Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Cheese Grates It: Dehumanizing Language

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

I am not providing a link to the blog that I left this comment on. I don't think they intended to be insulting, and I don't want to start a war of some kind. 

The author of the post used this quote regarding the effects of the herbicide glyphosate.

“Consequences are most of the diseases and conditions associated with a Western diet, which include gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease”


I responded thusly:

I think most autistic people, my high-functioning 29-year-old autistic son included, would be insulted to have autism referred to as a "disease". It is classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder, but many autistic people do fantastic things and many of them do not exhibit the stereotypical "autistic" behaviors that people unfamiliar with the condition expect. Autism encompasses a wide spectrum of manifestations. People with the condition are more sensitive to environmental stimuli and react in different ways. Some people with the condition react with self-soothing behaviors such as rocking and some become hysterical when overwhelmed. However, there are those like my son who do not act out when overstimulated but will withdraw for a time when able to be away from the stimulus.
My son is much more aware of sounds than most people are. He can hear the sounds of water running through pipes, for instance. I did not know until he was older and he informed me that some sounds are very unnerving to him and that he has an urge to strike his head to get the sounds out. He will notice anomalies in sounds, for instance, if the furnace fan sounded "off" in even a subtle way, he would be aware of it.
Like many autistic people, my son finds comfort in weighted items such as heavy blankets. He will turn fans on surrounding his bed so he can still use his comforter in the warm months because it helps him sleep.
My son processes information a little differently, but I think it is quite unkind to refer to him and other people like him as being "diseased." Listening to and reading the writings of autistic people, I know they find such terms insulting.
As for the word "obesity," pathologizing people's bodies is unhelpful and dehumanizing. People labeled "obese" are treated as inhuman and receive worse care in medical settings. A person's body type is the result of multiple complex influences, not the oversimplified "calories in, calories out" that uninformed individuals love to spout. A larger body type is primarily the result of DNA, but can also be influenced by endocrine conditions and medications. My endocrine system, for instance, is a trash fire. None of it works properly. Unless I contract some sort of flesh-wasting terminal illness, I will never be thin. I do not accept dehumanizing and pathologizing terms such as "obesity." I am a person who has a fat body. I am a fat person. In other words, I am a person, not a disease.
My intent is not to start some kind of war, but to call attention to the fact that it is very easy to pathologize and dehumanize those different from ourselves. When we do this, our message tends to end up getting lost and we may end up shutting out people who could benefit from what we were attempting to promote.

Further thoughts:
I concur with the belief that glyphosate and other pesticides and herbicides cause health problems. They may, in fact, contribute to higher incidences of autism and higher body fat percentages. There are a few things we can take away from this.

Having a larger body is not in and of itself a disease. It may be one of the manifestations of certain diseases or disorders, but it is not itself a disease.

Fat (adipose tissue) is an organ. It grows in response to certain conditions. Some people naturally have more of it. It exists to protect other organs such as the heart, liver, and kidneys and to provide nutrition to the organism in times of food scarcity.

Instead of accusing people with larger fat stores of lacking self-control and gorging themselves, isn't it about god damn time that the medical community instead studies the real reasons why people are getting fatter? Rather than making fat people miserable, how about some unbiased scientific studies about why people are fat? If adipose tissue is growing in response to certain stimuli such as exposure to environmental toxins, wouldn't it be good to know that rather than shaming people and promoting eating disorders?

These are diseases:
gastrointestinal disorders, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Depression can have several possible causes. Some of these are environmental or situational. It is not a disease in the same way that the aforementioned conditions are diseases.

Autism is a condition with a wide spectrum of expressions. Referring to it as a disease pathologizes and dehumanizes the people who have the condition.

Obesity is a slur. That fucking word needs to die in a fire. It is used to dehumanize and deny medical care to people. 

Having autism is nothing to be ashamed of. Being big is nothing to be ashamed of. 

Be careful when imparting your message that you don't alienate people who might potentially benefit from your message by pathologizing and dehumanizing them.

~The Cheese Hath Grated It~

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