Intrusive Questions

// 17 August 2010

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in·tru·sive/inˈtro͞osiv/Adjective

1. Making an unwelcome manifestation with disruptive or adverse effect.

2. (of a person) Disturbing another by one’s uninvited or unwelcome presence.

Intrusive comments from strangers about my breasts began pretty much as soon as they grew. Intrusive ‘are you anorexic?’ questions happened when I was slim (and yes, some of that time, I was. Did you really want that answer?). Intrusive comments about my weight are different now, but still intrusive and rude.

But lately, the subject of the vast majority of intrusive questions I get asked are related to being disabled.

Practically every time I go out, someone asks me, “So, what’ve you done then?” and nods to the crutch. This happens disproportionately in the bus queue, oddly. But can happen anywhere – last week by the guy serving me in Subway, and he didn’t even stop there.

I am never quite sure how to answer. In my head I come up with clever and funny stories to answer this question, involving shark attacks and being trampled by donkeys, but in reality these rarely come out of my mouth. I sometimes say, “I had an operation on my leg” which, while true, isn’t entirely relevant. For what it’s worth, regarding that actual question, I haven’t done anything.

I could tell the truth of course, but it’s a long, complicated and in depth story, and people wouldn’t actually want to hear the whole thing. Not that I’d do this, because it’s none of their business. If you are a complete stranger, you are not entitled to my medical history.

Some, like the Subway guy, go further. “What was the operation for?” “What does it feel like?”

Then there’s the unsolicited advice that so frequently follows: “My mate had something like that and when he stopped eating *insert random food group here* it got better”; “Have you tried *insert unproven alternative treatment here*?”; “You want to be careful using that stick, you don’t want to get reliant on it”.

Look, I have a consultant on the case, and she knows a lot about this stuff. You don’t. Just drop it.

Think about it this way, if you were waiting in your GP’s surgery waiting room, and someone asked you what you were seeing the doctor for, you’d feel that that was an inappropriate and overly intrusive question. It’s the same – perhaps worse – at a bus stop, or a sandwich shop, or in the park.

Just like telling me I have big boobs (as if I didn’t know) is inappropriate, and telling me to eat less is inappropriate, and telling a slim woman to eat more is inappropriate, so asking a complete stranger about their impairment is also inappropriate.

Sometimes young kids ask me questions, and I don’t mind that as much. They mainly want to know if it hurts. Then they get on with whatever they were doing before. Actual friends asking me questions is fine, and actual friends offering me advice based on something they’ve read can be helpful, because they know what I’ve already tried and what I’m likely to want to try.

But the man at the sandwich shop and the woman at the bus stop and every other stranger who feels entitled to know, it’s not fine. My body is mine, in all its weirdnesses and failings and successes. Some of its details are visible to you, but it’s still not ok to just tell me what you think because you can see that I have breasts, a big tummy, a limp, scars or a mobility aid.

Comments From You

Zelda // Posted 17 August 2010 at 7:54 pm

As I see it – this IS an issue, and I do feel for you, but it’s not a feminist issue, so it seems out of place on this site…

Philippa Willitts // Posted 17 August 2010 at 8:03 pm

I’m sorry you don’t see it as a feminist issue, but I absolutely do. Being a woman seems to inherently invite strangers to comment on my body. It ties in very closely with more overtly sexist comments about women’s bodies. It is threatening to me as a woman, and it keeps me enclosed on days I can’t face it. Another woman being disabled BY society, not our bodies. Noone is entitled to comment on or question my female body in public. It’s a feminist issue for those reasons and more.

MarissaAO // Posted 17 August 2010 at 8:19 pm

If it happens to women, it’s a feminist issue.

“You want to be careful using that stick, you don’t want to get reliant on it”.

I know there are people who say this type of thing about people on social assistance, or about people on psychiatric medication. But I didn’t imagine that they would go so far as to say it to an actual person with a crutch.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 17 August 2010 at 8:24 pm

Thank you – I agree that if it happens to women it’s a feminist issue.

And yes, people have said it to me about psych meds too, but yes, about the crutch. It’s quite often said to wheelchair users too, from what I can tell.

Dani Alexis // Posted 17 August 2010 at 8:52 pm

I get the “what did you do?” or “what happened to you?” question quite a bit as well. I like to say, “My parents played genetic Russian roulette and I lost.” :P

Josie // Posted 17 August 2010 at 8:54 pm

Hi Philippa, thank you for this article. I’m horrified on your behalf that people make such intrusive comments to you and on such a regular basis. I’m especially intrigued about how/why people feel it is IN ANY WAY appropriate to comment on the size of your breasts – that’s absolutely horrendous.

I also agree that this is a feminist issue – in that anyone who is ‘atypical’ i.e. not male, not white, not able-bodied, not hetero etc, is to a certain extent considered public property, therefore not fully deserving of basic rights like privacy and autonomy.

Anji // Posted 17 August 2010 at 9:10 pm

I was walking home late at night on Friday and walking past the bars near my house, had a bloke say “What have you been up to then?” I was about to respond “I’ve been to the pub!” before I realised he was talking about my stick. I was about to get annoyed when I realised he was also carrying a stick, so I replied “I have ME… what have *you* been up to?” He said “They chopped my leg off after a motorcycle accident.” He even showed me his carbon-fibre leg, he was very proud of it. He said he was sorry for asking, that he thought I was going to say I’d sprained my ankle or something along those lines, but that my disability was obviously worse than his I have to say I disagreed, but I didn’t want to get into a “who’s better off” competition so I said goodbye.

I have no idea why I told you all that; what I wanted to say is that it’s REALLY, REALLY annoying when people ask what I’ve done, because the thought of a young (I’m 24) woman – or a mother, if I’m with my son – being permanently disabled is something most people can’t reconcile in their heads.

polly // Posted 18 August 2010 at 7:59 am

Zelda, the issue is that women’s bodies are assumed to be in public ownership. Women are supposed to accept this kind of stuff. It doesn’t happen to men in anything like the same degree, because men would be afraid of the threat of physical retaliation if they did this stuff to other men.

Denise // Posted 18 August 2010 at 9:35 am

Hi Philippa,

The guy in Subway! You’re just buying a sandwich, you don’t need that f.f.s! I too am horrified that people feel entitled to make comments and ask you such intrusive questions. Of course this is a feminist issue – women are considered public property and expected to put up with comments and questions. People think they can get away with it too, because you’re a woman. I bet most of them would keep it well zipped if you were six foot tall and male.

I used to get comments when I had eczema on my face and hands, but nothing like what you have to put up with. Even though most were well-meaning (oh Gaaard!) or curious, not nasty, it still infuriated me that people felt they had a right to say anything at all. One day I did snap, and hissed ‘if you’re a dermatologist, why are you working in Tesco?’ at a woman behind a cash desk. She was really embarrassed and taken aback, and I felt guilty. I found that a really good way to deal with unwanted comments/questions is to just look the way you feel – surprised/annoyed/embarrassed, and just don’t reply at all. The person then starts to get embarrassed and backtrack and say things like, ‘I didn’t mean to pry’ (!). I found that really did work, and I didn’t have to say anything that made me feel bad afterwards. It does depend on how you’re feeling on the day though.

But next time some twerp warns you not to get reliant on the crutch (that gemmie is truly incredible!), you could smile and say, ‘Oh, I’m afraid I already am – it comes in really handy for whacking nosey bastards!’

Philippa Willitts // Posted 18 August 2010 at 9:40 am

Denise, I really like your idea of looking as shocked / embarrassed as you feel in response to these questions. It’s honest and makes the point without having to be nasty. Thank you!

Heidi // Posted 18 August 2010 at 10:21 am

See, I get this in a different way, because when I was severely ill I used to self harm. I’m ashamed enough by the scars without getting comments such as “what’s a pretty girl like you doing something like that to yourself for?” or worse “didn’t you worry that men wouldn’t want to date you with all those scars”. To which I just want to scream in their face that would it matter if I was scarred if they didn’t consider me “pretty” and that no I wasn’t thinking about dating at the time, I was mostly thinking about topping myself. I guess there is a massive difference in that technically I “brought it on myself”, but I guess I see it as the outwards manifestation of an otherwise invisible disability, I mean I wouldn’t have self harmed if I didn’t have mental health problems.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 18 August 2010 at 10:29 am

Thank you Heidi for sharing that. I too have lots of old self-harm scars. They don’t get too many comments these days, but when they were newer people would feel entitled to comment on them too.

I don’t see a massive difference. People are still being inappropriate, nosy, presumptious and judgemental, on matters that are personal and don’t concern them. You’re so right, you wouldn’t have done it if you hadn’t needed to at the time for the reasons of your distress.

the outwards manifestation of an otherwise invisible disability

Absolutely.

saranga // Posted 18 August 2010 at 10:32 am

I have only recently (a couple of months ago) started wearing sleeveless tops and vest in public, as before this I was too anxious about showing my scars. It’s amazing that people ask me what happened to my arm. What the fuck do they think happened? It’s obviously not gonna be a pleasent story.

Even tho I (now) say it’s none of their business it upsets me when people ask. Staring is slightly easier to deal with, as at least I know those people have the grace not to ask intrusive questions.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 18 August 2010 at 10:33 am

see, it doesnt matter to me if it is a feminist issue or not, its an issue that affects some feminists, which makes it relevant on a feminist site regardless. feminism crosses over with other things a lot. you can see some of them as separate issues if you want, but there are always going to be a few places where being a woman does make a huge difference in terms of racial or ability etc issues, so may as well enjoy the chance to read about something that might be outside of your experience. just because one might not see disability issues in general as feminist it doesnt mean the issue shouldnt be learnt about on a feminist site because it will inform us to further understand those instance where the two are intrinsically linked better. thats my 2 pence anyways.

Philippa, im sorry the public feel such a right to address you so on such a regular occasion.

Jacq // Posted 18 August 2010 at 10:55 am

I’m registered blind and totally consider this to be a feminist issue. Apart from anything I am increasingly pushed/pulled/dragged/touched in the street by men (it has always been men – never women) who assume it is ok to assume that I want their hands on my body and that I require their chivalrous assistance.

In the past week alone I have been pushed by a man “saving” me from a puddle, had one man actually put his hand on my arse to steer me out of his way and had another grab my arm and try to drag me across in the road after I had politely declined his assistance.

In the past I was assaulted while trying to get served at a bar by a man who thought I wouldn’t see that it was him doing it, and had a 6 ft man (I’m 5ft 5) scream down in his face that I was “hostile” and was a “blind c**t” because I replied “I don’t want to discuss it with you” when he demanded to know why I had a white stick AND a newspaper. I’ve had stuff thrown at me (by men), stuff shouted at me (by men) and had men accuse me of faking blindness in order to fiddle the benefits system (A: If only I were faking it B: I have never claimed benefits and work a full time job C: If disabled people need to claim benefits they shouldn’t really be abused for doing so)

Men seem to assume that because I’m a woman they are entitled to do these things to me. And that I’m a rude “bitch” or “cunt” when I don’t appreciate being felt up by them.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 18 August 2010 at 11:00 am

Jacq, I’m so sorry this happens to you. I put a post up about this here but for me it tends to be a rare occasion, I know mainly wheelchair users and blind women who are grabbed and groped very regularly under the guise of ‘helping’.

And yes, the ‘why do you have a white stick and a newspaper’ exemplifies exactly how people feel they have a right to personal information without having any basic knowledge *at all*.

Jacq // Posted 18 August 2010 at 11:16 am

Thanks for that – really interesting link.

The “people are strying to help, try to educate them” argument infuriates me. As if disabled people don’t have enough on their plates with trying to get on with their lives, we’re expected to also educate the world while we’re at it. Personally I like to take responsibility for educating myself about such matters.

At this rate I’m gonna be going round ‘educating’ people about being a woman, being disabled and being a lesbian. How tiresome :) I just want to get on with being an individual.

Also – as I think you’ve covered – it’s often men who assume the right to do/ask these things. I get much, much less hassle from women – they actually tend to *ask* if help is needed, which is much appreciated.

Sigh, anyway…

Kate // Posted 18 August 2010 at 2:15 pm

Disability interacts with gender in a way that means that women experience disability differently to men. And strangers touching you in public certainly feels different for women and men. So: feminist issue.

And I totally agree with Jacq – it’s part of privilege to think that your lack of knowledge about other people’s lives is normal and remedying it is their problem not yours. Not knowing about what middle-class straight white non-disabled men do and like gets you sneered at; not knowing the in-jokes of being a disabled lesbian means you get to sneer.

EmilyBites // Posted 18 August 2010 at 2:20 pm

Thanks for this article Philippa, and I’m sorry you regularly get this crap.

And thanks Heidi for bringing up scars: as a young, female self-harmer (trying to stop) this is an issue I deal with. I have a five-year old scar across my forearm (it’s a big ‘un, but obviously old), and I have people ask me about it all the time! If I met a stranger with noticeable scars I would not ASK them what happened, and that is merely politeness, not supersensitiveselfharm intuition that it might be something they don’t want to discuss. I’ve had people I’ve just met GRAB my arm and hold it out for inspection, demanding to know what happened! I’d love to say ‘shark attack’ but I couldn’t pull it off, I just get annoyed and say nothing.

I also found that when I was on crutches after a knee operation I was given short shrift by many people and accused by a man on the train of ‘faking it’, because he couldn’t see any obvious evidence of injury such as a cast. Crutches not being good enough, apparently. This in no way compares to long-term disability, I know, but I was (naively) surprised at how shitty a lot of people were.

I always assume that everyone knows their own abilities and comfort levels, and if someone needs a seat/a hand/to be left alone then it’s up to them – whether or not I can see their disability!

Samantha // Posted 18 August 2010 at 6:58 pm

I get this too, it’s so annoying.

I’m registered blind, and I don’t generally use a white cane, I have 10% vision in one eye, so I can read print of a decent size, if held very close.

What tends to happen to me is random people, usually on a tram or at a bus or tram stop, come up to me and say “you need glasses you know”.

I bite my tongue and do not say what I would love to, which is “oh my god, what an amazing idea! 33 years and I’ve never considered that! Thank you!!!!”.

Instead I smile sweetly and say “thanks, but it’s optic nerve damage, glasses won’t help”. Sometimes I don’t *feel* like smiling sweetly. And this often prompts various other unwelcome and intrusive questions, like “how did you get that?” and “what can you see then?” (short answer-I don’t know, my sight has always been this way, what can YOU see?).

Wish people would stop being so nosey and “helpful” and leave me to my life. I’d always assumed this was due to the mostly hidden nature of my impairment, so it was really interesting to read your blog. Thanks for sharing :-)

thetabbycat // Posted 19 August 2010 at 12:31 am

I completely agree with everyone who has argued why this IS a feminist issue. To me feminism is a way of looking at the world and through this identifying the inequalities, however subtle they may be.

I would also like to add this thought:

I have suffered from chronic daily headaches (a mixture of migraine and tension type headaches) for 2 years and in this time have read quite alot around them. Headaches are very difficult to live with in this society (aside from the physical pain), they are so often seen as a pathetic excuse for not doing something or going home early or not wanting sex etc… Migraines and other headache types disproportionately effect women… coincidence? I think not…

Jacq // Posted 19 August 2010 at 8:59 am

Samantha – how blinkin’ annoying!

I too hate the “how much can you *see*” questions – I never know how to answer that. I have no idea how much I can’t see (as I can’t see it) so how should I know what I can’t see?

I’m sorry you have to deal with such comments. I think my head would explode!

Sarah // Posted 19 August 2010 at 11:02 am

This happens to me ALL the time when I use my crutches – which incidentally are purple and not standard ‘hospital issue’; which should be a clue really that they are more permanent and not because I have ‘done’ something. Oddly enough people don’t tend to ask the same intrusive questions when I use my wheelchair; so what is it about crutches?!

It makes me SO angry that total strangers think they have the right to know my medical history simply because I have a visible sign of disability. And not just to know it either, but to JUDGE me – if I actually tell them anything that is. And if I don’t tell them, and politely tell them it’s none of their business, they act as if I’M the unreasonable one.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 19 August 2010 at 11:08 am

Sarah, very interesting that it still happens despite having purple crutches. Before crutches I used a walking stick, and when I changed from a boring black one to this funky purple flowery one people were more likely to compliment me on it, moreso than ask me why I used it. I was hoping that if I could ever afford some funky crutches then it might change a bit. Maybe not!

Sarah // Posted 19 August 2010 at 1:38 pm

Now you come to mention it Philippa I do get a lot of complimentary comments too about the purple crutches, especially as I’m usually wearing purple too so people often comment on the nice colour coordination!

That I don’t generally mind, if I’m in a sociable mood, although it does get quite tiresome sometimes when I just want to be left alone and get on with my day – which is quite often, since as well as being physically disabled I also have Asperger Syndrome (a form of “high functioning” autism, for anyone who doesn’t know) so very often I don’t feel like making inane polite conversation with total strangers, and it makes me extremely uncomfortable being forced into a corner whereby I either have to do so or be thought incredibly rude.

I’ve learned though to put my own needs before what total strangers think of me, so sometimes I just LET them think I’m rude; it’s their problem not mine.

After all, I do wonder if they would make a similar unsolicited comment to someone wearing an outfit with nicely colour coordinated bag and shoes, etc…

If not, then why comment on my crutches?! (And expect me to respond all positively, as if I need/should be grateful for their approval.)

(P.S. Philippa, I was lucky enough to get my funky crutches second hand at a bargain price on eBay :-) )

Heather // Posted 19 August 2010 at 1:38 pm

A brilliant post, and I’m sad to hear that this happens so often to people just trying to go about their business.

I have diabetes so I frequently get the “should you be eating that?” and “you must have been a really fat kid” comments. (For the record, I can eat what I like as long as I can match my insulin and exercise to it; and I’m a Type 1 which is caused by genetic+environmental factors and has nothing to do with weight.)

And then there are the people who aren’t ignorant and ask sensible questions. I don’t mind answering when people genuinely want to learn, but in an appropriate time and place. I often find myself being made the centre of attention in a crowd of people at someone else’s event which I don’t feel is appropriate at all!

It often makes me feel I want to hide my condition, which as it has no outward signs I could do, but those I work/socialise with do need to know in case I’m taken ill. Not disclosing could be very dangerous in that case.

Don’t get me started on those who say “I couldn’t do that!” and “eeurgh that’s horrible!” about my insulin injections – it’s a choice between the almost-painfree jabs and a slow hideous death. Anyone could adapt to the regime if it were life v. death and since I need to do it just to live another day, what right has anyone else to say it’s horrible?

Gayle // Posted 19 August 2010 at 9:15 pm

Thanks for your article, Philippa. I feel very strongly about this issue, having been on the receiving end of some truly horrible and intrusive comments over the years. Sometimes people make comments – usually men – that are meant to be ‘compliments’. This can be very upsetting, I have found, especially when you are subsequently called ungrateful because you have not taken being told that someone would like you to sit on their face all that well! Most of the intrusive comments I have received have been negative ones about my weight; I have been snorted at by a group of boys as they called me a fat pig to my face, for example. I also think women have a tendency to make weight an issue by commenting on it: we praise each other when we lose weight, even if that weight-loss is not healthy.

Holly Combe // Posted 19 August 2010 at 9:17 pm

I absolutely agree with what’s been said about this being a feminist issue. The contributors to this site hold a variety of different feminist views on different topics but I don’t think The F-Word has ever endorsed the idea that feminism should sit alone in its own little bubble and not play any role in addressing wider oppressions that intersect with sexism.

I would suggest that standard applies to any movement genuinely fighting for equality. I guess some activists are wary of embracing this because of common derailing tactics from opposition (“you’re rubbish because you don’t talk about X!”) but how strong can a movement become if it reacts by becoming insular and blinkered?

I agree this is a feminist issue for precisely the reasons Pippa outlined. As so many of these comments demonstrate, the way disabled people are often treated in public spaces ties in with the issues explored in the sexual harassment thread. It seems anything a woman does that is noticeable is up for grabs for public judgment and comment. Whether it’s something to do with our physical appearance or something we’re doing that’s perceived as “out of the ordinary”, whether we’re disabled or not- it’s all part of the same exercise in othering.

Irina // Posted 20 August 2010 at 11:03 am

I sympathaze with how you feel about these intrusive comments from total strangers. It’s bad enough to have such an impediment to walking and moving around without having to think what to say, or feeling exposed by somebody’s remark, or bothered. I with those strangers thought of that, having put themselves in your shoes. I think though, that most of the time these people mean well thinking, perhaps, “golly, such a young lass – and on crutches, how unfair, hope she’ll be OK one day” but the problem is that they never know how their voiced thoughts are going to be received. They have no way of knowing how you’ll take it, haven’t thought about it. It’s a bit tactless but I don’t think that in most cases it really comes from the point that they feel entitled to comment because your body belongs to the public. People who say things like these to strangers are usually a bit … well, simple. Christ , they won’t have any complex feminist ideas in their heads that, as you are a young girlie, they can instruct you or patronize you. They don’t think ANYTHING, just blurt out what they see. One can say to them “I understand that you are probably meaning well but I personally find such comments from people I don’t know intrusive” or “You know, it actually annoys me when strangers say this to me” – they’ll be embarassed. Of course, if they are a bit cocky and appear assured of their RIGHT to comment one can just tell them where to stick it, or you’ll do it yourself with your crutch. But in my own experience as a woman I have come to think that most people are not downright misogynist cunts, just plain simple and occasionally tactless.

Helen G // Posted 20 August 2010 at 12:26 pm

I understand what you’re saying but personally, I’m not convinced that having good intentions necessarily counterbalances the intrusion into someone’s personal life. Currently abled people have many privileges compared with disabled people as it is, and whether a line of questioning is well-meant or not seems almost beside the point when you consider the hurt and upset it may cause (as Pippa and numerous commenters above have described so eloquently).

As you say, people may not mean anything and are just vocalising whatever random thought is floating through their mind and agreed, a disabled person is well within her rights to tell them to shut up – but why should she even have to? I really do think the onus is on those of us with CA privilege to think before we open our mouths. At the very least, if we feel such an overwhelming urge to interact, come what may, perhaps we could leave out the personal remarks.

coldharbour // Posted 20 August 2010 at 1:28 pm

On a more general point I think what is considered intrusive is also a subjective and cultural-specific entity that differs in relation to geography and class grouping. I come from a relatively working class area of Glasgow, up there it’s the norm for people to strike up random conversations with people in the pub or at the bus stop, it’s maybe slightly less so now but that has always been the tradition. I live in suburb of London now, mostly white middle-class English people that can’t even look each other in the eye, totally different culture altogether.

Helen G // Posted 20 August 2010 at 2:59 pm

Hmm, I’m always very wary of creating stereotypes on the basis of arbitrary geographical, social and cultural divisions because I don’t think that homogenising groups of people on the basis of where they live serves any useful purpose. For example, my experience is the diametric opposite of yours: I lived for many years in rural Wales where people would more often than not ignore anyone they didn’t already know, whereas in the part of London where I live now, people do chat to each other at the bus stop, in the local shops, and so on. And in the part of London where I work, people also talk to me, but inevitably only to unleash a volley of transphobic street harassment.

The only conclusion I’m able to draw is that everyone has different ideas about what is acceptable social interaction in public places, and that what A thinks is okay, B may well not. I’ve come full circle back to what I said above about people keeping personal remarks to themselves, I guess.

coldharbour // Posted 20 August 2010 at 3:40 pm

I wasn’t inferring everybody where I lived or where I live now subscribed/subscribes to a uniform mode of behavior based on uniform ideas about social interaction, I was making a comment on how most people I met communicated with each other on a day to day basis. I know lots of people from ‘The North’ down here and to be honest I’ve not met anyone who doesn’t share the ‘general’ opinion I stated in my first post, I’m sure there are people who think otherwise I happen not to have met any of yet. Pointing out a prevalent mode of behavior (within a demographic) should not be conflated with making generalizations about said demographic, especially when ideas about prevalent modes are not applied to individuals, from being an academic anthropologist for eight years I’ve learned that collating information about cultural modes/norms should never be about individual behavioral reductionism.

Helen G // Posted 20 August 2010 at 3:45 pm

Thank you for the clarification.

Sarah // Posted 20 August 2010 at 5:08 pm

The point here though is not striking up conversations with strangers, but inappropriate intrusiveness.

Most of the time I’ll happily strike up/engage in conversations with strangers at bus stops, in shops, etc. But there is a world of difference between chatting about neutral subjects like the weather, or a shared frustration with the appalling bus service, etc. and being expected to disclose private information simply to satisfy someone else’s curiosity.

“Not thinking” is NOT an excuse for a grown adult to act in an insensitive and intrusive way towards another person. People SHOULD think about how their actions impact on others; that’s what a civilised society is about.

Neither is curiosity an excuse – there are loads of things that I am curious about, but I do not put my desire to satisfy my curiosity above someone else’s right to peace and privacy; it would be rude and insensitive to do so.

Basically, I try to treat other people as I would like to be treated.

coldharbour // Posted 20 August 2010 at 5:32 pm

“But there is a world of difference between chatting about neutral subjects like the weather, or a shared frustration with the appalling bus service, etc. and being expected to disclose private information simply to satisfy someone else’s curiosity”

I understood this difference clearly, thats the very reason I stated my post was “On a more general point” as opposed to being being a riposte to Phillipa’s article.

Sarah // Posted 21 August 2010 at 11:50 am

Coldharbour, please don’t misunderstand me – my comment wasn’t aimed at you specifically; I just wanted to add to the discussion generally :-)

Kristin // Posted 21 August 2010 at 1:07 pm

Helen G, and Sarah, exactly!

Miranda // Posted 21 August 2010 at 5:27 pm

Coldharbour, for goodness sake! Have a day off.

earwicga // Posted 21 August 2010 at 7:12 pm

coldharbour – I understand exactly what you mean. Huge difference between where I live now (NW Wales) to SE England where I used to live. People *do* talk to each other here. It wasn’t something I particularly noticed either way when I lived in London though. I guess it depends on the person more than the area ultimately.

I haven’t experienced what Phillipa describes so I have to take her word for it and thanks for pointing it out in this post. Lesson learned.

Helen – I am sorry about the street harrassment. It is truly gross.

Horry // Posted 21 August 2010 at 9:17 pm

Without disagreeing with the article in any way, this has also set me thinking about the way in which strangers respond to information they haven’t wanted or expected. For instance, my brother is mentally and physically disabled and has never worked or had a relationship. Sometimes people ask what they think are benign questions – e.g. what does your brother do? – and while I’m not about to offer up our whole family history, I see no reason to lie since I’m hardly ashamed of him or his life. But it’s clear many people feel uncomfortable with my response and would prefer it if I had lied, and somehow this does make me feel shameful, as if I’m responsible for their embarrassment. Still, I’ve had worse responses than mere discomfort (someone once asked me about my brother and then laughed at my answer, saying that his illness and my own, rather conspicuous anorexia would be great for Trisha or Jerry Springer). While we should stand up to people asking intrusive questions, I think there’s also a point to be made about everyone’s right to share honest information voluntarily. If there’s one abbreviation I really hate due to its potential to make people feel rubbish, it’s got to be “TMI”.

Horry // Posted 21 August 2010 at 9:30 pm

Sorry to be posting again immediately but I was trying to think of a way to articulate the connection between the questions Philippa talks about and the responses I mentioned. But five minutes later I thought of this: why do the people least affected by a particular condition – such as disability – assume they should get to set the terms and level of an interaction? I think it’s really an assumption of superiority, and I also think this comes through even if that person’s immediate response is one of embarrassment or pity (although to be honest, I hadn’t actually thought of any of this before I read this piece!).

Sarah // Posted 21 August 2010 at 10:47 pm

Seconded ^^

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