Stigmas and me

I am a relative newcomer to stigmas.

As a woman in a male-dominated field (earth science), I ran into discrimination and prejudice, but not into stigma. I also ran into prejudice and discrimination because I looked very young for my age for a long time, but not into stigma. While I was living in the US, or earlier when I was doing fieldwork here and there, I never ran into stigma either.

Then I moved to Britain and things changed dramatically. Now I was a “migrant”. That came with tons of stigmas. There was a special stigma for being perceived as eastern European.

Being a woman did not help.

So in Britain, people did not always believe me when I mentioned my professional background. Some even got angry. Annoyed. Because they thought I was lying. Unfortunately, I shut up in response. I shouldn’t have. But I was taken aback. Appalled. Shocked. Perplexed.

(But there are also many people who are convinced that people who are educated are calculating and manipulative by definition, who prefer to deal with people who lay bricks and make furniture instead. A really nice guy in Florida once said something long those lines to me, though in a nice way, not reflecting badly on me.)

I also learned that there are various stigmas associated with being no longer young, in Britain, particularly if you’re a woman. (I was 44 when I moved to Britain.) This occurs in many countries.

Completely baffling and new to me was the stigma that turned out to be associated with being a single woman, in Britain, however. Chinese culture has it too, so I understand. My own culture used to have it as well, I am sure, but that was a long time ago. Before I was born. In the Netherlands, many of my friends and acquaintances were single and no one had a problem with it.

Being stigmatized isolates you. It keeps you out. In Britain, and probably also in small villages in other countries, it can make people gossip about you and spread rumours about you that lead to even more stigmas. It can make kids target you – perhaps attack you when you sit on a bench, of which news even reaches people on the other side of the world, through Facebook – because they have heard their parents talk about you. Not right in the head. A few fries short of a happy meal. Schizophrenic. Autistic. Learning-disabled. Plain nuts. Pining for a man. Obsessed bespectacled bookworm.

Nope nope nope.

Stigmas disable.

Stigmas are based on delusions in the minds of others.

Stigmas reinforce themselves because they can make the people who are disadvantaged by them highly sensitive to them.

No, no, no, I am not one of “them”. Not a Romanian, not a Russian. I am Dutch, I am Dutch! No, no, no, I do not have a mental health condition. I take eye drops, and I have hay fever!

It’s terribly embarrassing when you find yourself reinforcing the stigmas that you are subjected you, the stigmas that marginalize you, affect your income and your health and your social life, the stigmas that paralyze you in a figurative manner.

But then you understand. It makes you see.

Stigmas destroy lives.

But I found the stigma associated with wearing classic white Reeboks hilarious. (No, wait, that’s a prejudice.)

Earlier this year, I learned that the world now also has a stigma associated with pain – that makes me feel a chill in my heart – as well as a stigma on pain medication. Because pain is invisible. And pain medication has become associated with addiction and there is a huge stigma on that.

There used to be a stigma on cancer. Now cancer patients have to deal with stigmas on their pain and on pain medication, leaving them in the cold. Stigmas can hurt enough without having to deal with untreated severe pain. That idea makes me want to curse.

Now I talk about stigmas in my course…

Cartoon, USA, 1921. “I am the undesirable immigrant” I’m a dirty, lousy bum, full of disease, racial weaknesses, ignorance and hatreds”

Without having encountered them myself, I likely would not have done that because I  knew almost nothing about stigmas until very recently. I paid little or no attention to them.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of bad leadership in the world right now, with some country’s leaders pushing stigmas. Divisiveness.

I wish I had the instant solution for stigmas, but I don’t. I can only help raise awareness.

We need some kind of magical stigma eraser.

I wish we could make all stigmas hilarious, hold our bellies shaking with laughter every time we encounter them.

But I can’t do that with the pain stigma, even though it is utterly ridiculous. What will be next? A stigma on breathing, maybe? Because breathing releases CO2?

There is a stigma on being a singer or musician in some cultures, though sometimes only for women. It is considered sinful. In the past, there has even been a ban on saxophones not being played in classical music. They were seen as the devil’s horns, so to speak.

Stigmas. We all run into them sooner or later. We all get older, for example. In many situations,  you can simply shrug stigmas away. But in many others, it is not that easy to do.

Stigmas may have had their origins in ancient biology once, but they no longer do us any good whatsoever. Let’s get rid of them. There has to be a way to push all stigmas through to their other side. Compassion. Mindfulness. But plain normal respect for all our fellow humans will do. It takes some effort. I am not always good at it either. It’s a two-way street.

Have you found a great way to disable one or more stigmas you are often confronted with and  that impacted your life greatly? Please share it in a comment below. Thanks.