Tuesday, December 1, 2009

BBC Ouch! Article on Disability and Stalking

Lucy Sholl has an intriguing, but scary/disheartening, essay on BBC Ouch! about her experiences with men who seemed to be attracted to her because of her appearance of vulnerability. (Ms. Sholl has a physical disability that restricts her mobility, but is also an "invisible" disability in that she doesn't need a wheelchair, and doesn't always use a cane. So she's also had plenty of people telling her she's not really disabled, naturally).

She describes a long string of creepy, (much) older men who would latch onto her and try to court her, despite her not having shown any interest. They seemed to take her disability as an open invitation to disregard whatever boundaries she set: they'd mail her pornographic pictures with notes to her written on them, they'd ask her to be their girlfriend, their sex partner, their roommate, their wife --- even to move to their home country with them. They were all total strangers.

Here's an excerpt:
It's not that I'm complaining about the male attention; that would be an unwise thing for a single girl to do. But this type of man - the one who sends you running to the Oxford English Dictionary for the precise definition of 'stalker' - wasn't exactly what I was looking for. Despite my obvious reluctance, these men seemed sure that I was their ideal woman, as long as my personality didn't come into it. I was a blank canvas onto which they could project whatever odd, antiquated ideas they had about men and women. I was to be a romantic heroine from a Victorian novel, coughing blood into the occasional handkerchief while he, the melancholic hero, carried his burden bravely.

I suppose for a certain type of man, the idea of a disabled girlfriend carries a number of advantages. "Well," they think, "she'll always need me, she'll be grateful, and it'll be hard for her to run off with anybody else." Through friends, I also heard that a couple of men (30 years older than me, and of no fixed abode) thought that, while I'd be out of their league normally, they'd be in with a chance because of my disability. It seems your market value slips when you're
, and going for a disabled woman means you'll be able to get one who's a bit prettier, cleverer and younger than you would otherwise. A win-win situation, really.

I can tell Ms. Sholl that she's not alone --- there is actually empirical research showing that disabled women are a lot likelier than their nondisabled counterparts to have male partners who espoused a philosophy of "patriarchal dominance," and that, going along with that, disabled women experience a lot more intimate-partner violence than nondisabled women do.

There really are men out there who specifically target vulnerable women, and it is often women with disabilities who end up in their sights.


Anonymous said...

There really are women out there who specifically target vulnerable men, and it is often men with disabilities who end up in their sights.

ie: Maxine Aston,
Karen Rodman
Barbara Jacobs
Rudi Simone

Anemone said...

Ugh, yeah. I think there are people who actually have disability fetishes, too, which people with visible disabilities have to deal with in addition to all the other stuff.

I haven't seen any signs that autistic women are being targeted with any particular stereotypes, but I'm sure that will happen at some point, too.

I liked that essay. These are things we need to talk about.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing this.
I am reminded of several men I know, who attempted to partake in what could essentially be described as "aspie grooming", that is, raising the self-esteem of autistic women by dating them, making them improve upon their personal appearance/hygiene, and expecting them to be "perfect girlfriends". They often threaten that they will leave them if they don't obey, especially since they may lack relationship experience and the ability to assert their rights as a partner.
I've thankfully never had that happen to me, but seeing men brag about it makes me quite paranoid and cautious when dealing with unfamiliar men.

Lindsay said...

Ooh, good point about "aspie grooming," Lydia.

I was debating bringing up what I thought might be commonalities and differences between Ms. Sholl's experiences and what most autistic women probably experience, but didn't because, well, autistic women's experiences vary a lot.

For me, I am able-bodied, and even physically imposing. Thus, I do not broadcast an aura of vulnerability in the way that a smaller, physically disabled woman might, but I am very trusting, naive and childlike and can't always tell if someone is violating my boundaries. I suspect many autistic women share that particular difficulty.

Lindsay said...

Anonymous, you're quite right that autistic men are vulnerable too: they are just as naive and trusting as we are, and likely have similar histories of blaming themselves for their social problems.

It seems to me that the Maxine Astons of the world are targeting both members of a dysfunctional autistic/NT relationship equally, though: they're enticing the female, NT half (because male NT/female autistic pairings don't seem to enter into their analyses very often) to come to their "support" groups and shell out for all sorts of counseling that never really fixes anything, just tells them what they want to hear: that their boyfriend/husband is always in the wrong by virtue of his neurology. Of course, it's a lot worse for the man here, because he's the one hearing that he is responsible for everything bad in the relationship, and that his wife/girlfriend is a victim of *his* incredible awfulness, but they are both being taken for a ride.

Also, the personal-safety issues are not the same for men and women in general, although of course women who physically abuse their male partners do exist, and men seeking help face a lot more ridicule, disbelief and other social stigma than women do. However, it is still true that violent abuse is a reality for many times as many women as men.

Clay said...

That never even occurred to me, but then, lots of things never occur to me. It's best to be really cautious, and avoid anyone who plays mind games in relationships. First indication - break it off!

TheWiredOne said...

In China, there was a millenia-long tradition of binding young girls' feet if the family felt they could afford it. The reason I say "afford it" is because in addition to preventing growth in the foot area, the foot binding crushed the foot bones to a degree where the girl would need assistance to walk, certainly making her unable to do work in the fields or jobs around the house. A girl or woman with bound feet was a status symbol for her family because that meant that they could have one less person working in the fields if they were farmers. Even if they weren't lower-class, the woman with bound feet was a symbol of chastity because she couldn't even venture out of the house on her own to cheat on her husband. Because of her disability, the woman was dependent on men, especially her male relatives, and whatever servants they hired to take care of her. Because the Chinese woman with bound feet was dependent on men in all respects, she was considered attractive. That may be a reason why men so often go for disabled women: because they see them as naturally dependent, fitting their gender expectations.

Anemone said...

I hadn't made the connection with foot binding, even though I think about it a fair deal. Good insight!

Stephanie said...

It seems that almost every time I attempt to interact with people I get taken advantage of in some way or another. My understanding of social situations and my ability to hold conversations is very poor.

You can also easily extend this to the internet. Since I can't seem to make friends in real life I turned to the internet and that only leads to people stalking me, more than one and it's definitely happened more than once.

And I often don't know anything about the internet stalker, neither their name nor gender, which makes it very strange.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I linked to that one because I'd run into some similar creepiness. I got targeted by one (blind!) guy I later found out was purposely pursuing women he'd heard might have mental health problems, on the basis that they might be "easy". He tried to rape me, and I knew of several other women who'd had similar encounters with him. He bragged about targeting a girl he knew was bipolar to a mutual acquaintance, who was about as appalled as you'd expect.

"Aspie grooming", per se, hadn't occurred to me as a common pattern, but am fairly sure I've been on the wrong end of that one. It's taken a long time and a lot of work to make me less vulnerable to emotional abuse--or even to recognize it a lot of the time!

The foot binding analogy is excellent, in too many cases. I hadn't thought in those terms.