When I was in high school I learned to be very hesitant to reveal to others the structure of my family because they would promptly discredit valuable parts of my identity: “Oh you don’t have a father–no wonder you’re a feminist!” or, if I had made the mistake of explaining more on the matter, “You were physically abused?”–and, after arbitrarily blaming Islam, of course–“That’s why you’re a feminist! You poor thing, you must be an emotional wreck!” as if the idea of being a feminist is so absurd that it needs an explanation like that, and as if everything I say on the basis of feminism and the things I’m passionate about should immediately be discredited because I’m just an “emotional wreck.” And then they would give me that disgustingly condescending look of sugary “sympathy.”
It was infuriating on top of frustrating. The assumption that I was not in control of my own thoughts, that I could not be held accountable for my own behavior, that I could never contribute anything significant to the world, and that my ideas and passions were driven by anything but my own will and should be immediately discredited was the most belittling sentiment anyone had ever expressed in my regard. It was even worse than force-forging my fate based on what I’d endured in the past: that having been abused as a child and into adolescence, I must in turn grow to be abusive. This in itself was an example of withholding responsibility for my actions, whether wonderful or terrible, but it stung in a different way. Now I was seen as destined to further inflict the burden of what I had suffered and infringe on the rights of others. Not only was I an “emotional wreck,” I was a danger to society.
Feminists are already “dangers to society.” But feminists who were abused as little girls are downright scary! Everyone protect your penises!
Experiencing this, I had looked for a word to call it, for easy reference. I had no idea if there even was a word. The first thing I considered is that this may be a form of ableism. But that felt wrong, because I don’t have disability, and I’m not really an “emotional wreck.” At all. It sounded as though I were implying that, as someone who is not disabled, I still had to put up with all the bullshit that comes with ableism–and that, in the face of those who haven‘t the same privileges, is a wildly inconsiderate thing to imply.
On top of that, this can be done with different things–race, sex, sexuality, religion, anything. How many times have I heard, “You’re Muslim? But you’re so smart!” as though that’s supposed to be some kind of contradiction? Ableism didn’t quite fit.