Saturday, December 6, 2008

On Aggression

I had some personal feedback a while back that had me thinking and taking a break from writing for a bit, feedback that says my writing is too aggressive. This disconnect between my self perception and my writing persona gives me pause for a number of reasons. My philosophy is one of peaceful resistance, direct protest, and raising awareness, not antagonism or aggression.

It finally occurred to me that the most aggressive of my posts are the most popular--these are the posts a number of people with disabilities seem to identify with most. There is often humor mixed in with the aggressive words, but these posts do point out the need for change. But such posts are also the ones I feel most conflicted about and can feel embarrassed about later. To me this sense of embarrassment is telling and undercuts my insistence that real changes need to occur, that important civil rights are still under fire.

As with the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s or the feminist movement, I wonder how often we are considered "too strident" or "too aggressive," with disagreement, persistence, or insistence construed as asking too much. How much of this thinking that we're asking too much or not asking in the right way is meant to keep us in our place? Would we have access to public transport if people had not placed their wheelchairs in front of buses? Curb cuts and ramps if people had not continued to push and appeal, with some aggression? Is peaceful resistence and an insistence on one's rights aggressive?

I am direct but gentle and civil in asking questions about policies that might be changed or pointing out the need for changes--and can be patient for months while there is no response, simply reissuing the request and that I've received no reply. The reply back to me is often less than civil and sometimes even hostile, in response to gently worded requests. Merely asking is seen as an affront. I can be confrontational--but by that, I mean dealing with an issue directly, not shouting someone down. People who would infringe on our rights or space are not likely to be the sort to hear us, so I've learned to be cautious--a "please don't, that's not safe for either of us," but even that's received angry reactions. We are a vulnerable group. Sometimes I am unapologetically direct, without softening my words, but there's a place for that on occasion; not verbal violence, but again, directness. This defies gender norms as well.

What occurs to me is that someone's hostility towards us or our assertion of human rights or needs for access gets interpreted as our own aggression. I know how I'm perceived, I know how people stereotype, so I try to respond accordingly. Yes, I've been irritable before, but I know how that can cause people to be reactive in unconstructive ways. We often have to interact more with people than others do, because of barriers, because of inabilities, and the tense moments can thus add up. But someone's reaction to me--"sure, I'm glad to help," or even "I can't help, but let's see what we can do," or, "oops, I'm sorry"--is as important as what I say. Pointing out that I can't get past someone's car is an opportunity for someone to move the vehicle, not to harm me--no way would my phrasing be aggressive with someone who can mow me down, though I've still received aggressive responses.

Someone was saying to me yesterday that Obama sees the need for policy and social changes as a joint challenge, not a confrontation between groups. Why should we not do the same, seeing a request or a statement as an opportunity for positive change that benefits everyone?

Honestly, it hurts to point out the need for closer parking and to request it and to have someone snap back in every sentence with hate, to unknowingly direct a request to the wrong person and to be chided for it, to let a store clerk know that you can't get through and receive a verbal attack in front of other customers. Since our requests must be more frequent than others', more kindness would be appreciated.

Elizabeth recently had the police in her apartment for making a joke. Like her, I am not going to harm others--hitting someone in my scooter would harm me as well. Running over someone's foot--I've only run over my son's twice, fortunately not full on with the larger scooter, and it hurts--I wouldn't do it on purpose. I'm not going to harm other people, though I'm not going to stop insisisting on my rights, that motorcycles can't be parked on curb cuts or on sidewalks in ways that block access, that ramps can easily be added to some places of business. But more often I vote with my feet, not going in the furniture store that can't be navigated, not attending the church without an elevator, not going to the restaurant with inaccessible bathrooms. These people never know; I have limited resources and energy and must be selective.

But yes, here, in this safe place, there will be some aggressive words sometimes, though not directed at specific individuals. Yes, there is hurt and pain and frustration and tears and anger behind them, most of which I mask in public. Most abled people aren't going to get this, the impetus for aggressive posts or why people connect to them, but they're a start at awareness. If you're abled and they stick with you, perhaps they've done their job.


yanub said...

Wait a minute....

Someone got their panties in a bunch because you said you'd run over a foot with your scooter? To unspecified non-disabled person with uncomfortable underwear: Pay attention to where you put your goldurn foot.

I am seriously sick and tired of able bodied people, who can move and navigate and fully sense the world around them, expecting everyone else to get out of their way. They expect all sorts of accomodation from the disabled, even including never having to be reminded that anyone is disabled. They are simply too lazy and self-centered to exert themselves. If the world is accessible to them, then there is no problem and they just don't care about anyone else. This isn't all TABs, obviously. Most people, no matter the wrapper, are decent folk. You who are offended, however, that people who are denied access get angry over those denials--get over yourself and stop being part of the barrier.

Frida, how can anyone come to a blog whose author has namesaked herself after Frida Kahlo, and not expect to have their privilege challenged? I am amazed.

FridaWrites said...

Well, this person didn't give the examples, but did say I'm way too aggressive--I can't remember the entire context, only that it stopped me from writing for a while.

But I did want to give some examples to highlight the differences between writing and action--I wouldn't, for example, tell someone who is abled to "get a clue," as in the one post, but I would suggest changes in parking and ramping. I haven't done so, though, because I can only do so much and when the bureaucracy is massive...I do so often, however.

But yes, people do get offended when we assert our rights or needs rather than responding appropriately: respecting our rights and needs and working with us.

Thursday I was having a medical test and didn't think I needed my scooter (I did)--I stopped to let another scooter user by when the tech stepped right in front of that person. I just had to shake my head--she already knew I use a scooter too.

The Goldfish said...

Aggression is never wise - people just don't respond to that. But the stuff you have written here just isn't aggressive. So I recall, you have not attacked people who have failed to come up to your standards - there's no name-calling, no threats, no cussing. Anger, maybe. Candour, certainly.

The parallels with feminism are very real. The first time a woman suggested she be allowed the vote, I'm sure someone (whether male or female) called her a man-hater.

You can't please all the people all the time and if you're going to write anything about any widespread injustice and inequality in your culture, you're going to displease at least some of the people very much of the time.

FridaWrites said...

This is true--I definitely haven't verbally attacked anyone. Maybe I need to focus on the right audience, which most regular readers are. :)

FridaWrites said...

All regular readers, actually.

One Sick Mother said...

chiming in a bit late, sorry:


This is your safe place, to express, vent, cry and do so however you please. I really think the person who comes to criticize you in your own "house" is seeking negative attention ...and here I am giving it to them.


Start again:

A person's blog is usually their means of self-expression and its content is protected by the First Amendment. Yes, we may wish to consider certain readers and *maybe* tone it down. But that is *our* choice and not something we should feel compelled to do.

I personally choose not to edit myself too much. This probably means that many people choose not to revisit, but that is their right and their choice, and I respect that. No-one has chosen to tell me they hate my style or occasional profanity, and I respect that even more. ;)

Keep writing, and please don't allow one em .."critic" to discourage you.


Elizabeth McClung said...

I am late too and not actually a good one for advise because I do rant and am aggressive and not quite sure what is a quality which makes men worthy for promotion is bad in women but another time.....I really hope you don't stop writing, becuase this is your place and for goodness sakes, Anger IS one of the stages of grieving and with all you are going through I would think there might be some grieving going on (if you are super happy about it, I would much, much more worried!).

I know it hurts, and it is just strange and out of nowhere and why would anyone attack you? But please don't stop writing down your journey. We are not 'nice' women but we are not nasty either.

FridaWrites said...

I'm listening to both of you and hear your support. Anger and grief happen, and people mistake anger at disabilism for anger at disability. And protest *is* important.