Social and Moral Panic

I stumbled across this public denunciation of well-educated women who choose to become homemakers recently, and while it’s not substantively different from most other denunciations of homemaking as a career choice, there was an aspect of it which I considered quite relevant to neurodiversity and psychiatric liberation.

I’m not really going to engage with the anti-homemaker argument here, because anti-homemaker arguments are too dishonestly slippery and elusive to pin down enough to effectively rebut. Homemakers are somehow simultaneously too lazy and selfish to work a real job, while also somehow being oppressed and exploited for unpaid labor. A typical debate between a homemaker and an anti-homemaker tends to look a bit like this:
Homemakers are coerced by a patriarchal system into sacrificing their career ambitions and relegating themselves to the lowly domestic sphere.
“But I prefer homemaking to the pressures of a high-demand career.”
You’re selfishly choosing your own comfort over doing meaningful work to improve the world.
“But homemaking is actual hard work, not unproductive sloth.”
Because you’re being exploited by patriarchy for unpaid labor instead of being free to fulfill your dreams!
“But this is fulfilling my dreams.”
How dare you prioritize your own dreams above your duty to the workforce!

And on. And on. And on.
Every defense against the charge of selfish laziness is interpreted as an admission on the charge of oppressed victimhood, and every defense against the charge of oppressed victimhood is interpreted as an admission on the charge of selfish laziness. Until critics can at least agree on whether I’m a lazy, selfish, unproductive, non-contributing leech, or whether I’m an abused, oppressed, brainwashed, stifled victim of the patriarchy, I can hardly be expected to rebut both contradictory claims at once, especially with my feeble atrophied homemaker brain.

So instead of focusing on that, I’m going to focus on this one portion:

Why aren’t women who drop out of the paid workforce being treated for depression, or at least urged to get counseling before they go? Just imagine the social and moral panic if a large number of upper middle-class men between the ages of 30 and 55 decided that they didn’t want to work. Here’s a useful tip: if you have a college education and unemployment seems like a good idea, seek treatment. If you are educated for and capable of a decent job, the disinclination to work should be seen as a symptom of an underlying problem, not a lifestyle “choice.”

This reminds me of a common anti-homeschooling argument, at least a common anti-homeschooling-of-neurodivergent-children argument—the “but how will your child get services?” argument (specifically in reference to psychological and behavioral therapy). The notion that, separated from the artificial stresses and burdens of the school environment, a child might no longer have psychological or behavioral problems (or that his psychological and behavioral differences may no longer need to be constructed as “problems”) is seen as… cheating, somehow. Changing one’s environment is a violation of what ought to be the natural order of things. If your child is miserable or ill-suited to his school environment, you’re supposed to change him to make him better fit in. If you’re miserable or ill-suited to your work environment, you’re supposed to undergo psychiatric treatment to change yourself into a better and more willing worker. Daring to walk away from the environment that’s causing you such stress and misery is cause for “social and moral panic.”

In order to maintain the presumed “neutral” status of institutions like schools and workplaces, any conflict between the norms of these institutions and the needs of any individual must be framed as a flaw within that individual. Socially constructed disability must be individualized, framed as an individual defect and a symptom of a medical problem. There can’t possibly be a problem with our school or our workplace or our culture, so there must be a problem with you. You need counseling. You need medication. You need treatment. You need a cure. You are broken, disordered, damaged, ill. YOU are the problem.

In a culture that accepts these messages as received wisdom, concepts like neurodiversity, acceptance, the social model of disability, educational freedom, psychiatric liberation, access and accommodation, mad pride, and disability pride are fundamentally radical in the true sense. These overlapping movements offer variations of the opposite view: We are not the problem. Your institutions are the problem. Your social norms, your cultural values, your schools, your workplaces are the problem. Fix those things, not us.

So, as a neurodivergent homemaker who would probably have a nervous breakdown if forced to work the traditional 9-to-5, I wish to offer the opposite advice of this writer—if you are so miserable that you are contemplating seeking counseling or other treatment for depression, and it is at all financially feasible for you to do so, consider quitting your job instead. If your child is so struggling in school that you are considering psychological or behavioral therapy, and it is at all feasible in your family, consider a different educational path instead. If your living space, your social space, your family, or any other aspect of your environment is causing you pain, depression, anxiety, trauma, or unnecessary suffering, before you consider enmeshing yourself in the medical model of the psychiatric industry and accepting the premise that you are defective, consider first doing whatever you can to change your environment. Make psychiatric treatment (including behavioral and psychological therapy) the last resort, not the first. Entertain the radical notion that maybe your brain isn’t defective. Maybe your job just sucks. Saying so is worth the social and moral panic.

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One Response to Social and Moral Panic

  1. M Jones says:

    I agree completely. I’m certain that there are many who would assert that your thoughts are simply an attempt to use intelligent writing to justify laziness and a refusal to conform. Happens to me all the time.

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