This is a bit of a tangent, but I think it’s relevant. Within disability theory there are two models: the medical model and the social model. The medical model says that disability is caused by a medical impairment, for example being unable to walk, for example, makes you disabled because you are less mobile than someone who can walk. The social model says that it’s not that you can’t walk that’s the problem, it’s that we’ve designed our society to only be accessible to those who can walk.
This piece gives a really clear explanation of the model.
While the model is obviously about disability, I really think its arguments have relevance to the efforts people and organisations like Ada Lovelace Day are making to try and increase diversity in areas like STEM which are traditionally very monocultural.
A problem I’ve had with the focus on work-life balance - as one example - is that it focuses on women as mothers. I can see why - it’s an ‘easy’ target, it’s hard to object to wanting women to be given time to care for their children and it’s something where a win would make a big difference to a lot of people. However, just because you don’t have kids doesn’t mean you don’t want to have a work-life balance and by framing it as something that only those ‘deserving’ of it’ means that there are then people ‘undeserving’ of it.
The social model of disability focuses on integrating the needs of people with disabilities into the society. So, putting ramps in place for those with wheelchairs, using stop announcements on buses for blind people, and so on. Some people will argue that this is giving disabled people special treatment, but it’s not. For one thing, it’s creating a level playing field, not advantaging disabled people over non-disabled people, and for another (and this is the key point for my argument), these adaptations help more than just the disabled people. Those ramps help people with pushchairs or suitcases or anything on wheels, and they help those who simply struggle with steps. Those bus announcements help not only blind people but people new to the area who aren’t sure where there stop is, people who get anxious using public transport and so on. In other words, by changing the way society works it not just benefits those who the adaptations are aimed at but helps many others too.
Why am I putting this here? Well, it’s the “I suggest you put up with it” aspect. We ask people to put up with things instead of asking if they might not be better being changed. We don’t notice all the unnecessary steps until our mobility is reduced, and we don’t notice the number of people staring at women’s breasts until they stare at ours. Instead of saying ‘put up with it’ we should be asking why we need those steps, why we need those pervs?
I know that societal change is difficult and small steps are often more achievable than giant leaps but I wanted to put the idea out there that learning from the social model and its implications might be a good idea. We can fight for women to have flexible working hours to be able to look after their kids, but we would all benefit from that flexibility and maybe by highlighting the benefits to all we’d get more support from more quarters than we currently do.