Disrespectful! They were the ones telling me to change my major or graduate without teaching certification. They were the ones telling me I was "belligerent" and that my students would not respect me if I could not stand on my feet to teach a lesson. They were the ones who had upset me so much that I spent the entire meeting sobbing. They were the ones who were effectively telling me that I could not be a teacher. And yet, somehow, I was the one being disrespectful to them. It was like their magical PhDs somehow shielded them from being the ones in the wrong.
Let me be clear, respect is a two way street, in my view. No one is automatically entitled to respect, regardless of age, job position, or familial relationship. Or maybe it would be better to say I respect everybody - until they disrespect me. Once you disrespect me, all bets are off, because you have shown you are not deserving of my respect. I will not waste my respect on someone who doesn't deserve it.
And in many ways, my views on respect are shaped by being a woman with a visible disability. Society at large does not respect me and my body. I am expected to submit meekly to the non-disabled population, who, after all, are just trying to "help" me. I am expected to be grateful when I am able to go out and live my life like any other 20-something, because to accommodate me means work for other people. Yesterday, while my boyfriend (also a wheelchair user) and I were out and about in NYC, we experienced so many ableist microaggressions we lost count of how many there were. These included, but were not limited to:
- going into my school and having the security guard ask us if we were going to disability services, despite the fact that I had said at least twice previously that I wanted tech support.
- being interrupted in the middle of a conversation with another friend (also a wheelchair user) and being told that if we moved, we wouldn't be blocking the way (note that no one else was told they were blocking the way)
- approaching a subway elevator and having a woman who was also waiting for the elevator go in a shocked tone: "Oh my god, two of them!!!" When I pointed out that wheelchair users do actually go places (shocking, I know), she tried to defend what she said.
- being told, randomly, in the subway station, that I would be cured if I ate natural foods
(On a side note: My last boyfriend, while also disabled, visibly presented as much more able-bodied than my current boyfriend. It's interesting to see the difference in reactions.)
This all happened within the span of 12 hours, and while yesterday was a bit extreme even for my life, these type of things happen to me EVERY. DAY. You can see how that might wear down one's patience. Hence, why I may not always come across as the nicest or most respectful gal on the block.
Respect, to me, is earned, not given. I feel I have a right to be somewhat wary of people in a world that does not view me as a human being with the same feelings and desires as anyone else. I am, of course, always joyful when it turns out I was wrong, and someone treats me well. It is sad that I have come to view basic human decency as a cause for celebration. Perhaps I am a bit jaded.
You want to be respected? Show me you respect me first, because I cannot operate on the assumption that you respect me when so many people don't as a matter of course. I don't care who you are. If you respect me, I will respect you. Simple as that.