Have you heard of The Mighty? It’s difficult to avoid the site. People share so-called feel-good stories from The Mighty on any social media they can find. A dog rescues a firefighter from a frozen lake. A kitten does CPR on a grandmother that’s taking care of her daughter’s newborn son.
Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
Typically the stories have a common template or two.
- Someone is victimized and someone is rescued
- Someone is disabled and needs to be saved from their disability
- Someone is disabled and oh look! The school got together for a photo op to show off how enlightened they are for being kind to the disabled person at a football game!
- Some is victimized as the disabled person’s parent, because life pulled a fast one and sucker punched them by thrusting a disabled child upon them but someone else comes along to brighten the parent’s day
- Someone is living in poverty but someone takes a video of someone else giving a few people a free hot lunch at Panera Bread
- Someone is living in poverty and is interviewed, having to prove they didn’t cause their own downfall so that others feel sorry for them and will want to donate money and clothes and even offer a job… and then the person that offers the job is the savior
- Someone secretly videos homeless people to see how they’ll behave if they find money on the ground and see meters run out on cars at the same time
After a very little while you notice the pattern, and you realize that you can’t excuse the ableism and self-indulgence, the finger-wagging at those who did wrong and the praise of those who did right.
You notice that the
victims are parents of individuals that are disabled usually use wheelchairs or are Autistic or have Downs Syndrome. One problem is that they’re not really the focus of the articles. They’re the prop, and they’re what the hero and heroine need to overcome or rescue. These stories perpetuate the ableism and stigma of disabilities.
Disabled individuals (or the disabilities they deal with) are perceived as challenges for others to overcome; as tragedies that occurred to the parents. That’s dangerous thinking that dehumanizes the individuals who really need the attention and help … or who don’t want any attention at all and want to live their lives without judgmental intervention… and most certainly without sharing their most intimate and personal issues and photos without permission. The voice is given to the parent, the caregiver, not the child, and so when there are biological parents who choose to abuse or end the lives of their disabled children, they feel justified and people will defend them because hey… look at just how much suffering the parent had to go through.
On the other hand, if disabled individuals are seen as something that needs to be rescued, these stories tend to infantilize disabled individuals. They can’t care for themselves or speak for themselves, much less advocate for themselves, much less be seen as human.
These stereotypes and ableism perpetuate the notion that disabilities are something to grieve over, and something we must prevent at all costs, cure at all costs, fix, and feel badly about. For the sake of the parents, and for the sake of the little babies.
Worst of all, it causes people to believe that disabilities decrease the value of a life without the intervention of the kindness of strangers.
Either way, the pattern is that disabilities have victimized parents and caregivers and the people who have disabilities are often not really viewed as being people, but props in these stories.
This pattern has the Autism self-advocacy community and others in the Disability Community in a rightfully angry discussion about an article that has now been pulled by The Mighty. I know, I took the long way round again to get to the crux, sorry.
A supposedly autistic mother to an autistic child posted an article that included a “meltdown bingo” card that was intended to be humorous and supportive to other parents of autistic children. I was embarrassed and bordering on irate when I saw it pop up in my feed from following The Mighty on Facebook (The Mighty was a recommendation to follow a long time ago, I mindlessly clicked it). I clenched my jaw and kept from commenting on the article because I couldn’t keep my fingers from typing something less than polite, less than commiserative. I closed out of it and then I relaxed because thankfully I don’t have any friends on any media would share that tripe and I knew it wouldn’t show up in my feed again.
Except it did show up in my feed again… it started showing up in Facebook and on Twitter and on several of the blogs I follow. The subject of it did, anyway, because the original article was pulled and The Mighty is trying to apologize for it and “recognizes that it was ableist” when they never intend to post anything ableist. Except… well. There’s a firestorm bursting through all of my social media justifying that initial feeling and helping, allowing me to put to words what has felt wrong with The Mighty. That specific article from the autistic mother with the autistic child and the autism meltdown bingo card tipped the internet’s kitten right over.
I’m relieved that the article was pulled (don’t worry, I’m sure it was screen capped or cached somewhere for posterity), but only after there was a lot of backlash for it. This post here from Lemon Peel is one I love hard and has some great links. CAN U NOT: A Twitter Ode From Me To The Mighty | Lemon Peel
We parents? We make mistakes. Sometimes we make them publicly. Sometimes we make spectacular mistakes, embarrassingly horrifically ghastly mistakes. The challenge we face is to apologize from the heart, to learn from them, to try to repair the damage we’ve done when possible, and not to repeat the mistakes. Sometimes we have to accept that reparation isn’t possible, but we still have to try. Then we have to move on and once we know better, we do better.