Monday, August 05, 2013

The Burden of Goodness

“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.” 
― Jane AustenPersuasion
I used to call Piper my sweet beastie. After all Piper was the one who smiled at everyone. She loved to cuddle and hug. Piper was the one who could be counted on to share, to be kind, etc. I never stopped to think about the consequences of labeling her because these qualities were after all wonderful. Societal approved. Especially for a girl. Despite all my theory, all my feminist thinking, I got caught up on approving these things in Piper.

And then Piper started exploding.

It started with preschool. We enrolled her in a little alternative preschool near our house. She was acting lonely and depressed since we were attempting another year of school for the older two beasties (that failed as well but that's another story). I thought maybe being around some other kids would be good as Piper seemed pretty outgoing and friendly. "She was an 'extrovert'," I thought and she needed other people. But at school, she was sullen. She would angrily refuse to talk to other kids. We were shocked and dismayed. This wasn't Piper at all! We started to worry that there was something "wrong."

But was there really anything wrong? Is it wrong to not want to be friendly all the time? Maybe it was the other kids and not Piper. We realized after some conversations with Piper that she was being ostracized by the other kids. In fact, there was one girl who seemed to be actively building a case against Piper because Piper wouldn't be bossed around.

The explosions continued at home. Piper displayed a ferocious temper when shit pissed her off. She was impatience and ornery. She was bitchy and crabby. But she was also sweet and loving. She was the first one to hug you when you were sad just as she might be the first to explode at Rowena who was having yet another tantrum.

You see, it's simple, Piper is human. She is a constantly becoming person. Morphing and changing daily. She like all humans displays a full range of emotions. And I suspect that being boxed so openly by me, and others, created a perfect storm of frustration. She had to kick out and stretch her wings, let us know that she was more than a sweet girl. She was also a fierce girl. An angry girl. A girl who knew what she wanted. This doesn't mean she got to express these things however she choose to. But it did mean that she was allowed to challenge the definitions set on her. We had to open the possibilities of what it meant to be Piper.

As a female, I believe it is vitally important to encourage my girl beasties in the complexity of becoming that is all to often only given to white, middle class males (and yes sometimes females but not as strongly or as often). I don't want Piper to be the sweet little girl all the time. That's narrowing and limiting. It crushes other emotions that have value and importance. A little outrage is a good thing when protesting injustice. Just like a righteous anger over discrimination can take one a long way towards the betterment of the world.

This has become something of an important idea for me now that Jude has come along. I've been recently engaged in conversation about positive stereotypes, and I've attempted to argue why they are problematic for me. What is wrong with people with Ds as being seen as kind, empathic, loving? Well nothing if it's acknowledged that they are also not always these things. I don't want Jude pushed into any kind of box. It seems that the world sees her as either not worthy of life or as a perfect angel sent from God to spread love and light. Where is the room to be human in those extremes?
“Once you label me you negate me.” 
― Søren Kierkegaard
We seem to hold onto the positive stereotypes as a way to counter the really awful shit out there. And just go read the comments on articles about Ds if you want to see some of that darkness. However, I am not convinced that turning to a glorification of what we see as Ds is really valuable either. It denies people the ability to be fully human, fully complicated, fully able to fuck up, fully able to be angry. Jude deserves to be a complex human being. She deserves to have someone snap at her in frustration, "I don't get you."

Because the thing is these stereotypes are just as denying of the humanity of my child as the negative stereotypes. Frankly, they're also just as dangerous. We see what happens when people of color, or women or gay people don't act like the positive stereotypes. They are killed. Yeah, I know it sounds dramatic but think about it for a few minutes. Trayvon Martin was wearing a hoodie. He had smoked pot. There was a picture of him flipping off a camera and sadly to many people this was good reason for Zimmeran to kill him. Yet, I've done all those things and no one has proposed I shouldn't do them in order to be safe. Ethan Saylor wasn't acting like a sweet little angel when he was at the theater and he ended up on the floor, dying. Antonio Martinez was wearing a hoodie, hiding his face, trying to escape what he saw as a threat. He wasn't smiling, hugging someone, being the chromosome of love. He was beaten with a police baton. What about our adult children who are raped, abused, starved to death? Where they acting like a stereotype? And if not did this give people the right to see them as not worthy of life? It's worth considering.
“I think fitting in is highly overrated. I’d rather just fit out... Fitting out means being who you are, even when people insist that you have to change. Fitting out means taking up space, not apologizing for yourself, and not agreeing with those who seek to label you with stereotypes.” 
― Golda Poretsky
I think that the point of all stereotypes is to place people into categories. And categories are too often limiting and confining. As someone who has been categorized: white trash, high IQ, ADHD, female, fat, I have felt to some extent the sting and limitations of such things. I have struggled much of my life to be unafraid of my voice, and of my own emotions, thoughts, etc. I have known the sting of rejection because I was an "angry fat woman" when the expected was to be jolly and complacent. I have been told often that I am too angry. Too angry according to who or what? I am guessing the categories that suggest that anger is bad because I am a woman. Stereotypes are designed to keep us in our place and how that can be seen as positive I do not know.

In addition, stereotypes of all kinds enforce an idea that we are "essentially different" by suggesting that some of us as a group are biologically different. While I am a big fan of being different, of fitting out, the problem is that we narrow difference to a range of characteristics that can be linked to biology, we open up the conversation for an inclusion of negative stereotypes as well. We suggest that the difference which might exist between all individuals is a difference that is really about groups of people. If you don't question the danger of this take a look at Nazi Germany. There are many research articles about this. Here and here for example.

What it boils down for me is that I want Jude and all my children to be able to take up space as humans not as categories. I want them to not feel limited by the negative or positive stereotypes out there. They deserve like we all deserve to be able to experience a full spectrum of humanness. Jude doesn't need magical thinking to be a human deserving of life and love. She shouldn't have to ever worry about her safety if she doesn't act like a stereotype. She should not be limited because someone has decided she has a biological difference that limits her expression. The difference that I want for Jude is a difference that comes from breaking out not  from being reined in.


About Us said...

I do this too. FunnyGirl is my "good" child. Only she's not always the easiest to deal with or the most loving. And even though Geshtro is often the one I have the most trouble with, he is also not a perfect fit into any "difficult" box. It's something that has taken me a long time to realize, and I'm far from remembering it on a daily basis, but we are all absolutely perfect right now and also human with great potential to learn and grow.

Extranjera said...

You totally nail it with the discussion about difference and difference. I think that we're constantly bombarded with this difference/ diversity rhetoric, but once you unpack it it's actually much more about similarity than it is about difference. It becomes about 'more different' so easily, especially when we chuck in ableism too.

Great post.

TUC said...

Excellent post. It is true that throughout history "difference" has been attached to groups, who then become the Other, no longer even seen as fully-human... Once that happens, atrocity follows.

With the human brain constantly sorting and categorizing, building a schema from birth on, I wonder how we can teach "difference" in a new way. Big job, but it could be done.

Ivory said...

I had a moment today of "Wait... where is Ginger?!" Missing you where I normally see you, but glad the blog is still here. ((hugs))