It’s an age old question: which sex has a harder time of it: men or women? At first blush, it seems superficial and sophomoric, but add having a disability into the mix and it becomes a much deeper and more complex question. Although I am not simplistic enough to try to answer such a simple question in general terms, I will tell you based on my experience that I believe disabled men have a more complicated road to navigate.
Society has set up norms for both men and women. It is generally accepted that women will be weaker and more vulnerable than men. As such, it is perfectly acceptable for a woman to ask for assistance and get it easily. Men, however, must project confidence and self assurance at all times. We all know men who we think are wimpy, wussy, and just plain nerdy, and we just don’t want them to be our friends. Aside from being a journalist, I am also an advocate for the disabled community. I find that I am more apt to ask for assistance when it involves another disabled person. Yet, I am more hesitant to even ask for help in opening a door for myself.
For a man, confidence is key. Ask any able bodied man how they feel about themselves and most will freely tell you that they are THE MAN! No matter what they look like, dress like or how much money they make they will tell you that they are THE MAN. Most disabled men have difficulty functioning as THE MAN outside of their disabled circle and projecting that confidence to the able bodied world.
As a person with a disability, it has been even more difficult for me to succeed in the able bodied high tech world of journalism. Growing up, there were no disabled journalists for me to emulate.
Confidence was something that had to come automatically. From day one, I had to project to my editor, co workers and colleagues that I was this “large and in charge figure”, who was not afraid and could confidently go out and report in any environment.
In retrospect, it seems silly that I refused to acknowledge that there were stories that were more difficult for me to cover. It is not uncommon for somebody who is not disabled to have a house that is not accessible to a wheelchair. So, pretending to myself and to others that going to interview someone whose family member was just killed in a car accident, in a house that had two steps to get in, was just plain stupid. I guess those are some of the things we do to make ourselves feel normal. The ironic thing, is that in my attempt to feel independent and as if I didn’t need help I ended up feeling more vulnerable and less in control. Vulnerability is not something that disabled men deal with well but being a male and feeling and acting helpless is not something we enjoy.
Another consideration for disabled men is the desire to always be in control. The issues of self control and wanting to always be in control, have been a recurring theme in my life. For example, one area where I have control is behind the wheel of my vehicle. I determine everything. I am the master of my fate. When everything else goes awry, I know that is my constant. It is all up to me.
It is important for disabled men to project that control and not be perceived as an angry, screaming lunatic when something frustrates us. For this reason, I tend to keep my emotions in check, to the point where I wonder if people feel I lack passion. Do I admit to myself and others my own weaknesses by asking for help? Or do I continue to be frustrated when my disability prevents me from gettng the results I want? It’s an endless struggle for disabled men like myself to be THE MAN!