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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Ableist Language in the Babywearing World

In the babywearing world, we often pride ourselves on inclusiveness, We want to welcome all kinds of caregivers to this incredible practice of babywearing, and we say as much in every online group and forum that exists. At least, we THINK we do. As it turns out, there is an area that is being pointed out more and more often as needing improvement. This area? Ableist Language. What is that, you ask? Well, Ableism can be described as "systematic, institutional devaluing of bodies and minds deemed deviant, abnormal, defective, subhuman, less than." So, how does our language about babywearing devalue the bodies and minds of our fellow babywearers? Well, when we flippantly use terms like "crazy", "lame", "nuts", etc. we are intentionally or unintentionally assigning a negative connotation to those with physical or mental disabilities, or dismissing them all together. What may seem like no big deal to you can actually be very hurtful to others in our babywearing community. This has become such an important topic that Jaime Gassmann, owner of Bijou Wear, wrote a post to bring attention to the subject in her chatter group, Bijou Buzz. Jaime admitted her own mistakes in language when she said:

"Language is so powerful. Things like "dumb" or "insane" or "lame" were "just words" to me for so long...in my daily life I was never confronted with the awful power of those words to shame and hurt people. I used them (and others) everyday. I used dumb when I meant unpleasant, not considering that when it is equated in that way it is a terrible slur against people who cannot speak. I used insane or crazy when I meant wild, reckless, or awful--using a mental illness term or slur in a cavalier way and/or equating it with "bad" behavior. I used lame to mean unpleasant or annoying...and then one day the political phrase lame duck came up around someone with a permanent disability who walked with assistance. That woman is not ineffectual or unpleasant or annoying. She walks with a limp because of a disease, and that does not define her."

Jaime brings up many good points about the difference between the easiest word choice and the most accurate word choice. Often, ableist language is simply the first word to pop into your head, out of habit. That doesn't make it the best word choice though, and in many cases, whether you intend it or not, it is hurtful to others reading your words. Especially in the babywearing world, one that often takes place online, it is important to choose your words wisely, as your words represent you to the entire community.

This is an important issue to me personally, as someone who lives with Postpartum Depression and OCD, because I daily read the flippant words of other babywearers who are "obsessed" with wrapping or are "crazy" about wearing. If you have not struggled with mental illness, you cannot know what a challenge it is to live with obsessions and irrational thoughts. To have your illness laughed at or brushed aside as unimportant or imaginary. To be treated as different or less than your peers. Your hobby does not compare to my illness.

So, how do we fight against ableist language? The first step is simply admitting we use language that is problematic. By admitting it is problematic, we can begin to recognize when we use it and work toward finding better, more accurate words and phrases to express ourselves. Taking these steps is not about being "PC". We choose to change our language in an effort to be more considerate of and inclusive to our fellow babywearers. Whether your babywearing group has rules about ableist language or not, you can strive to be considerate of others simply by cutting out words that are problematic.

Let's start with a short list of frequently used ableist language found in the babywearing world, and let's share some alternatives. This list isn't meant to be exhaustive by any means, but it will be a jumping off point to learning how to choose better, more accurate words in our everyday language. If you can start by trying to eradicate these words from your vocabulary, you're already taking great steps to be more inclusive of all babywearers. Habits are hard to break, and we may need to remind ourselves more than once not to use certain words, but the important thing is to make the effort, to care enough to make the effort. I'll also share some more resources at the end of this list for further reading.


Example: "This is a crazy deal for this wrap!"

Instead use: ridiculous, absurd, unbelievable, amazing, unfathomable


Example: "I am obsessed with babywearing!"

Instead use: in love with, passionate about, hobby, passion


Example: "I am definitely a wrap hoarder!"

Instead use: textile curator, wrap collector, collecting, keeping, saving


Example: "Selling that wrap was such a dumb decision!"

Instead use: absurd, wrong, bad, careless, thoughtless


Example: "I'm so OCD, I always have to fold my wraps a certain way."

Instead use: particular, specific, organized

Now remember, this is just a jumping off point. To learn more about ableist language, check out these links below...

10 Questions About Why Ableist Language Matters, Answered
Autistic Hoya: Ableism/Language
Casual Ableist Language

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