For the autistic community who are active on Twitter, the hashtag #BoycottToSiri will be a familiar sight. 'To Siri With Love' is a book by Judith Newman that was released recently and is a New York Times bestseller. Newman writes about her life with her twin sons, one of whom, Gus, is diagnosed as autistic. In short, members of the autistic community have rallied against this book because of many problematic statements she makes in the book which they feel are detrimental to the autistic community.
In case you've missed the outcry, here are some quotes from 'To Siri With Love':
'My friend consulted with her kids about their place in her book. I did not. This is both selfish and necessary.'
'Do I want my son to feel self-conscious and embarrassed? I do. Yes. Gus does not yet have self-awareness, and embarrassment is part of self-awareness. It is an acknowledgement that you live in a world where many people may think differently to you. Shame humbles and shame teaches.'
'Nobody really thinks they have to teach their child about sex. I mean, not really... Kids learn the basics of reproduction, what goes where, and then their natural curiosity takes over.'
'When I think of Gus in a sexual situation it generally has a 'Benny Hill' soundtrack. And anything with that music does not end well.'
'I want to understand what he's thinking. Is he thinking?'
... and the jewel in the crown...
'I will insist on having medical power of attorney, so that I will be able to make the decision about a vasectomy for him after he turns 18.'
There is a lot in this book to make you recoil. Judith Newman, when questioned on Twitter about some of the issues, mainly by autistic people, has responded defensively. To sum her response up, she tweeted:
'Beginning to think well meaning people of #actuallyautistic are actually enemies of free thought and free speech. Which is not so good, coming from a group who say they've been silenced.'
I can no longer find this tweet, so perhaps she has deleted it.
It's in my nature to think of every possible side that I can in an argument, and I rarely believe that people's intentions are malicious. I certainly don't believe that Newman wrote this book with malicious intent.
However. We are allowed to be angry. Even it wasn't written with malicious intent. Even if Judith Newman has changed her mind on some aspects of the book (which she apparently has). Even if she wants the best for Gus. We can still be angry. And it's important to be angry. Because that's how change is initiated.
If, as people who oppose this book or certain aspects of it or even a single, very damaging, sentence of it, we sat back and said, "Okay, this book has some serious issues, but there were bits of it that were fine and I'm sure she meant well," what would happen? Nothing.
Anger is part of the history of societal change. Power structures, in this case of neurotypical people over neurodivergent people, do not change if there is no impassioned movement. Otherwise it's understandable but inevitable that change would not occur. Power and privilege feel good, even if you aren't aware that you're in a position of power and privilege. And it very often has to be very specific. Otherwise, your observations are called into judgement and dismissed as generalisations (and even when they are specific they are still called into judgement and dismissed for other reasons).
'Disabled people are treated poorly!' we cry.
'Nonsense!' they respond. 'Look! Here is an accessible toilet, there is a ramp next to the stairs!'
'But look at this book,' we persist, through gritted teeth, 'which is a bestseller and yet says these very offensive things.'
'But she loves him and is doing the best she can, and poor her for having a disabled son, and the book is actually great in other places, and did we mention Jon Stewart thinks it's wonderful? You're just being oversensitive!'
Surely it's obvious that for change to happen, there has to be uproar. There has to be noise and outrage and anger. Because even a single sentence that dehumanises an autistic person in a book that is a 'bestseller' is worth being angry for.