I Looked at my Body and Said Yes: Where Disability and Style Meet

http://www.autostraddle.com/i-looked-at-my-body-and-said-yes-where-disability-and-style-meet-326851/

Autostraddle author Carrie writes about finding her comfort zone with fashion and fighting the expectation to be femme and dress impeccably to hide her disability. Her experiences with having a physical disability and trying to prove that she is still capable/desirable are unique to her disability, but can also be relevant for people with other disabilities, visible or not. Clothes mean something else when your body exists outside the ‘norm’. If you wear sweatpants all the time because you’re tired, or if you wear loose-fitting clothes because of IBS or no bra for back pain, those choices (and they’re not even really choices) further reflect your disability. Each day when I get dressed I have to consider not only how my outfit will reflect my gender identity/presentation, but how it will reflect my chronic illness. Like Carrie talks about in her article, I feel the need to dress up, wear makeup, be “stylish” to prove that I am still fully functioning and not lazy, that I haven’t given up. These markers are much more assumed when others know or can see your disability. Finding clothes that make you feel comfortable in public and private is made even more difficult with the added expectations put on you as a disabled person in society. As Carrie says, accurately:

Being a disabled woman often feels like choosing between these life paths:

  1. Object of Pity/Perpetual Child,
  2. Inspirational Overachiever,
  3. Fetish Toy, or
  4. Good Disabled Girl Who Makes Sure Everyone Likes Her.

The fact that articles like this are being posted on Autostraddle (and even some not ableist ones on Buzzfeed) is really exciting and important, and hopefully will mean that disability will continue to be considered not only by people within the disability community, but in other socially aware, for lack of a better word, communities as well.

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Mass Killers and Mental Illness

Content warning: violence, murder, ableism

Recently, behavioral science writer Benedict Carey published an article in the New York Times about the snap assumption, after a mass shooting, that the perpetrator acted violently due to a mental illness. This article is one of the first I’ve seen from a huge news site like this to even acknowledge the “mass murders are mentally ill” misconception as a misconception. Many writers/bloggers/etc. have discussed the harm created by this ableist generalization, but Carey’s article brings the discussion into a new light, and also connects forensic psychiatry research to support his point that there is no real evidence to this theory.

Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Stone created a database of 200 mass killers and analyzed their history (or lack thereof) of mental illness. He found that half of them had “no clear evidence of mental illness before their crimes.” Another quarter had signs of depression and psychopathy, while the last quarter form a group that could have possibly benefited from psychiatric treatment. This group, Dr. Stone believes, “were likely to have had paranoid schizophrenia.”

This information, while very interesting and useful in challenging the ableist rhetoric surrounding mass shootings, is about where Carey’s reporting ends. I recognize the fact that statistical analysis, numbers and percentages, is a powerful tool in debate in our society. However, when the article relies only on this study to make its point, several facets of the issue are left out.

Firstly, the article fails to acknowledge that mental health diagnoses frequently overlap, change, or are misdiagnoses altogether. The DSM is contradictory and viewed differently, to some degree, by individual psychiatrists, because of the nature of broad or vague symptoms that can point to a number of disorders. This knowledge perhaps undermines Stone’s research, but also encourages the reader to question the last group, of which Stone himself only says “were likely to have had paranoid schizophrenia.”

While on the subject of qualifiers, Carey uses several in this article, which points to the (amazingly) radical nature of his statement. “Often, if, usually, might” are the sorts of words he uses to soften the blow of neurotypical readers who now find it more difficult to comfortably shove mass murderers into the mentally ill (not like me) category. Given that even the mere suggestion of the link between mass killers being something other than mental illness is so jarring, in the minds of the general public, it is not surprising that Carey ends his analysis with Stone’s relatively solid research.

But then, the question remains, what is the root of such violence? “Urges to destroy the world and everyone in it are just as often rooted in the darkest corners of minds that, if warped, are not disabled.” The article ends with this statement; but what is to stop readers from still associating “warped” with “disabled”? The assumption remains that mental illness itself is violent, if not quite this violent. It is never questioned that mass killers are so frequently male, even to the degree that there are specific risk-management programs that work to stop young boys from becoming shooters in ten years.

Perhaps Carey’s article will open the door, slowly, to dismantling this ableist rhetoric which continues to dehumanize and demean mentally ill individuals, and analyzing what actually causes such violence to be committed again and again.

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/04/health/investigating-the-minds-of-mass-killers.html?src=me&_r=0