24 February 2011

Would you speak up?

A friend linked to this video on Facebook. I watched it, and it got me thinking.

I thought about my own experiences - both with questions, comments, bullying and stares I receive, and whether I have spoken up for someone else on the receiving end of nastiness.

It's interesting because I believe in speaking up against this behavior. Abusive people need to be told that their behaviour and insults towards people with disabilities is not acceptable.

But, from experience, I often find that when friends and family defend me in similar situations, it can be almost as outspoken as those who are giving me a hard time. Then when a stranger speaks up for me when I'm alone, it's a relief, and so very rare. 

As I wrote on Ramp Up, 'There are those who gather a group of friends to point, laugh at and ridicule the 'girl who got stupidly sunburnt'. These ones usually receive a mouthful from my well-intentioned but defensive friends, making me more self-conscious than the stares themselves.'

I remember my first boyfriend almost started a fight with someone who stared at me, and my second boyfriend was so intent on setting the record straight that he was 'proud to have a pink girlfriend' that I ended up walking ahead of him while he gave the commenter a whatfor!

So many times though, I am left to fend for myself when abuse occurs. People usually do not step up and defend.

In 2003 I was told I am ugly and should be dead by a woman with spider tattoos on her face, on the 86 tram to Collingwood. She carried a bottle of alcohol and may have been a prostitute. She ranted at me for two minutes, it was awful. And scary. No one spoke up. And a similar thing happened with a group of five dwarfs in 2008 - pretty much the same words, but near a supermarket. Passers by didn't stop to tell them their abuse was wrong. I was left yelling at them like a madwoman. And then I cried in a heap in the office of my real estate agent (they didn't know what to do), got really drunk on $8 wine and called the boy I loved and cried like a girl (he didn't know what to do either).

When the guy on the train defended me against four boys taking photos of me on their phones, it made me feel really proud. There are some kindhearted, strong people out there.

I wondered whether I had seen the situations that have happened to me whether I'd speak up? Probably, given my experiences, but also, probably not if my safety is compromised. 

I was trying to think about when I've stood up against this kind of behaviour, and I can't pin point it. Of course I am highly protective of my friends with disabilities - I see stares, hear comments and am appalled, but I am also mindful of causing a scene, for my friends' sakes. One thing I'm considerate of is letting the person receiving abuse speak for themselves, if they're in a state to. I hate people asking friends and family what's wrong with me, assuming I can't speak.

There was a time recently when a friend made a derogatory comment about disabled people, and I told them not to talk like that. When asked why, I said it's rude, inappropriate and I have many friends with disabilities and this sort of attitude sickens me. I think my friend was shocked at my warranted lecture.

This video came by at an appropriate time. On Monday after work, an intellectually disabled girl got on my train and kept repeating that she wanted a seat. Her Mum wouldn't let her move to a seat, but no one offered her a seat. She was nearly in tears. School kids were sniggering. I was half a carriage away from her and really wanted to call out 'can someone give that girl a seat?'. But I didn't speak up. And I felt like I should have. I left the train feeling guilty. I'm sorry, and next time I will speak up. 

Would you speak up?


  1. Great post. It's big city syndrome - people think and tell themselves that 'someone else will speak up' and thus they themselves don't have to.


  2. Yes I would and Yes I have. I was waiting to be served at the Deli in Coles one day and a couple of small people (dwarves) were shopping. A group of young guys were staring at them and snickering so i asked what they were laughing at and maybe they should go home and look in the mirror. I was furious. The little people from what i could tell didnt even notice. This time anyway...

  3. I would like to think I would definitely speak up. I cannot believe that no-one of the tram spoke up for you. Perhaps they were afraid of the crazy lady with a bottle in her hand. The supermarket situation too. Honestly, I don't understand some people. I have never been in this situation myself, however I would like to think I would definitely say something. Just like the lady in the beige coat and hat in the video. She rocked. As did the lady threatening to punch out the other guy. And Karen. It restores your faith in human kind, doesn't it! Always such thought provoking posts, Carly.
    Heidi xo

  4. Interesting food for thought. It would definitely be heartbreaking to see someone verbally attacked or insulted in public about their appearance. I would hope that I would have the guts to stand up for someone, but I am so shy I can imagine chickining out and then feeling really guilty about missing the opportunity afterwards :( xoxoxo

  5. I agree with Carl. I learnt this in psychology last year. The larger the group or crowd, the less someone will speak out as everyone is at once thinking another person will do so. Of course, as you've experienced, there's the odd one or two who do speak out in such a situation.
    Switch the scene to just 1 person being victimised and 1 other person present, there is a higher chance that one person will speak up as the responsibility will be solely on them.
    I'd like to think that I would speak, although admittedly, I've not been in such a situation yet.
    All the best, Carly x

  6. i agree with genevieve.
    also i think it's important to note that the girl you described had her mother to watch out for her.
    i speak up for myself. i give up my own seat if i feel like someone needs a seat. i think we need to watch out for people who need our help but be careful to not patronise people by getting involved in their lives unnecessarily.

  7. I definitely would and have spoken up. Not shy at all about that. In fact, I've approached angry men before, which may not have been very wise. But these two men got in a fight in a line for Santa Claus and it frightened a lot of children and they began to cry, so I went over and told them to take it somewhere else, that they were scaring the children. My husband was mortified.

    Thanks for dropping by my blog. Look forward to meeting you at ABC. Please come up and introduce yourself! By the way, I was reading through your blog and read about your skin condition. I have a large port-wine birthmark that covers most of my right leg, so I know the experience of being stared at and teased (when I was younger). I love your attitude and desire to educate others about your condition. Beautiful!

  8. Oh, and congratulations on being up for a Bloggie!! How exciting. I guess they'll announce the winners very shortly. Good luck!!

  9. I agree with everything you say.
    However, big groups are intimidating, and things can turn to violence.
    I prefer an intent stare.
    There was a road worker abusing some poor schizophrenic guy who sits near my gym and rants and swears (not his fault). I heard the road worker threaten to assault him with a shovel.
    I kept walking and watched the guy intently from across the road, with every intent on calling the police once I got to my gym.
    Road worker, seeing I was watching him, walked up to me and said "oh, he is carrying on, don't worry I won't hit him".
    I said "don't, he is ill".

    You can't always change people's behaviour but you can monitor your own.

    The other thing to realise is that some people are stupid.
    You are a super strong woman!

  10. Newish reader - first time comment :)

    Thank you SO much for posting that clip. I found it so interesting. I wanted to jump into the clip and hug the people who spoke up. I can't believe the people who said nothing.. I would really like to thing I would have said something too.


  11. Thanks for sharing this with more people Carly. I'm sorry that you have had to deal with this kind of thing first-hand, I myself have only watched my sister (who has Down's Syndrome, like the actor in the video) deal with it. Luckily I have never seen or heard anyone verbally abuse her quite as harshly as the actors in the video (or like some of the ppl you have had to deal with) but she gets stared at pretty much everywhere we go in public, and I notice ppl pointing at her and whispering about how she looks. It really makes me angry. Now obviously it makes me angry because she's my sister and I love her and understand her - if I didn't have a disabled sibling would I be as ready to stand up to ppl like her being abused? I'm not so sure. I definitely think I have more passion to speak up because I have a personal connection to the issue. I can see why ppl don't say anything - it can be intimidating to speak up to a complete stranger, esp one who seems angry and annoyed. It still doesn't make keeping quiet right, though.

    You make a good point too about letting the person being abused speak for themselves. You are lucky in that you can do that - my sister (and most ppl with conditions like Down's) can't. For one, they can't really understand fully what is happening - they can understand that the situation makes them uncomfortable but not necessarily what to say or do within the situation. On top of her condition, my sister is just extremely shy so she would never speak up for herself anyway. I guess for that reason I feel more of an obligation to speak FOR her. I had to stand up for her at school against ignorant boys making comments about her, and I'll continue to stand up for her against ignorant people until the day I die - and for anyone else like her that I see being abused. I don't think we will EVER see a day where disabled persons can go out and live life without the threat of abuse, unfortunately, no matter how much I wish for that to happen

  12. The thing with comments like this (and stares and such) is that even if it doesn't seem to bother the person, or if it doesn't seem like they even notice, 9 times out of 10 they do notice, and notice good. They then can internalize the abuse and carry it with them everywhere; regular abuse can really take a toll on a person's self-worth, just like it can with a non-disabled person. My sister gets very upset when we are out in public bc she thinks everyone is staring at her and talking about her. Sometimes they aren't, but most of the time they are. And even if they aren't, she is paranoid like that bc other ppl HAVE done this too her so many times that she expects it. It's heartbreaking. The thing that really gets me is ppl with Down's are SO pleasant and friendly if you actually take the time to talk to them and interact in a positive way. They are like kids in that they have very pure souls. And they are smart - my sister is alot smarter than people give her credit for. Just bc someone has a disability doesn't mean they are stupid or dysfunctional. Grrr sorry to rant on here, it's just an issue that really makes me angry and I have lots to say about it!! lol

  13. I discovered your blog via your comment at the lovely Kelley's blog magnetoboldtoo. I am a shy person by nature and used to stay quiet for fear of making things worse. But now that I'm older (and I'm a Mum, and perhaps that brings out the mumma's instinct), I don't give a crap. I DO speak up and I'm pretty sure I'm going to get into trouble for it one day, but so far, the bullies wither up and disappear (wish I could say die) when a small woman challenges them and/or tells them off. I still have to take a deep breath and be brave before I speak up, but I figure if I don't, and no one else is, who is going to? Thanks for sharing, and I'm so sorry you had to go through all that.

  14. OMG. I watched the first lady and thought yeah I would probably be silent, because I wouldn't want to get into a situation where I could be hurt. But as I watched, even knowing that it was all acting, I just couldn't stop myself from crying! I'm sorry I didn't even read the rest of your blog on this one - that is just so terrible, and I know I have far too often been guilty of being the one who remains silent.


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