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Friday, October 25, 2013

Sticks and Stones Can Break My Bowing Bones...

But Words Hurt Even More

A newborn baby wails as it is handed to its mother for the first time.  The man at her side smiles softly, looking at the new life that has been brought into the world.  “It’s a girl,” the doctor says.  “Congratulations on your new daughter.”  It’s hard to tell which of the parents has a bigger grin, it was just as they had expected.  However, the next words from the doctor came as a surprise.  “I have some other news, your child has dwarfism.”  Suddenly the expressions on each parent’s face changes from glowing pride to furrowed brows.  “You mean to say our child is a midget?” my dad asks.  The doctor cringes. “Well, actually, they prefer the term ‘Little People.’”  I’m proud to say that my dad hasn’t called me a “midget” since.  As a society, we should abolish the use of the word “midget” to show more respect towards people with dwarfism. The word midget is incredibly offensive because of its negative etymology, hurtful effect, and promotion of harmful behaviors or attitudes. 
One reason the word “midget” is offensive is because of the etymological origin. “Midget” comes from the root word “midge.” A midge is a very small, two-winged flying insect similar to a mosquito.  Some types spread diseases or suck blood from humans and other mammals.  I do not have wings like a fly, I cannot spread my disability, and I’m not Edward the Vampire so I definitely don’t suck blood.  I am not an insect, I am a human being.  No matter the size of my bones I still have to eat, sleep and learn from mistakes just like the next person.  To consider my feelings, the word “midget” should not be used.
The word “midget” has such a negative connotation tied to it that it ought not to be spoken. Calling a short person a “midget” is akin to calling a dark-skinned person a “nigger.”  They’re both derogatory terms based solely on physical appearance.  Just as the N-word is politically incorrect, so is the M-word.  Ironically, Harriet Beecher Stowe used the word “midget” in her novels Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands and Old Town Folks to describe children and short men.  (Midget) She also published Uncle Tom’s Cabin to increase awareness about racism and the hardships of slavery.  In the words of Harriet Beecher Stowe “I feel now that the time is come when even a woman or a child who can speak a word for freedom and humanity is bound to speak... I hope every woman who can write will not be silent.” (Harriet)  Old Town Folks may not have gotten as much publicity nor been as provocative as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but now it is still the responsibility of people today to speak out for humanity.  Though dwarfism may not be as common as dark skin, the issue of respect is equally important.  Calling someone a “midget" is uncivilized because of the lack of reverence it shows.
Another reason the word “midget” should not be used in society is because it is incredibly insensitive. It’s hard enough having a physical handicapped that limits how fast I can run, how far I can kick, and how high I can jump.  It’s hard enough not being able to ride the roller coasters with my friends.  It’s hard enough dealing with the pain of my legs growing inward.   I didn’t choose this figure, it was something I was born with.  Society needs to show more respect not only to little people but other handicaps as well.  People have been speaking out against using the word “retarded” as an insult.   Mentally handicapped people should be treated with just as much respect as anybody else.  If “retarded” or “midget” is used as an insult, it will almost certainly hurt someone’s feelings.    To show more respect, insults like these should not be used.
Reactions to the word “midget” differ from indifference to humiliation. Some people become angry, others dejected.  The label of “midget” is emotionally loaded and will undoubtedly have some kind of impression on the person you are describing.  It can have a deep effect on someone.  Being called a midget can remind someone of how different they are on the outside.  It can make someone feel like there’s something wrong with the way they are.  I’ll be the first to admit that I have wanted to change my body in the past.  I have wished for longer arms and legs.  But who doesn’t want to change something about themselves?  We need to learn to love ourselves the way we are and a great way to do this is to show love to others.  We can increase awareness about social issues and teach individuals how to be kind, not rude.  Society would be a much better place if we cared for each other.
The most significant reason the use of the word “midget” should be abolished is because of the cynical attitudes and callous behavior it promotes.  The M-word is often used for harassment, including bullying.  I remember being afraid to walk home from elementary school because someone would call me a “midget.”  He would chase me like it was some kind of game to see how fast I could run, calling it a “midget race.”  I felt scared and uncomfortable, and I didn’t know what to do because I was so young.  I told my mom, tears streaming down my face, and she told me to and stand up for myself and ask him not to call me that.  My friends would walk beside me in support.  I was lucky to have such good friends. 
I know I’m not the only one of my friends with dwarfism who have been bullied before.  I made it through the rough patch of elementary and had an awesome experience in junior high and high school.  My classmates were so good to me and I even got the privilege of being a senior class officer!  I graduated with honors, reading my friends names as they walked across the stage to collect their diplomas.  I’m grateful to have been shown so much respect in my later years, and I wish more of my friends were treated the way I was in high school.  As I’ve attended Little People Conferences and Disability Camps, I have come to learn what trials others have had.  Some had to be home schooled because of the way they were treated in public school.  A few have been effected so much by torment that it’s too personal to share.  When my friends are targeted for their condition, I feel targeted too.  If we abolish the word “midget” and show more respect to people such as my friends, perhaps we can eliminate their bad experiences.
Little People have a hard time being taken seriously in the media, especially when the word “midget” is used.  An example of this was found when I was taking a casual social media break from writing my essay, as I’m sure most college students do once in a while.  I was scrolling down the Facebook news feed when I found a post by one of my friends who has Achondroplasia.  She was increasing awareness about a Facebook page that had been created called “I Wish I Could Have A Midget For A Pet.”  How can this kind of thing be allowed?  Several people reported the page as offensive but were told that “it did not violate Facebook terms.”  If that’s not a violation for Facebook’s terms, they need to get better ones.  And if that’s not a violation of terms in society, we need a better society. 
After working on my paper for a few more hours, I decided to take another break.  I clicked on a link posted by a friend that looked entertaining called “26th Truths Of Growing Up Without Cable.”  I laughed at a few, being able to relate to how my parents didn’t understand that I didn’t need more than four channels.  This was funny until I came to number 6 which said: “You also became a Jerry Springer aficionado since there was nothing else to watch.”  I had never heard of Jerry Springer, but what caught my attention was the image below of a very muscular little person.  Below it was captioned: “Marty – Midget stripper who can flex his pecs.” (BuzzFeed) I shook my head in disbelief.  After all this time working on an essay about how offensive the word “midget” is and I happen upon this?  Not only is he being called a Midget, but he is also painted out as a stripper who can flex his pecs. I mean, that’s awesome that he can flex his pectoral muscles but what does that have to do with him being a little person? Most men can flex their pecs too, why are they focusing on the fact that he is a “midget”?  It shouldn’t matter what a person looks like, we should be equally as proud as their accomplishments.  I sighed and closed the page, no longer interested in reading the rest.  Maybe if we all turned away from this kind of so-called “entertainment” the media would realize how uncool it is.
Some people say “midgets” can choose to be offended by the word or not.  We can do our best to take the negativity out of the word, but a lot of it depends on the one using it and how its’ being used.  It’s like being burnt by a curling iron, if it’s hot it will still burn you.  The word “midget” not only promotes negative attitudes and behavior in the tormentor, but also the one under being tormented.   Being called a “midget” can be so hurtful that the victim wants to retaliate.  It promotes feeling of uncaring and influences the target to become bitter.  They might assume that the world is “out to get them.”  Sometimes it’s tempting to “give as good as you get” but I say we give better.  I feel it is my duty to “be the bigger person” as ironic as that sounds.  The most effective approach is non-violent resistance against the word and the negative attitudes it promotes by refusing to give in to the stereotype and fighting with words of kindness.  They have won if I have to resort to name-calling, because that’s the very thing I’m fighting against.
In conclusion, the word “midget” should not be used any more.  It has a negative origin, can be very hurtful, and encourages bad behavior. So, you’re probably wondering, what should I use instead?  How else do I describe a person of small stature? I prefer to be called by my first name, Michelle.  Of course situations arise where distinguishable differences must be addressed, but in that case you can call me a “Little Person.”  Because, after all, I am a person.  If you’re describing my condition, you can use “Dwarfism.”  If someone you know does use the word “midget” without knowing any better, be sure to tell them the actual meaning of the M-word and what to use instead. It’s better to ask what the correct term is if you’re not sure, who knows, it might strike a new friendship!   


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