Thoughts on “How Do You See Me?”

On Tuesday I dropped into Twitter to see what people were seeing about Primary Tuesday, and got distracted immediately by a discussion that noted disability writer and advocate David M. Perry was involved in. I jumped right in uninvited, because apparently that’s the kind of Twitter user I’ve become. I felt quite strongly about the topic once I investigated, though, which was this year’s Down Syndrome Awareness Day (March 21) video from Italian Down Syndrome advocacy group CoorDown.

Content Note: Ableism, Assumptions, Erasure, Media Depictions of Disability

 

Cartoon representations of DNA strands, in light blue. In two strands, several chromosomes are replaced by the words "Down Syndrome". Keyword: How Do You See Me

Image Description: Cartoon representations of DNA strands, in light blue. In two strands, several chromosomes are replaced by the words “Down Syndrome”.

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The video in question is entitled “How Do You See Me?”, starring AnnaRose Rubright, a 19-year-old woman with Down Syndrome, and actress Olivia Wilde:

 

 

I understand what CoorDown was trying to do with “How Do You See Me?” They were using the Olivia Wilde character, “normal”-looking and someone that anyone would expect to make those statements to get people interested, and then there’s the “gotcha”: the narrator isn’t the Olivia Wilde character, like you assumed, but a person with Down Syndrome. How does that change things for you, CoorDown, asks? How do you see AnnaRose? What assumptions do you have about her do you need to challenge?

CoorDown’s intent with “How Do You See Me?” wasn’t bad. But the messaging  is bad. The optics are bad. David Perry was trying to tell a CoorDown representative this yesterday, but the person wasn’t very receptive.

Here are some things about the video that were problematic for me

Disabled People Shouldn’t Be Required to Identify as Non-Disabled

There’s an implication in “How Do You See Me?” that in order for people with Down Syndrome (and, by extension, disabled people in general) to “see” or perceive themselves as people with valued social roles, and a well-rounded personality, and dreams, and a life in the community that brings them fulfilment, they also have to self-perceive as a white, non-disabled person. Not only should it not be necessary in this day and age for disabled people to self-perceive as non-disabled in order to live like a non-person person (period…forget about skin colour), it explains why this video is drawing criticism from disability advocates everywhere.

In “How Do You See Me?” AnnaRose Looks and Sounds Like She’s Waiting to Start Her Own Life

This isn’t the case, by the way. AnnaRose goes to college, works at a physiotherapy clinic, and is a Special Olympics athlete.

Yet, in “How Do You See Me?”, we hear her voice talking about “seeing” herself being and doing a lot of things while we watch Olivia Wilde do them.

As Kim Sauder says on her blog, “Crippled Scholar”:

“The video would have been far more poignant and entirely less infuriating if it had shown the narrator engaging in the activities she described rather than Olivia Wilde.”

Mixed Messages in “How Do You See Me?”

The video posits, presumably unintentionally that it’s better to have Olivia Wilde’s face than it is to have AnnaRose’s face, with the distinguishing features found in most people with Down Syndrome. For a video created for Down’s Syndrome Awareness Day, by a Down Syndrome advocacy group, that sends a rather mixed message to me.  Piggybacking a bit on my last point, it would have been nice to see more of AnnaRose in the video, not so much of “Olivia Wilde plays a girl with Down Syndrome” and “Olivia Wilde has Down Syndrome…”, which seem to be the ways the preview for the video appears on Twitter when it’s shared – without AnnaRose’s name.

Bottom Line

Again, it’s not that I think that CoorDown intended to film something that was problematic.   But there’s an implication “How Do You See Me?” that disabled people should see themselves as non-disabled simply because of an ableist assumption that non-disabled is better. And I can’t get behind that, especially from a video that’s supposed to raise awareness about Down Syndrome.

 

 

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Bishop Kevin Doran Knows that Down Syndrome isn’t “What God Intended”

Content Note: Ableism, Catholic Church


Cartoon representations of DNA strands, in light blue. In two strands, several chromosomes are replaced by the words "Down Syndrome". Keyword: Kevin Doran

I put this article up about Irish Catholic Bishop Kevin Doran on the Facebook page yesterday, and it’s getting a lot of attention – enough that I thought it deserved some more.

Kevin Doran is getting attention from the disability community because of remarks he made during an interview about Ireland’s upcoming referendum on gay marriage. There’s an interview with Kevin Doran, rather hard-hitting, at the bottom of the article, which is quite interesting if you get the time, because it really shows how muddled and not-completely-formed the theology of at least Kevin Doran’s school of Catholicism is on this issue.

(Full disclosure: I don’t pretend to know what Kevin Doran’s particular school is, as I don’t know a whole about the Catholic Church, but I do know my Bible and I do have at least a working knowledge of and grudging respect for theology.)

I’ve heard his sorts of arguments before, and they made me sigh. But let’s get to what really brings me here today.

Kevin Doran’s Thoughts on Disability

I don’t think that Kevin Doran saw himself as being offensive when he said, in response to the question of whether homosexuality was something God intended, that “That would be to suggest that if some people who are born with Down Syndrome or Spina Bifida, that that was what God intended either.”

But it was very offensive nonetheless. And extremely problematic, because Bishops have authority within the Catholic Church. People believe that what they say is right. If the Bishop says that people with Down Syndrome or Spina Bifida weren’t what God intended, there are going to be people are that take that seriously, and that attitude is going to inform their actions.

Disabled people aren’t fighting enough harmful rhetoric as it is (and in the UK in particular, where the government-generated and media-driven “scrounger” continues to fuel catastrophic cuts to benefits and services?)

I know a number of intellectually disabled people who attend church every Sunday, who take great comfort from it, and great pleasure from being part of a church community. They are welcomed as any non-disabled member would be. That a Bishop not only believes in his heart that disability and the diversity and opportunities for learning (for everyone) that come along with it are not what God intended, but would publicly state it and use it as justification to deprive another group of rights that others enjoy is despicable to me.

But then again, Kevin Doran did seem to be out to out to offend just about everyone that he could with this interview, including gay and lesbian parents, and women who have been raped that are considering abortion. Perhaps he thought he should fit disabled people in there somehow as well.

Won’t you join me as I roll my eyes?

Christopher McFadden: What Do We Do When a Judge is Wrong?

Note: There’s an update on this story that became available to me just as I was about to post this: Christopher McFadden recused himself from the case late Friday afternoon. I will comment on it this week.

I still wanted to post this. After reading the update, nothing about what I believe about this story has changed, and this one really upset me.

Content Note: Rape and rape culture, victim-blaming, revictimization by justice system, ableism

A gavel and the scales of justice sit on top of law books. Keyword: Christopher McFadden

Image Description: A gavel and the scales of justice sit on top of law books.

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A Facebook friend brought this story to my attention on Friday. Let’s all welcome Judge Christopher McFadden of Georgia to the blog. I doubt that this will be “one time only” appearance, as I plan on following this story.

The controversy rests on the 2012 trial of Jeffrey Dumas. Dumas was tried for raping a woman with Down Syndrome multiple times in 2010. She was 24 at the time, staying with family friends while her parents were out of town. Dumas visited the friends’ residence and, according to the woman’s testimony and to physical evidence, raped her three times in the twelve hours that he spent there. He was convicted by a jury and is currently serving 25 years. Christopher McFadden presided over the trial.

And now he has reversed the jury’s verdict and called for a new trial.

Wow.

Just a note before I get into this that for the sake of simplicity, I’m only going to talk about women and rape in this post. But I’ve not forgotten (and no one should ever forget) that men get raped, too. The statistic that I found in my go-to essay on rape culture (I’ll talk about that later) said that the number is 1 in 33, and that was in 2009.

Let’s unpack this. The woman’s name is not mentioned in the media. I’ll call her Jane, instead of “the woman”.

Christopher McFadden’s Concerns

Christopher McFadden apparently has some concerns with discrepancies in some witness testimony, the specifics of which I haven’t been able to find in the media. If he’s so concerned by these discrepancies that he feels that they affected the outcome of the original trial, then it’s my understanding that overturning the jury’s decision is a step, albeit one almost never taken by trial judges, that’s within his judicial power to take.

The media is giving those concerns only a passing mention, however, if mentioning them at all. And, in my opinion, he’d better be pretty damn sure that they’re worth giving a convicted rapist a new trial over.

Because Christopher McFadden hasn’t got a leg to stand on legally about anything else that concerns him about this trial, and needs to be called out properly on it.

You see, Christopher McFadden also believes that a new trial is necessary because Jane didn’t “act like a victim” and Dumas didn’t “like someone who had recently perpetrated a series of violent crimes”.

Welcome to living in rape culture in America, folks.

A Lesson in Rape Culture for Christopher McFadden

When I’m talking with people about rape culture, I refer them to Melissa McEwan’s excellent essay on the topic. For anyone who wants to understand how truly scarily pervasive rape culture is, how it thoroughly saturates our culture and keeps both women and men at risk, McEwan’s website is an excellent resource.

Christopher McFadden wonders if what happened to Jane is truly rape, apparently, given that her testimony that the rapes happened over a twelve hour period and she waited until the next day to report them. He posits that she had plenty of plenty of time and opportunity to report what was happening her caregivers and to ask for help before she did so.

Let’s let Melissa take this one:

“Rape culture is the pervasive narrative that there is a “typical” way to behave after being raped, instead of the acknowledgment that responses to rape are as varied as its victims, that, immediately following a rape, some women go into shock; some are lucid; some are angry; some are ashamed; some are stoic; some are erratic; some want to report it; some don’t; some will act out; some will crawl inside themselves; some will have healthy sex lives; some never will again.”

The fact that every woman reacts differently to rape isn’t ground-breaking news. Anyone who works with rape victims will tell you that. But this is the power of rape culture.

Or ignorance from a highly-educated individual of one of the most very basic elements of personal aftermath after a rape.

Or both.

In any case, it’s first-order victim-blaming, and a judge should know better.

And by the way, what *does* a man who has just raped woman 3 times behave like? What is he *supposed* to behave like? Why does this matter, when the jury found that the physical evidence supported that Dumas raped Jane?

Fayette County State Attorney Scott Ballard, who prosecuted this case, reacted to Christopher McFadden’s ruling with “disgust”.  After reading Christopher McFadden’s ruling,  the District’s Attorney’s office filed a motion asking him to recuse himself from the case, but he denied the motion.  The motion is being appealed (to the same appeals court that McFadden sits on.)

Obviously Christopher McFadden’s attitudes about rape would be problematic (to say the least!) regardless of whether the woman was disabled. But the fact that this woman is makes all this an issue of ableism as well, as Jane has Down Syndrome.

The Ableism Issues

If Christopher McFadden feels that discrepancies in witness testimony actually are significant enough to call for a new trial, that’s one thing. But this “she didn’t act like a victim” nonsense is especially unfair for a woman with an intellectual disability who, depending on her level of understanding, education and experience, may have a very limited understanding of how people “act” after consensual sex, let alone rape. There’s still a perception out there that disabled people, especially when the disability is intellectual, aren’t sexual beings, and don’t need education about sexuality, sexual relationships, and sexual safety.

I have no idea about Jane’s particular situation, of course. But, unless these issues were explored in the original trial, Christopher McFadden is assuming that she would even be clear after the initial rape that what had happened to her was wrong or why. After all, even some women who aren’t facing the challenges inherent in having an intellectual disability sometimes aren’t sure after an assault that what’s happened to them was rape.

These are factors that need to be considered by the entire support team helping a woman with an intellectual disability work her way through the issues involved with a rape, including the judge if the case goes to trial.

The evidence doesn’t seem to point to Christopher McFadden having awareness of these issues. I could be wrong, but I’m willing to bet that I’m not.

I’m also asking myself if this idea of “she didn’t act like a victim” isn’t somehow tied in to assumptions about people with an intellectual disability. I don’t think it’s an unfair question, although I’m sure we’ll never know the answer.

But ultimately it doesn’t matter whether Jane is disabled or not, does it?

Meet Me at Camera Three, Judge Christopher McFadden

I’m just sick about your ruling.

Not just because it means that a woman with Down Syndrome will have to go through a trial again, when the man charged with raping her was found guilty, when she she thought that he would stay behind bars for 25 years.

Because a *woman* will have to will to go through a trial again, when the man charged with  raping her was found guilty, when she thought that he would stay behind bars for 25 years.

Some of the articles about this don’t even mention that you had concerns about testimony. All of them mention that this is happening because you didn’t think that Jane acted enough like a victim. This not only demonstrates ignorance on a basic level of how women react to being raped, it’s an affront to rape victims everywhere. You ignorance is revictimizing this woman, and further proves that in a rape trial, the victim is just as much on trial as the rapist. Her sexual history is used against her. The way she dresses is used against her. And now, the way she acts after the rape is used against her.

And God help her if her rapist doesn’t “act” like a rapist.

If you are thoroughly convinced that witness testimony had discrepancies that could have affected the outcome of the original trial (not that I’m buying that), call for the new trial on that basis.

And then recuse yourself! How does this woman have a ghost of a chance in this new trial if you preside?

And yet, when she was told that the trial was going to be reopened, after her tears, she said that she was ready to do this again.

I can’t do much for her, but I can make sure that people know what’s happening, and get as much support as I can behind her.

Be a responsible judge and a decent human being and don’t force yourself into this young woman’s life again. She’s been violated enough.

This article by Bill Rankin and Steve Visser really helped me to get needed background information and to better understand the legal aspects of what’s happening with this case.

 

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