Home Book Collections Problematic Stories of Youth Saviorism Stigmatizing Older Adults

Problematic Stories of Youth Saviorism Stigmatizing Older Adults

via Ashia

The Dragon Thief

Older Adult’s Problem: Physical disability linked with age

Youth Savior Solution: Needing help

The Moral: We’re more effective when we’re abled & youthful

Aaah! I don’t want to write about this one, because Zetta Elliott is the best, I and other than this one nagging thing, I utterly love everything about this book. For accountability reasons though, I have to, because Elliott is one of my lovely and wonderful Patreon supporters.

Here is the problem: That Magic Cure.

The Magic Cure is a deux ex machina (when we can’t come up with a clever solution for how a character gets out of a bind). Folks with disabilities suddenly lose their disabilities. This is supposed to be a good thing – as if being abled is better than being disabled. The Magic Cure is often metered out as a reward for a kind and brave young child. Little Timmy doesn’t need his walker any more, the Blind kid earns his sight, you know the drill.

Imagine, for a moment, if a kickass little girl of color was magically gifted with whiteness. As if her natural identity is some sort of cosmic punishment. Yeah. To those of us with disabilities – it feels a lot like that.

In the case of this book – we have an older woman (‘Auntie’) who uses a walker – and resents the heck out of it. She’s pretty miserable and grouchy and falls into the sad lump waiting to die trope. When Auntie meets a baby dragon, just meeting it suddently gives her a burst of energy “I feel like a girl again.”

It’s not clear whether it’s the dragon’s magic or she just suddenly overcomes her disability and age when presented with a will to live. Either way is problematic.

This is a setup so Auntie can sneak past the non-cool adults and get into some cahoots with kids and dragons. Shedding her identity as older and disabled – presenting as young, and abled, makes Auntie a more powerful character, with increased capabilities to assist our young protagonist. The bias in our cuture tells us that to be effective, you must be young, and you must have strong legs. Which is silly.

Her magic cure just wasn’t necessary.  I’m confident in Elliott’s writing ability that the story would have been more interesting if Auntie had come up with an escape plan that involved slowly inching her way out the door with a walker. That’s the thing about fiction – you can do what you want.

This was a missed opportunity to depict a truly kickass older woman with a disability as powerful, smart, and effective not despite her abilities, but because of them.

But seriously though you should still read the book, the rest of it is flawless.

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3 observations

Adelaide Dupont February 6, 2020 - 1:21 PM

Intellectual humility – a great virtue I learnt late and I learnt hard.

It’s all about letting your self be vulnerable; trusting people know more than you do or at least different things that you do. And not blaming or shaming.

I didn’t really have a handle on humility until I was 28 and in the early 2010s on a site exploring feminism. I think intellectual humility recognizes that you’re in a community of equals that you had a hand in creating too.

And for a long time I thought it was only about appearing/sounding humble and not trying to make other people feel more stupid than they may have felt already.

As as the Eartquakes are realising it is also about experiencing pain and powerlessness and not covering for it.

And kids do start out intellectually humble. You can also just know a little more than them and fight knowledge poverty together and close gaps.

Yes, the ways we do this for and with kids are very often contrived and artificial.
sometimes there is a fear – or the kids experience the fear – what if I really am the smartest person in the room and I don’t know what to do? What if I can’t use this privilege well according to my values? What if my community is cutting me down.

Our elders experience these things too. Still!

And I liked the way you pointed out the ways in which post_truth is analogous to normal developmental experiences of five and seven year olds.

PAternalism/maternalism – and a lot of kids start to be parentified or take on parentified roles at this age. They see their parents’ capabilities decline/that the rents are less empowered in other spheres. And their empathy/sympathy develops.

We do need to find ways to be on the kids’ sides without encouraging paternalism or saviorism. Our seniors take on long and deep views.

Do the Eartquakes spend time with seniors in the neighbourhood?

Ashia February 6, 2020 - 1:55 PM

Lots of thoughts to noodle on! Thank you!

For us – the Earthquakes don’t spend time with _anyone_ in our neighborhood. Because of our disabilities, and our lack of local family or social support, we can’t even go to the grocery store. Their grandparents are too busy for us and don’t have time (or patience) to deal with the hyperactive earthquake. I gave up on leaving the house except for private meetings and picking kids up at the bus stop years ago – the cutting remarks and gasps and evil looks just wear me out. The social calculus is just too much, and I end up having meltdowns. These days, if we’re really in a good space, I can take _one_ kid to the library with me, or both kids to an outdoor event for kids, but only if we have both parents – also hard with both of us working overtime.

If it was more accessible, I’d start with attending intergenerational events at our local library – but those same events aren’t accessible for folks with social disabilities. It would be lovely if we had opportunities to interact with older adults who know and understand neuro disabilities, but alas – the median mortality for folks with our disability is 36. If they haven’t died yet, they’ve survived by becoming reclusive and hiding their disabilities.

Adelaide Dupont February 6, 2020 - 1:32 PM

And about being old and about being shitty – how being old is being used as code for being shitty.

One of the things I regret most int my writing is not promoting the circular economy – clothes and fast fashion are very easy to dismiss as being old.

Furniture is easier for me to represent as being emblatic of an era.

And the whole veteran and vintage circuit – for example, cars!

Then I think of J K Rowling and how she laughs at history. And all the historical fiction I have read/am reading.

And the 94-year-old Japanese woman whose children were captured in North Korea. WHy do I only pay attention to these awesome people when they are dead or dying?

It is ‘t about how we young and younger people can benefit from wisdom – it’s like a quarry if we think that way.

And all the 90+ year olds I have been privileged to live alongside. think too, how seniors are represented in rural and regional communities.


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