Content note: This post is about effective ways to contradict ableist statements. It talks about contexts in which doing so might not be a good idea. It also talks about people using social justice language in mean and unjustified ways. Proceed with caution.
A reader asked:
Sometimes people mess up and people get mad about it, they yell about it but also gross things- like this guy is a creep, and they say gross stuff, like “he lives in his parents’ basement” or calling them autistic in a bad way.
A lot of the time, if you bring up how that’s wrong, they accuse you of defending them and their bad actions. What do you do when people are being mean about stuff when mad at people who have done awful things and they think you’re defending them if you say anything?
That gets complicated.
Sometimes I think it’s a matter of picking the right time. Like, if someone just got hit on by a creep in a threatening way and they’re freaking out, it’s probably not the best time to explain to them that some of the way they’re thinking about creepiness is ableist. When someone is freaking out in the immediate aftermath of an incident. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) validate the ableist aspects of what they’re saying, but it’s probably not a good time to actively contradict it either. When people are actively freaking out, all they are likely to hear is support or contradiction.
After the point where they’re so afraid that the most important thing is supporting them passes, it’s ok and good to contradict ableism. It’s ok to do this even if they’re mad and ranting or upset. Being upset is not always an emergency.
I think the best way to contradict it is to make it explicit that you agree that the guy is creepy and unacceptable, and that what you’re objecting to is the comparison, for instance:
- “I’m autistic and I don’t appreciate being compared to creeps like that guy.”
- “I have a lot of autistic friends, and it really hurts them when everyone compares them to creeps like that.”
- “Hey, can we not conflate poor and creepy? That just lets rich charismatic creepy dudes off the hook.”
- “I’m not comfortable with the direction this is taking – it seems like we’re starting to mock guys for being disabled or poor instead of talking about how creepy they’re being. Let’s talk about creepiness?”
- “Autism really isn’t the issue here; it’s the creepy and awful things that guy does.”
Another factor: People will probably get mad at you. No matter how well you phrase this, no matter how considerate and respectful you are, people you contradict will probably get mad at you at least some of the time. People don’t like to be told that they’re doing things wrong, and they especially don’t like to be told that they’re wronging someone they’re justified in complaining about. If you contradict people who are complaining about real injustice, they’re likely to get mad at you even if what you are saying is entirely correct. That doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong, but it can be emotionally very difficult to handle.
It’s likely that, at least some of the time, people will come down on you really hard in social justice terms.
People will probably tell you that you don’t care about female victims, that you have internalized misogyny, that you’re a gross man who needs to shut up, that you’re an MRA, that you need to go away and learn feminism 101, or other similar things. That might be very hard to bear, especially if you are scrupulous about trying to avoid oppressive speech. It doesn’t mean that you are wrong, though. Sometimes people will yell at you in social justice terms and be wrong. It’s important to learn how to figure out what you think even when people are yelling at you that you’re being oppressive. If you want to do the work of pointing out the ableism in some reactions to creepy dudes, it’s really important to work on having perspective in the face of other people’s anger.
It’s also important to pay attention to what you are and aren’t up for. You don’t have to challenge every piece of ableism you ever see. It’s not ok to validate that kind of ableism; it’s not ok to reblog it uncritically; it’s not ok to agree with or participate in it. But it’s perfectly ok to not always proactively contradict it. You matter, and that kind of work is draining.