“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Men and women

This past week I was speaking to one of the classes I teach about the way people with disabilities are percieved, often negatively, by those around them. This is in spite of the fact that they think they are doing fine. Their only experience is their life experience and as far as they are concerned they are ok. I thinking through that, I came up with a metaphor, which might be helpful to some people in terms of understanding the point I was trying to make.

Now, I am a man. I was born a boy, and have grown up male. All I know is what it is like to be a male. Of course I love people of the opposite gender. I first loved my mother, then loved my wife and for the last 19 years have loved my daughter. I love those women, but I have no idea of what it is like to be a woman. I have no idea of what it is like to be three of the closest people to me in my life. I have some ideas of what it might be like to have me as a son, or as a husband or as a father, but I really don't know. Women tell me what they are thinking sometimes, but I really don't know what it is like to be one. Obviously, they don't know what it is like to be a man either. My mother, wife and daughter only know my thoughts to the extent to which I share them with them, and I have been told by them at times that I don't understand (ostensibly their women's perspective). I am sure that that is the truth.

However, imagine that I decided that because women are not men, their lives are in some way diminished, disabled. They think they are just fine as women, however, I think I know better. I therefore impose my beliefs on them. I think I know what it would be like to be a woman, and if I were a woman, I would be upset that I am not a man. I convince them that they have a poor quality of life, or get them to believe that their physical womanness is an impairment of which they should be ashamed. Perhaps I conclude that their differentness from me is not a difference, it is an impairment to which discrimination is attached (some of you may argue that this actually occurs, and I would be hard pressed to disagree). But to continue to press this metaphor, instead of me as a man seeing women as part of the natural diversity of humanity, as my equal yet in some ways different from me, imagine that I see them as "other," as very different from me. Not only that, imagine that I think they are dissatisfied with their lives as females and that they would choose death over being a woman, so deep is their wish they could be a male like me.

Can you catch where I am going with this metaphor? I think there is a lot overlap with the way in which people with impairments are percieved, particularly those with disabilities that they are born with. I only know what it is like to have my level of cognitive ability. So I assume those with a lower cognitive ability level would wish to be me. I only know what it is like to have my other characteristics, good vision, healthy, etc. And because I am satisfied with my life having my characteristics, I assume that those who don't have my characteristics are dissatisfied with their lives. That because they are not me, that they are in some way suffering, or depressed, or something else negative in character.

You might say that this sounds foolish, however, this perception drives the movement to prenatally diagnose and abort babies with disabilities. Take down syndrome for instance. We are told by the medical profession that obviously, people with down syndrome suffer, are dissatisfied with their lives because they don't have normal intelligence, or other characteristics that we (people without down syndrome) have. At least that is what people think who are behind the prenatal diagnosis and abortion movement. They take the lives of infants with down syndrome out of "compassion" for what the persons with disabilities are not.

But just as certainly as I don't know what it is like to be a woman and a woman doesn't know what it is like to be a man, I dont' know what it is like to be a person born with down syndrome. All I do know about that life experience is what they tell me about that experience. And what do they tell me? They tell me that they are happy with their lives. Many would say that they don't think they even have a disability (something they perceive negatively, probably through their socialization). Yet I believe my daughter when she says she is happy (even though I don't know what it is like to be a woman) but I don't believe the person with down syndrome when he or she tells me she is happy because I say that I would not want to live with that disability if I had it.

In the same way that I don't know what it is like to be a woman, I don't know what it is like to be a person with a disability. In the same way that a woman does not know what is like to be a man, a woman without a disability does not know what it is like to be a person with a disability.

May God forgive our society for projecting its negative perceptions on people with disabilities and then killing them on the basis of our negative perceptions through abortion, infanticide and other approaches. May God stop us as well.



Anonymous said...


I work in a physical handicap/ Severe handicap K-3 and 4-6 classroom(s) . We teach kids with multiple disabilities which include cerebral palsy, micro cephaly, traumatic brain injury as a result of shaken baby syndrome, autisim, dwarfisim/brittle bones/ mild retardation, a 10 year old recovering from a stroke, a boy who is blind/deaf and has a few other syndromes that affect his digestive tract and more. He has already survived several years beyond his most optimistic life expectancy. These disabilities represent only 9 kids.

Recently the kids have been doing writing assignments based on some of the children's books written by Chris Van Allsburg, the author of The Polar Express, Jumanji, Zathura, The Seetest Fig and more. His books take place in a place where there is a seemlees meld betwwen reality, fantasy and magic. In all of his books wonderful things happen to and lessons are learned by children.

The writing assignments were based on the miraculous things that happen to the kids in the stories and what would tou do if the same thing could happen to you. For example, for The Sweetest Fig, we asked the kids to write about what they would want to dream if they knew that this nights dream would come true (this is what the story was about). Not one child wanted to dream about "fixing" their disability. Not one. Their dreams were about doing things with or for their families, friends or making the world a better place.

They are not at all concerned over their impairments. They do have hopes. One of our boys, with CP, and restricted to a wheelchair, wants to be able to walk like his best friend; this friend was in a wheelchair himself 18 months ago. He had surgury to loosen up his legs and the progress from chair to walker to freedom is simply astonishing. "I" had the same surgury this summer. He has fought through post surgical pain and fear an is amazing all of us at the speed with which he ismaking progress toward his goals. He's using a walker at least 30 minutes a day, proudly uses the restroom "like a big boy" (standing up) and for brief periods is able to stand unsupported (especially if he doesn't know he is being supported.

The point, which I am to long in approaching, is that these are happy kids. They have hopes, dreams, abilities, plans and families that love them. Each of them would have been tagets for the new eugeniticists.

How dare anyone make quality of life judgements over conditions they are not capable of understaning?

Anonymous said...

I also agree with your metaphor wholeheartedly but I am going to give you another perspective. I was taught not to judge people...no one is perfect and I know that I am far from it. The only perfect person that ever lived on this earth was Jesus Christ. I don't believe in abortion but I did contemplate it once. I was in an abusive marriage. For 18 years, I was abused by my husband...emotionally and verbally then it turned physical when I became pregnant with my 4th child. As you can imagine I had a lot of self esteem issues, etc. I decided at that point that I was going to leave my husband...I couldn't take the abuse anymore and I couldn't risk losing my baby. This was a big step for me. I was 38 years old at the time so I was considered a high risk for a Down's syndrome,etc. baby. I decided to get the amnio to determine whether or not my baby was going to be "normal." Remember I did not believe in abortion but at that time in my life I would have considered it if there was a problem. I am ashamed to say that I was being selfish at the time. I was going to be a single mother of four children. I knew that I couldn't handle a child that was going to require a lot of help. I didn't think I was strong enough...my thoughts were that I was in an abusive relationship for almost half my life and I wanted to start living my life now. I was abused for 18 years...there was no way I could handle anything else! I didn't think that I could take care of a special needs child alone. It was hard enough to take care of the three children I had already. At that moment in time, I would have aborted my child if something was wrong even though I believed that God didn't give you more than you can handle. Thank God I didn't have to make that decision or have to live with the regrets of my actions.If I was in a loving relationship and my marriage was intact I would have never considered taking the amnio test. My point is that we don't know what situation people are in who choose to abort their disbled unborn child. Because of my personal experience...I can not judge those people and it is God's will to forgive them if they ask for forgiveness. I am stronger now and my perspectives have changed...given the situation again I wouldn't consider it. I understand that the disabled don't think that their quality of life is less than anyone else and it isn't. At the time, I wasn't thinking about that...I was only thinking of myself. I am being brutally honest here and it was very difficult to admit. Yes, I already thought of myself as a hypocrite. I was leaving my marriage to protect my unborn child and I would have terminated the pregnancy if something was wrong. I am not making any excuses for myself...it was just where my thoughts were at that moment in time. I have grown a lot since then and my faith is stronger. There are always two sides...I was just giving an example of the other side.

Anonymous said...

This metaphor is a perfect example of what some people might think of disable people. It states in John 15:12 "This is my commandment, that you love one another as i have loved you." so you see i find it very upsetting when anyone try to be rude to anyone for being different. We are all different in some way thats what makes us indeviduals, but god continues to love us UNCONDITIONALLY in spite of our flaws.

Anonymous said...

I was touched by this posting. I just recently found out that our family will be growing. During my first pregnancy, I did not opt to get the tests that determine possible disabilities. I am now 35 (the age where there is a huge increase for Down's and other medical issues. My husband and myself have already decided that we will not bother with these tests. Why bother, they are often wrong then you are there worrying the rest of an already very long 9 months. None of us know what it is like to be a person of the opposite gender. And for that matter, none of us know what it is like to be another person peroid. We need to be kind to all people. This seems like a pretty common sense thing, but we all have our own social construction issues we are brought up with. I have learned so much in this class, about disabilities as well as about myself. I am only embarassed to admit that it took this class to help me see the light.

Anonymous said...

I thought that was a great metaphor no one knows what it like to be someone else may it be male or female. i think that we should treat everyone how we want to be treat. I know its cliché to say that but its true. I wouldnt want to be left out of things like alot of disabled kids are. I have a neighbor and she has a son who is retarted. I have never seen him outside or go anywhere. We always invite them over for parties but he never joins them. it is sad to see parents trat their kids this way and they shouldnt. they dont treat their daughters like that. they are aloud to come and go as they please and they take them places where as their son stays home in his room playing video games. My sister goes to their house all the time and says she never sees him. this is jsut sad, to him your own blood and treat them differently because they think they know whats best.

_______________________________ said...

I am really glad for your blog and your ministry. There is a great lack of ministry to the disabled in our society. There is a lot to think about with the way we have treated those who are disabled. I wonder about the fact that we are created in the image of God, and how it relates to those with disabilities. Mankind male and female were created in the Image of God, (Gen 1) I know this is true. I know that God makes all thing for his purpose to the good of those who love Him. But I wonder about the thought that the mentally disabled are suffering?
But all that was created to bring God Glory has been subject to sin because of sin, because of the fall.(Gen 3) And even thought Man was created in the image of God, we find now that much of what he has created for his glory has been perverted by sin. Death, decay, because of sin there has been a perversion of all things created for Gods glory. (Rom 8) But I believe there is much suffering by those who have disabilities. Ignorance doesn’t mean that someone is not suffering.
Much of the World is suffering in sin; much of mankind would say “I am happy where I am I don’t need any savior.” But the ignorance of their suffering will never be revealed until they are freed from it. I am not saying that children with disabilities should be aborted because of the suffering that they will see in the world. But we need to realize that there is suffering with disabilities. There is a quality of life that they don’t enjoy even if it is in ignorance. I think it is the grace of God that mentally disabled people are most often ignorant too much of their suffering they are not free from it.
But I am also thankful we have a God that is far more powerful then the suffering of this present age. And the suffering of this age whatever it may be is nothing compared to the joy that will come to the body of Christ when he comes back. We have a God that has planned the suffering of earth to bring good from it. (Gen 50:20, Rom 8:28) We see this most in the suffering of Christ on the cross. That it brought about the salvation of many. So I believe that God has a plan for the suffering of the mentally disabled. As I wrestle with the reasons that people would be created disabled I know that. God has control, that in weakness he is shown to be powerful, because he is greater then the weakness, Not because the weakness doesn’t exist.

Anonymous said...

I think society makes judgement and feels sorry for people with disabilities but if you ask them most of them dont feel they are disabled. I think children with down syndrome are some of the happiest kids, they dont think they are any different from other kids. Your metaphor comparing men and women is profound because its true we dont know what it is like and often do not understand the other species. I think society just doesnt understand people with disabilities. Often times, I wish more people would look at them through the eyes of those that work with them, with love and compassion.