us, they email us death and rape threats or tell us to “kill ourselves” or they produce poorly photoshopped images of us doing things they want us to do. We have become their obsession.

Some of our self-proclaimed “critics” have launched multiple year, ongoing harassment campaigns. These people go so far as to make up complete lies about us and contact our employers and patrons with these lies. We have seen these same people post our home addresses online in an attempt to frighten us and hobble our ability to communicate- or sleep well, or to peacefully exist. And every so often, when the photoshopped photos of us and the rape and death threats don’t get our attention to their liking, this same quality of “critic” take other routes to discredit and silence us.

It happens. We expect it.

The thing is this, we actually have feelings about our relationship with these cyber warriors fighting to maintain the status quo. They have a hard time understanding the issues we bring up and their place in the future seems uncertain. We know they are upset and they disagree with us and they want to be heard. They want to feel special and acknowledged.

And it’s not ok.

Really.

 

Are you listening Elyse, Amy and Rebecca?