…Of A Lesser Goddess?


  1. I read an article on the impossibility of enforcing Affirmative Action in academic enrollment. Even if racial or cultural questions are not legally permitted to be asked, admissions officers can assume a great deal simply by the applicant’s name, home address, high school demographic, parents’ colleges (or lack thereof), extracurricular memberships, and so on. Therefore, impartiality is essentially a myth.  Since it’s the academic job hunt season, when I need to decide at what point in the process I will reveal my deafness, the similar difficulties in enforcing ADA* laws (and in attempting to conceal a ‘disability’ until I’ve had a chance to demonstrate what I can actually do) immediately struck me.  You can’t legislate equity if people in power don’t actively, genuinely want it.  The only thing these laws can do is to give some recourse in situations where discrimination is utterly blatant and ironclad, with witnesses, and such situations are depressingly easy to sidestep.
  2. I had yet another e-mail snafu this week.  E-mail (or text messaging) is my phone, my primary mode of communication.  I had intended to write a strong argument, to build a case.  The response, as it so often is, was that my message was ‘angry’.  Hearing people want to communicate in the only way that’s comfortable for them, by voice, so they can make judgments on, or be reassured by, tone and inflection. (A huge part of one faculty job interview I had last year was not a discussion of my accomplishments or abilities, but focused instead on the fact that it was so frustrating for ‘them’ to communicate with me.  I was told, “I never can tell what you’re thinking!”  What I was thinking, at least during that ordeal, was “Hey! Read…My…Words.”) I used to think that e-mail was the great equalizer, that it leveled the playing field.  Not so, in a hearing world.  (And, I have found that many educators, like doctors who make terrible patients, often refuse to be educated.)
  3. My ‘el novel’ this week (I devour one or two a week while commuting) is “Talk Talk”, the first thing I’ve ever read by T. Coraghessan Boyle.  It’s about a deaf woman who becomes a victim of identity theft.  Boyle writes painfully accurate descriptions of a voice that isn’t heard by the speaker herself: “…voice like an electric drill…even hollower and more startling than usual…toneless…chopped and elided syllables…”  You get the idea (and I’m only on page 117).  I can’t really hear my voice. I feel it in my throat and skull.  I’m often asked where I’m from, or what my accent is.  A close friend recently told me, apologetically, that my voice gets sloppy, slurry and ‘low-class’ at times (which made me cringe).  Another friend, a deafened Ph.D. and ADA advocate, constantly recommends speech therapy as our hearing lessens. In an article she wrote last summer, she stated that this is necessary because hearing people most often interpret our voices as projecting either lack of interest in what’s being said, or as…anger.  So, even if I could hear on a phone, I’d be damned if I could, and am damned cuz I can’t. (Add in perplexed, frustrated facial expressions as I try to simultaneously lip-read five or six people who routinely insist on all talking at once, and I’m doubly damned).
  4. As I talk (or e-mail) with far-flung friends about my determination to improve my circumstances, I have heard (or read) several times, “Just be glad you have a job, any job, in these times!”  Sadly, that advice has come exclusively from deafened friends.  The unspoken message here is: we are ‘lesser’…we should settle, be content, never strive or take risks, because we are broken. 

That, I just cannot accept.   I would rather live in constant battle than stagnate in such a fearful, closed existence.  To do that would make me as angry as so many people already think I am.

*Americans with Disabilities Act

3 thoughts on “…Of A Lesser Goddess?

  1. It’s funny — assumptions don’t always pan out, either. I’ve got two stories — one good friend grew up with a single mother in inner-city Atlanta, applied to Harvard (this was before AA, but at the time Harvard was looking for a more racially diverse population), and they invited him up for an expenses-paid look-see weekend. He was quite surprised to find himself at an all-black recruitment weekend, to which he had been invited based on his demographics! (He went to Harvard anyhow.)

    Another one, after Stanford had stopped doing categories and was doing assumptions, wrote in his biographical essay about what it was like to grow up in Africa before moving to the US in high school (his father was a wildlife researcher). They brought him in for an interview and were actually angry to find out that he was not black. He, I kid you not, was told that he had to write the admissions people a letter apologizing for misleading them into thinking his diverse life experiences meant he would contribute to superficial diversity. Crazy stuff 🙂

    (Heck, and my last name’s Radhakrishnan, and my first name’s French, and I’m out-and-out German by ancestry!)

    Not a point about your main point, but a side point to your first point, so hey 🙂

  2. The one problem I’ve seen here, firsthand, is ageism: when I finished grad school in 2000 (and was older than several of my profs!), I applied for a position in Winnipeg, and after two long phone interviews, they sent me a ticket out for an interview.

    When I arrived, they were quite confused — I had been lined up with six different people for 45 minutes each, and without exception, they all admitted that they had expected someone in their early to mid-20s, not mid to late-40s. 🙂

    Needless to say, I didn’t get the job….

  3. Melissa, I think the e-mail problem must not be related only to *hearing* but also to a willingness to engage with what is read or a certain way of connecting with the written word in e-mail (as opposed to other formats). I frequently get myself into hot water with e-mail – although less than I used to do. I take great pains to communicate not just my thoughts but my intended inflections, emphasis, tone, etc etc. What I find is that people often don’t take any of that into consideration when they’re reading e-mail, much less when they’re writing it. More often than not I get told that my e-mails are “too long”, while I am always frustrated by the terseness of other people’s e-mails that leaves me in the dark about the feeling behind the words. I think it has to do with the expectations of the medium, and if we were back in Victorian times writing hand-delivered letters, our writing might be better received. I’m a much better communicator in writing than I am in speaking, unfortunately, and it took me a long time to figure out that it doesn’t count for all that much when it comes to e-mail.

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