Thursday, April 7, 2011

Criminal Minds: Gender, Disability and Disableism


Though I know that cop shows can be problematic as hell in many ways, I must admit that I still watch them and occasionally cringe to get through them, or skip it all together if it is triggering.  I know that I am not the only marginalized person that faces this quandary every time we sit down to watch our favourite crime drama.

Last night after putting my little men to bed, I sat down to watch Criminal Minds.  I actually like this show because it is about a specialized FBI unit that travels across the country to take on cases that are beyond local law enforcement. Most cases are solved within an hour using behavioral analysis. Also, to be perfectly honest, Shemar Moore is very, very easy on the eyes (I call dibs).  On last night's episode, a woman went on a killing spree.  It began in a gun store where she shot four people and then continued as she shot cops and attempted to shoot paramedics.  It was made clear that because she is a White woman, she was not initially viewed as a threat.  I was actually happy to see that because it showed one of the ways that White female privilege can be an advantage.

What could possibly make this nice White suburban mom become so violent?  Well it seems that she was in a car accident and her son died.  She felt that the police and paramedics did not do enough to save her child.  I am a very fortunate woman because not only are my children living they are both in excellent health.  Everyday I am thankful for this and I cannot imagine the pain that would come from losing a child.


Here's the problem with the psychotic break that happened after the loss of a child -- it once again happened to a woman.  I know that in nature no creature is as vicious as a mother protecting her child however, the insinuation that women cannot handle their grief, while men remain stoic in the face of great loss is absolutely sexist.  When we have seen men looking for justice for their families in the media, even when they are committing acts of violence, they are constructed as hyper rational and calculating. The murders that they commit in the name of vengeance, are not seen as negative anti-social behaviour, but when a woman cracks she must be stopped at all cost and brought back to sanity by a man.

This of course is completely based on how our views on the neurologically atypical shift according to gender.  Someone who is going around murdering people, regardless of what triggered that behaviour is quite obviously functioning in a psychotic manner, but because of the way that masculinity has been constructed, the character is presented as a slightly damaged hero.  This is why certain conditions are simply under diagnosed when it happens to men.  They are less likely to seek treatment for depression for instance, because it is a condition that has been feminized. If one's mind functions in an atypical manner, it is seen as a weakness and because masculinity is understood to be tough at all costs, the media has a tendency to ignore the message that it is sending valorizing these actions, and because there is not much discussion of the harm that occurs these shows go by without any real conversation.

I am further troubled by the implication that those who are neurologically atypical are violent.  We have seen this trope repeatedly and it is considered to be acceptable.  Someone who is neurologically atypical is far more likely to harm themselves, than others, but if you look at the media portrayals, this is not the message that you will receive. It is absolutely ableist.  The three most common media representations are the "super crip", someone who has been infantalized, and someone who is violent.  None of these stereotypes are positive, and yet the TAB believe that they are not universally harmful to PWD. The fact that these same tropes repeatedly occur in the media is proof that despite the paternalistic belief of benign behaviour towards PWD, harm is done on a daily basis.  As it is, there are few examples of disabled people in the media and if the representations that we do receive is filled with either inaccuracies our outright disableism, how can anyone believe that oppression is not a part of our daily lives?