Tristan Barber – Section 02 – Final Paper
06 Dec. 2021
America, Human Rights, and the Unheard Voice
History is not an ally to the underprivileged and marginalized. To some, it may appear that society is slowly—ever so slowly—moving towards progress. This is simply not true. The year is 2021, and the United States Supreme Court is hearing a case that may overturn Roe v. Wade, a historic victory for women’s rights and bodily autonomy made nearly 50 years ago. As one of the oldest and most important cases in living memory (over 40 years older than Obergefell v. Hodges which granted same-sex marriage), Roe v. Wade was seen as a strong decision with a half-century of precedent protecting it. Now, yet again, arguments are being made that mothers should be considered to have failed their “personal responsibilities”, and this impacts neurodivergent families even more than the normative alternative. The poems “Apologies to my OB-GYN” and “Perspectives”, written by Rebecca Foust and Craig Romkema respectively, highlight the struggles of neurodivergent peoples and their parents. Both medical/financial and social pressures create an undue hardship on these marginalized groups, and through this cultural violence, voices are silenced. Through these lenses, one can come to respect the disasters coming in the current legal and market environment.
We will start our exploration with “Apologies to my OB-GYN”, a poem following a mother and her experiences with a modern medical system. The mother has a particularly troubled birth, with a child requiring more care than would be considered normal. Described as “pains in your ass”, the mother sarcastically apologizes for the trouble the parents and child caused the system (Foust 2). While the child lives, saving similar “hopeless-case nymph moths”, the scars inflicted upon them by the system is there in the “skyrocketed premiums” and the insurance “weigh[ing] the costs in [their] cost-benefit analyses, skew[ing] bell-curve predictions into one long, straight line” (Foust 3-4). While the child saves moths and the parents dote over their child, the “care” they received was all but, serving only to render them down to charts and graphs, treating them as a source of capital rather than as human beings. This diametrically opposed position—of human versus capital—ensures that marginalized groups, especially neuro-atypicals, are dehumanized and perpetually silenced. With the fault being on the parents for having such a so-called troublesome child, the system can enjoy the fruits of their labor unburdened by human responsibility. Indeed, childbirth and raising is an extreme task, and in America, an extremely expensive one. In a for-profit market system where ASD children cost $1.4 million, and $2.4 million if the child has an intellectual disability (Taylor), one can see the results of healthcare-as-a-product—lives rendered down to profits and the bottom line. Where is the voice? How can one speak out for their own rights, for the rights of those under their care, when the cost of existing encroaches, consumes several, severalfold the cost of living?
This cultural violence is not only financial. “Perspectives” follows the perspective of a child with nonverbal autism as they observe the system operating around them. From the very beginning with the mention of “‘refrigerator mothers'”, we can find the lines of blame being drawn (Romkema 1). Refrigerator mothers refer to the idea that parents, particularly mothers, caused autism through their cold and distant behavior towards their children. While this belief has been proven to be false, the effects are still seen. Parents (again, primarily mothers) are seen as perpetrators of a sort of disease, that children on the spectrum are only drains on a capitalist system and that the parents are at fault. This can be further seen in the “measuring” of the narrator’s “head” (Ramkama 2), referring to another pseudoscience: phrenology. While often seen in respect to racism, this measuring of the skull was used to diagnose mental illnesses as well—eugenics in its most physical form. Beyond the medical and social implications of history, the narrator spoke to the direct violence, “So freely did they label me retarded”, meanwhile their parents told them that “they knew [they were] there / Inside” (Ramkama 3). Again, the so-called experts considered the child as a burden, a weakness, as othered and voiceless—as always voiceless, despite the evidence to the contrary.
None of this is new. These poems offer a glimpse into the lived experiences of those on the spectrum and parents who care for them alike, and while laws may appear to improve the lives of such individuals (or, rather, slows the backslide of quality of life), it wasn’t always this way, and it won’t necessarily continue being this way. Persecution against those with disabilities is as ingrained in American history and law as slavery is. Indeed, it is a living memory—where slavery still remains in the prison system, persecution didn’t end with the American Disabilities Act of 1990, and the atrocities committed with the “Ugly Laws” only ended directly in 1974 (NCLD 16). This cultural violence simply changed form, from direct law to indirect, with financial burden and social stigma and blame. These laws were fought for, and these laws are never safe from being overturned. Roe v. Wade proves this.
The arguments against Roe v. Wade are often moralizing. They claim that life begins at conception, that the rights of the unborn override the rights of the mother. However, regardless of one’s opinion on this debate, it remains apparent that the attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade without first approaching the economic and humanitarian problems for the already born displays, if we are being charitable, a profound lack of perspective. How can one argue these beliefs in good conscience while not solving the inherent cultural violence inflicted upon mothers, fathers, and their children? It appears that the rights of the unborn, those that have no inner consciousness providing them the ability to speak, the voice of this group outweighs the voice of those who can—and must—be heard.
If capitalism as a system must exist, and, perhaps, there may be some strong arguments in the affirmative, it must also exist for the benefit of all peoples. With a hardly-regulated market, a system designed to benefit those with voices and to silence all others, designed to lay blame on mothers and not on itself, neurodivergent minds are pushed to the threshold between the void and unhappiness. That is to say, the choice is often between death after life or poverty with little hope to improve one’s station—that is no choice at all.
“I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.” ~Tristan A. Barber
Word Count: ~1172
“Disability History Timeline – Ncld-Youth.info.” National Center for Learning Disabilities, 2007, http://www.ncld-youth.info/Downloads/disability_history_timeline.pdf.
Foust, Rebecca. “Apologies to My OB-GYN.” Fishouse, 28 June 2018, http://www.fishousepoems.org/apologies-to-my-ob-gyn/.
Romkema, Craig. “Perspectives.”
Taylor, Chris. “Coping with the High Costs of Raising an Autistic Child.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 24 June 2014, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-health-autism/coping-with-the-high-costs-of-raising-an-autistic-child-idUSKBN0EZ1A220140624.