Monday, February 25, 2008

Radical Feminist Therapy

I've read a lot about various therapies. My biggest problem with many of them is that they take society for granted. They assume that what the majority likes is probably good, and what the majority dislikes is probably bad.
Which is why I was excited when, in a local used book place, I saw a book on Radical Feminist Therapy (by Bonnie Burstow). I thought 'they won't take society for granted'. I was right.
Although I don't agree with everything in that book - for example, the claim that the majority of women are naturally lesbian and are socialized into heterosexuality, or that autonomy should take precedence over preventing suicide - there's a lot I found very valuable.
Firstly, she discusses what she calls the 'just-like-us' scripts. She describes three types. The first, the 'liberal just-like-us' script, is described as such:

"The paradigmal liberal-scripted woman sees all ideology as dangerous and believes that she has no ideology. While acknowledging that injustice exists and occasionally fighting against it, she believes that society is essentially just and that for the most part we need only point out injustices and appeal to people's better nature and everything will be okay. Insofar as she acknowledges and protests against severe injustice, it is generally in some other part of the world and in reference to an oppressed group to which she does not belong. She believes that all positions are equally flawed, that there is equal right and wrong in just about everything anyone says, and that everyone has an equal burden to bear."

The part about how liberal-scripted view injustice is a good example of what I call 'taking society for granted'.
Regarding everyone having equal right and wrong, I think everyone is right about some things and wrong about others, but not to equal degrees. Some people see the truth better than others, often because the others are taking society for granted and won't or can't challenge basic assumptions.

"A second type of just-like-us script I call 'honorary just-like-us scripts.' The woman with this script has been assigned and has accepted attributes that are traditionally identified with the oppressor. She has been treated like an 'exception' by one or more significant others who belong to the oppressor group. And she has been rewarded for joining with them in belittling the oppressed group to which she actually belongs... The honorary guy is in an enormously precarious and frustrating position. Being even more critically divided from women than the traditional woman is, she has no women friends on whom to rely. She keeps finding herself fundamentally betrayed. 'Inexplicably' she is periodically robbed of her 'male' status and is demoted to 'women' again... As counselors we need to understand and validate this woman's pain and her anger. She has been harmed dreadfully. Her very ability to question traditional women's roles is being used to deceive her."

Though the comparison doesn't fit exactly, this reminds me a bit of the 'shiny autistics'. Many 'shiny autistics' are among the relative minority of autistics who have the most mainstream views of autism. For example, in Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone, the autistic in that book who had the worst view of autism was one of the only two who are relatively well-known by 'curebies' - Sue Rubin. Most of the autistics in that book were much more positive about their autism. All agreed that inability to communicate is a big problem, but many described wanting to be accepted as they are instead of hoping for a cure, and many mentioned positive aspects of autism.
Regarding the 'ability to question traditional women's roles', the 'shiny autistics' are often held up as breaking stereotypes because they are viewed as 'able disabled' instead of 'unable disabled' (or, as Cal Montgomery put it, as Mary instead of Bruce).
One important difference is that 'shiny autistic' is a less voluntary position. Many autistics may be forced into that role, and rather than not expressing controversial views, they are just selectively ignored or misinterpreted when they do. As I get to know more of Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadyay's (the other relatively well-known contributor to Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone) writing, I see that his view on autism is much more accepting than the way he is typically portrayed. Partly because of his unusual way of expressing himself (like many nonverbal autistic typists, his language differences are evident in his typing, and there is also a cultural barrier for Westerners because he is Indian) and partly, I suspect, for political gain, many of those who discuss him and review his books portray autism as much worse than he does while appearing to agree with him. To a lesser extent, Amanda Baggs has also experienced this, though she fights it well. If you look at how CNN portrays her, it is more mainstream than how she describes herself. (For example, Amanda Baggs never refers to herself as being trapped inside herself, which is a comment the reporter gives when she hits herself - 'such a bright woman, so trapped'.)

"The attributes that the 'liberal' members of the dominant group impose on people with keep-it-hidden scripts are fairness, discretion and the attributes of the dominant liberal group. Injunctions and other messages that are given include the following:
  • Act like us 'in public.'
  • You are totally okay only as long as you act like us 'in public.'
  • All members of your group are totally okay only as long as they act like us 'in public.'
  • Not acting like us 'in public' is unfortunate, indiscreet, and blameworthy.
  • We are bing nice by accepting you the way we do.
  • If we did not accept you or you did not appreciate us for accepting you, you would not be totally okay, so do appreciate us for being nice and compliment us when you can.
  • Although you can see or imply that your group is being oppressed by other members of the dominant group, do not see or imply that you are being oppressed by us liberals."

Examples she gives are 'apples' (Native people who act white) and lesbians who downplay their sexuality when around straight people (eg by not being affectionate to their partner in public). I think this pattern is extremely common among disabled people. One woman with a spinal abnormality describes doing this until she became pregnant. I have experienced the pressure not to act autistic, particularly with those who don't know I'm autistic but even with those who do. The only people I stim in front of without it being an effort and scary are my parents and some developmentally disabled people.

This post is getting pretty long, so I think I'll stop and comment on other parts of the book at another time.

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