Wednesday, July 2, 2014

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Find Out What It Means to Me

When I was being forced out of the education program at my school the spring before last, during a two hour meeting with both my adviser for the field experience portion of the program and my overall adviser, I was told, among many other things, that I was, and I quote:  "on the verge of being disrespectful to two women in this room who have PhDs in Education".

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.


Unknown said...

Respect is definitely a reciprocal thing. You could teach people a lot about it. I enjoyed your column but am less than happy about the way you are treated. It hurts me and angers me. You are just like those of us that are "able-bodied" and deserve to be treated as such. Thank you for sharing and best wishes to you.