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Dear Captain Awkward:

I’m woman in my late 30s who uses a power wheelchair due to a medical condition that causes severe physical fatigue.

Often, strangers – retail staff, waitstaff, members of the general public – assume that because I use a power wheelchair, I have an intellectual disability. I don’t. I have a university degree and I read widely.

How should I respond to people:

– talking loudly to me;
– talking to me in a sing-song voice;
– being condescending/patronizing;
– calling me love/sweetie;
– telling me that I remind them of their 12 year old daughter with Down syndrome;
– praising me for putting rubbish in a rubbish bin as though I’ve won a gold medal at the Olympics;
– telling me that you eat cupcakes?

Signed,

Smart Crip Girl

Dear Smarty,

Ugh. Even if you had intellectual disabilities, the behaviors you describe would be creepy and condescending.

For people who talk loudly, try:

“Why are you talking so loud? It’s weird.”

“Holy shit, that’s loud.”

“You’re talking really loud.”

For people who use the sing-song voice:

“Why are you using that sing-song voice? It’s weird.”

“Did you mean to sing me your answer like a little song? Because that just totally happened.”

For people who call you love/sweetie:

“My name is ______ for people who know me, and ma’am for people who don’t. Let’s go with ma’am for now.”

For people who tell you you remind them of their 12-year-old daughter with Downs syndrome:

“Cool, is she also into (a thing you’re into)?”

I realize they are doing it to insult you and don’t mean it nicely, which is such an extra layer of gross that I highly suggest that you turn it around on them.

For people who praise you for doing basic stuff like throwing trash away and also for people who are generally condescending:

“Wow, that’s pretty condescending.”

For people who tell you about how they eat cupcakes:

“There are cupcakes?” (If you like cupcakes)

What you’re going for:

  • Tone: Flat, on a scale between coolly reasonable and Fuck You.
  • Response: Short.
  • Apologies & explanations given: Zero.
  • Fucks given: Zero.

To keep in your back pocket:

  • “Wow.”
  • “Did you really just say that?”
  • “Awkward.”
  • “Fuck you.” Especially if they ask you how your junk works. Which is a thing that happens.

Sometimes if you do this, you will get the dubious joy of having people apologize at length, explain and overexplain what they meant, and if you’re really lucky, have a complete shamesplanation spiral in front of you. I suggest waiting it out and then coolly making your point as if none of that matters. “Sure. Can you bring me a grande iced two-pump soy vanilla latte please? Thanks.” You don’t have to engage with their shame or comfort them for their fuck-up, that’s their own work to do.

I’m sure the commenters will be happy to join us for today’s performance of Snappy Comeback Theater.