Dear Imprudence: Getting It Right

After our inaugural Dear Imprudence column, in which I called out some bad advice, I thought it might be nice to go to the other side of the spectrum, and check out some good advice offered up in an advice column. After all, advice columnists do get it right now and then.

As it turns out, Miss Conduct was here to help. The Miss Conduct column for 22 November featured an entry which was pretty much tailormade for FWD.

Here’s the letter:

Several years ago, my father had a stroke that left him in a motorized wheelchair, with impaired speech and vision. He lives at home and participates in social activities in and out of the home. Twice in the past year my mother has been invited to a function and my father has not been included on the invitation. This is rude and hurtful. My mother thinks she should call and ask if my father was not included as an oversight. But that’s probably not the case, and she’s then just making the inviter squirm. I think she should decline the invitation. What is the right way to respond? J.M. / Framingham

And the response:

You say “making the inviter squirm” as if that’s a bad thing. In my opinion, he or she bloody well ought to be made to squirm a bit. I’m so sorry you and your family have had such experiences.

As to what your mother should do — declining without explanation is, of course, an option, and may be the least emotionally taxing one. But if your mother is up for a bit of genteel social combat, her idea isn’t a bad one. Often, you can best shame people — as well as, paradoxically, give them a graceful way of saving face — by assuming good intent. She could call the inviter and say, “I’m sure you mustn’t have realized, but my husband is capable of attending social events despite his disability.” Then just . . .pause. Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t for a millisecond believe good intent is at work here — even if people are under the mistaken impression that your father can’t socialize, he should still be invited and the decision left to him and your mother as to whether he should attend.

The inviter may then say, “Oh, I didn’t realize,” in which case accepting the lie graciously will establish your mother as a gentlewoman who is not to be messed with. Or he or she might explain that there is an accessibility issue, in which case your mother can decline, saying that she does not attend events that her husband cannot. Any other attempt at explanation can be answered with “I see. We will not be attending.” A married person’s first loyalty is to his or her spouse, and anyone who treats that spouse as less than fully human for whatever reason (disability, race, sexuality) is owed nothing but the coldest courtesy.

All I can say is: PREACH IT, Miss Conduct.

The exclusion of people with disabilities from social spaces is a perennial issue. It sounds horrific to me, but disabled partners really are routinely left off social invitations, and you know what? People should be made to squirm for that. Because it’s totally not ok to just not invite someone’s partner to a social event because the partner is disabled and it’s “inconvenient” or “uncomfortable” or what have you. It’s not an “oversight” when people know that you are in a relationship and your partner is not included in an invitation sent to you.

Now, I don’t know what sort of “functions” this person may have been invited to, but if they were held in spaces which were not accessible…that’s pretty tacky, to issue an invite to the able partner and just leave the disabled partner off. I generally regard people in relationships as people who get invited to things together, even if they don’t necessarily decide to go together, and I can’t imagine holding a function somewhere where someone could not go and then inviting that person’s partner, as though it wouldn’t be a problem. It’s actually…kind of a cold thing to do.

I’m glad that Miss Conduct pointed out that being mannerly does not mean being silent when people are being unpardonably rude.

About s.e. smith

s.e. smith is a recalcitrant, grumpy person with disabilities who enjoys riling people up, talking about language, tearing apart poor science reporting, and chasing cats around the house with squeaky mice in hand. Ou personal website can be found at this ain't livin'.

15 thoughts on “Dear Imprudence: Getting It Right

  1. kaninchenzero: Agree about “gentlewoman”. Very nicely done.

    Huzzah for getting it right. This was the perfect response. People who know you’re in a relationship should damn well know better then to leave your partner off the invite (just a “plus 1” if you’ve forgotten partner’s name). It’s so fucking infantalising; it assumes that you know the ability of the person better than they or their spouse do, because you’re not letting them make the decision for themselves.
    .-= PharaohKatt´s last blog ..Positive Experiences with Disability Activism =-.

  2. I totally agree on not excluding people for being disabled, but on the other hand, this article seems to assume a level of joined-at-the-hip-ness for couples that is seriously alien to me. Do married couples really get invited to everything as a unit? What if they have separate interests and friends and so on? Personally I’m used to being invited to most things as an individual, so the idea of that being bad is freaking me out here.

  3. Don’t freak out, Kerry. Everyone’s different about what they want/need for themselves and their relationship.

    But the context of the letter is that it’s bothering both the letter writer and hir mother that hir father isn’t getting included in invitations, and “function” has an implication of formal function, such as maybe a wedding or a dinner party.

  4. @ kerry – I don’t know where you live, but in scotland, if you are inviting someone to a function (such as dinner/a concert/a ceilidh – obvious things such as a girls’ night out are excepted) then you extend the invitation to their significant other.

    Rock on, Miss Manners.

  5. I forgot to add – it’s considered polite to do this, which just makes the behaviour of these people even stranger and more rude to me. Of course, this could just be a cultural issue.

  6. What are these people thinking (the ones issuing the invitations)? Assuming it’s an event couples would normally attend together, the only reason you’d stop inviting one partner was if they’d split up (and maybe not even then if you were friends with both) or if they’d died. So leaving the disabled partner off the invitation is basically treating them as if they’re dead. And if that isn’t rude I don’t know what is.

    The advice was awesome – I hope the mother takes it up.

  7. That’s excellent advice for an awful thing, IMTABO. I can’t understand why you wouldn’t invite both halves of the couple to an event/function that is welcoming both halves of other couples. It’s very rude and extremely demeaning for the person being ignored, I think.

    (Of course, another extreme is like what happened to my grandmother when I was living with her – someone called to talk to my grandfather, wouldn’t talk to her, and then was more than a little flustered when she informed him (the caller) that her husband had been dead for twenty years, so if he wanted to talk to the “head of the household” he would have to talk to her. /off-topic)
    .-= Caitlin´s last blog ..Srs post is srs =-.

  8. Kerry – I had wondered about that as well, as whilst it depends very much on the event and this would never happen at a family occasion, it’s not uncommon for one of my parents to receive an invitation for them alone. That said, from the letter-writer’s feelings about hir father being excluded, it sounds as if an invitation for just one parent was inappropriate here, and in that case the advice is spot on.

  9. Along similar lines, those of us whose impairments vary can sometimes lose social contacts because others are “taking care” of our access needs without understanding them.

    There have been people who’ve hesitated to invite me over because their house has stairs. Yes, I use a power wheelchair, but I can also walk: if I’m welcome, let me know, and I’ll decide based on my capabilities on that day.

  10. Yes, this, Jesse the K. People have sort of stopped inviting me to things because I usually say no, so they assume I will always say no, and it makes me very sad. Because sometimes I might say yes! Or I might say “yes, if X or Y can happen.” It’s unconscious exclusion and it’s not meant to be hurtful, but it creates social isolation.

  11. Jesse the K – I know it’s not up to you to tell somebody your abilities, but I don’t know if someone in a wheelchair can walk up a couple steps or not, unless we’ve been friends so long that we’re comfortable kvetching about our health problems together.

    I think if I had an event in a place without decent handicapped access, I would put that information on everyone’s invites. “BTW – there are a few steps, we have X number of benches, please call if you have any questions.”

    As for my house, I guess I wouldn’t assume someone who used a wheelchair couldn’t walk and say, “Do you want to meet at my place or yours? My house probably isn’t wheelchair friendly.” That way they could tell me what they can do if they want or ask what is wrong with the house. (Not a hole in the wall! We fixed that one!)

  12. As I recall, Miss Conduct tends to do well on a lot of fronts, including disability and fat awareness.

    The core of her message seems to be that oh-so-simple thing we all ask for: treating people as PEOPLE, with respect and decency. It’s really a pity that more advice columnists don’t use that as their foundational principle.

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