Today and over the last week, I’ve been thinking about my learning curve through different aspects of social right movements and causes. For example, I’ve been thinking about how people have different experiences of the same thing, and trying to learn from that can be confusing, but ever so rewarding when you realise one day that you ‘get it’ more than you used to. Over time, my views have developed as I get a fuller view of how things affect different people. About nine years ago, I didn’t understand my place in the larger scheme of ‘privilege’; especially in the context of feminism.
Now I embrace intersectional feminism – if feminism can’t adapt to the myriad differences within the definition of ‘women’ then I feel that I have to develop my own brand of feminism – a feminism that is intersectional and inclusive. What has changed from the first time I learnt about feminism – in my A-Level Sociology class – to now? I learnt a lot from my lecturers doing my Sociology BA, but a hell of a lot more from doing my MA in Women’s Studies – not so much from the course itself (although that helped!) – but from the women I was studying with. Each one of them brought her own experiences to our class discussions, to our friendships. I learnt about what it was like for women in Iraq from one of them, and all about how to fight hard for what you believe in from my friend fighting a campaign with the YUSU (York University Student Union) to stop the women only aspect of the YUSU Women’s Committee from being threatened. I learnt what it meant to embrace difference.
Once I began learning BSL Stage 2 from a proud and strong Deaf woman, I began to feel proud and strong myself. I already knew within myself that BSL is a language, and learning it is hard, simply because humans find learning language hard. It has it’s own grammatical structure like that of French, Spanish and Japanese – and we find it hard to understand and learn because some of us find language hard to learn. Switching between English and BSL is an admirable thing – and people who are Deaf using BSL should not be seen as somehow linguistically poorer than people who know English – or French for that matter.
I see this as an important issue that always, always needs to be stressed. People assume that BSL is miming or broken down English, when in fact it is equal to English – so descriptive – with context the most important thing. People have their own style of signing, just as they have their own style of speech. Words are the same, but generations and accents change the way those words are spoken. Language is a rich thing, spoken or signed. It makes me understand that deaf children who sign have a world of language rolled out before them. Stopping them from signing means that language acquisition can break down – affecting literacy. After all, if we were told not to speak English at a young age, and then told to learn French later on in life, we wouldn’t be able to. We would only learn fragments.
Who has taught me this? My BSL teacher, my Deaf friends, listening to their stories and learning from them about what language means to them. Learning BSL has taught me that literacy is not about speech or ‘writing right’ or depriving ourselves of sign language. Literacy is embracing bilingualism, total communication, and using all the tools available to teach children to read and write. Reading and writing are the essential component of literacy, and I think its incredible when children are encouraged to be bilingual; it’s the same as learning another language – the translation is difficult, but nobody’s perfect unless they’re a native, or are proficient in learning new languages.
I’ve learnt the hard way about class and money – about how one day things can be fine, you have enough money, and the next day they’re not. When you find yourself struggling to help your parents keep their sanity as the very real threat of losing the roof over your head materialises. When people make assumptions about you because of the way you seem – perhaps because you present yourself well, when you wear nice clothes, but they don’t realise that you always buy discounted clothing or even that what you’re wearing is old, and starting to fray at the edges a bit. I’ve learnt that yes, money is incredibly important, especially when you are struggling, when there is so much you need but don’t have, or can’t afford. Yet it isn’t important.
Love is more important – family is more important. Being positive is important. Not being afraid to ask for help is important. People don’t realise that even if people look happy and seem well off on the outside, they might be nursing a storm inside. I understand about losing monetary privilege, when money struggles take over. No, I don’t know what it’s like to be homeless. I don’t know what it’s like to have no roof over my head. Yet I know what it’s like to have that real fear, that oppression hunting you in the night. It’s not a good or easy lesson to learn. I’ve learnt that I will never take money or home for granted ever again. It’s okay to take money and home for granted, but I prefer to be grateful – grateful and thankful for everything I have.
I’m still learning about what it means to listen to others. I like listening to other people, and sharing ideas and stories. Yet sometimes I allow my impatience or a misunderstanding to get the better of me. Sometimes I interrupt people when I shouldn’t. Interrupting implies that you’re not listening or willing to listen to someone. It’s a bad habit that I need to break, especially with my family. Perhaps its because it comes from my Mum’s side of the family, where everyone interrupts each other. Everyone has their own way of conversing, but interruption is also not a deaf friendly trait. People should ideally listen, and wait until that person is finished before they say what they want to say. Conversation is about listening, for the most part.
My fiancé and I are making our own way of doing things. We live on the top floor of my parent’s house, with a large attic room which has our combined possessions, a desk with two chairs, and a bathroom. People might think its strange that we are getting married and living with my parents – but I think this is a very modern set-up. We simply can’t afford our own place right now. I feel at times that we have to justify ourselves, that people expect certain things of us. I don’t expect a free ride from my parents, and we contribute towards the house and food. I do know of other people who have had to do the same. Rents and house prices in London mean that most things are out of our price range. I’m still learning what it means to be patient, to save, to live with five other people, all of us with our own temperaments, and maintaining independence. I’m also learning that there isn’t anything wrong with being honest, with telling it how it is but also being tactful.
So yes. I’m still learning. I feel that we learn our whole lives – we learn from our mistakes, our difficult times, from other people, to be less judgemental, to work towards an inclusive society. I’ve learnt to accept myself, even if at times I have to work hard to have a positive attitude – happiness comes from ourselves.
Happy Monday – what have you learnt so far?
Learning is not child’s play; we cannot learn without pain. – Aristotle.