Stigma. It sounds like the name of a shit superhero, doesn’t it? Like an ASDA smart price crime fighter who’s mum made their costume out of a pair of old curtains with the aid of a dusted-off sewing machine. Someone who’s catchphrase would be something derogatory.

But for many people stigma is a real, scary and irritating part of their everyday lives, not something laughable and dismissible. Something strong and undefeatable. Like Batman or Thor.

Every illness has a stigma. Some – unfortunately, and inexplicably – more than others. People with mental illness, for example, are often seen as ‘weak,’ something to be avoided. Like its catching.

There are a number of ‘acceptable’ illnesses in society. Ones that – although completely horrifying (I am by no way belittling these illnesses, I have lost loved ones to serious illness like cancer. I know that shit is terrifying and unstoppable) – come with some degree of sympathy, of understanding.

It’s like we have a tier system of acceptable ailments, diseases and illnesses. Anything that effects the mind, or is an addiction, anything as a consequence of sex, anything that can be chalked up to “lifestyle choices” or relegated to a particular gender – no matter how common and prevalent – is a green light for judgement.  These people don’t deserve sympathy. Some illnesses attract ridicule, judgement and/or just sheer ill-advised, incorrect nastiness. Some take on the persona of something bigger – something terrifying – because people refuse to talk about them. They become something “other” when really, deep down, we know – statistically speaking – that the likelihood of not having such an issue/illness is smaller than actually having it.

Oh, the terrible irony.

Yet these are the ones that make people not want to live.

That’s right. You heard me correctly. In my world that’s just not on. That’s not humanity. That’s bullshit. It’s like being in that canteen in Mean Girls and being told “you can’t sit with us.” Society doesn’t have time for you. Keep quiet, get it together, and for the love of god don’t mention what’s going on in polite company.

Let me tell you this. You can sit with us. Pull up a pew.

But even those more sympathetic illnesses come with truck load of stigma. For example, factors contributing to breast cancer are cited as including the decision not to have children, taking oral contraceptives or choosing not to breast feed.

It’s not just illness that gets people’s backs up.

Being single comes with a side order of stigma. As does choosing not to have children. Recently there was a writer in her twenties who was absolutely crucified via social media (Ah, social media. People in their pjs taking each other out with cheap pop-shots. Sigh) because she, god forbid, wanted to be sterilised. WHAT? I hear you all cry. How dare this woman take ownership of her own body in a responsible manner? THIS IS THE MOST HIDEOUS THING SHE CAN DO! Quick get the torches! Round up the villagers! It was like she’d said it was ok to kill her next door neighbour and bury him under the patio.

“Oh you’ll change your mind once you get older,” I am constantly told about my lack of desire to procreate. “You don’t know what you want right now.” (My mere thirty years on this planet does not qualify me to make such decisions about the rest of my life – my apologies for thinking any different).

NOTHING makes me more furious than being told that I don’t know what I want. I went on a date a while ago with a man who had two children.

“Oh but I know a woman who got to the age of 50 and regretted not having children,” he said over tapas. “They’re the greatest thing you could ever have in your life. The greatest thing that could happen to a woman.”

Well, fair enough, mate, I thought, sipping the dregs of my merlot and checking the next available train out of there. I am glad you love your children. That’s how it should be. Children are wonderful. Some of my favourite people in the world have produced wonderful – and adorable (I am not a monster) – offspring and I adore them and marvel at the wonderful job they do as mothers and fathers. I am in awe of these women and men. I respect these people. I respect their choice.

And what about the single women who want babies? They are seen as desperate, trapping men in their webs of sexual deceit like the black widow of singledom. I joke, of course, but still I have witnessed this happen with friends. God forbid a woman who is vocal about eventually wanting children should utter this at any point. And a man who wants to give up the single-life – the Zoo and Nuts glamorous, shagathon of a singlelife (come on guys, we all know the reality of Netflix and Chill is just that. Netflix and falling asleep before 10 pm. We all do it) – just what are you thinking? How you actually want to be a father?!

But what, exactly, is wrong with me saying that I don’t think it’s for me? Or that I haven’t decided yet? What’s wrong with my choice? It’s like, I have friends who are accountants or work in IT or whatever, and while I see that they love it, I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do less.

Who’s right in this scenario?

No-one?

Both of us?

They are our choices because, get this, it’s a free world and 2016, baby.

My theory? People always like an “other.” Since time immemorial. Something to compare ourselves to, pit our sense of self against. Act as a warning. It’s what helps us make sense of the world. Don’t do this because this might happen. Might.

This, they say – holding up the example like a baby Simba in The Lion King – is what you get if you’re not careful. Not careful? If we wanted to be truly careful, we’d have to go around like Jake Gyllenhall in Bubble Boy (Ah, be still my beating teenage heart).

“Oh that would NEVER happen to me,” they say.

That’s disgusting. That’s ridiculous. That’s awful. How dare they? Oh, they deserve it. That’s what you get. That’s not normal. I don’t have that. I can’t possibly put myself in that position. I’m stronger than that. Your reaction is not normal. Whore. Crazy bitch. That’s what you get for leading that lifestyle. Man up. Stop being dramatic. Ewwww.

Why do we think it’s ok to act like this? Why do we think it’s ok to joke about things that, statistically and probably, will affect someone who is listening/watching/reading? Someone you love? Probably, I dare say, one day, it will impact your life. What will you say then?

Lets take a look at feminism. Everyone’s favourite scapegoat. The majority of people I know – my sixty-something father included – realise the importance, relevance and necessity of feminism.

So where does the fear come from? Why do men still have to encompass that 1950s ideal of masculinity? Why do they have to “man up”? Why can’t they be seen to cry? Surely the increased incidence of suicide – THE BIGGEST KILLER IN MEN UNDER 30, FFS – should be acting as a big red, NEON light that something isn’t quite right?

Why do women have to encompass ideals of femininity and when they exist outside these realms, or simply reject the nonsense of it all, are they to be vilified? Hounded on social media? Told to suck a dick? Threatened with rape? *but MEGA LOLS its just a joke*

*updated 10 April 2016 The recent “Shout your Status” Twitter hashtag backlash is a good example of this attitude. Although 80% of haters on the internet are trolls looking to piss someone, anyone, off, I was surprised by the backlash from ordinary folk too. And a hell of a lot of girl vs girl mud-slinging.

It was set up by sex writer and sexual health activist, Ella Dawson, who encourages people not to be frightened or ashamed of a sexual health status, sexual preference or sexual history. She calls for better sex educated and the eradication of stigma. Pretty cool, right? (Actually, go see for yourself and read her blog here. She’s a great writer and I applaud the work she does.)

Well, some people took the bait and happily brandished their support or began a discussion, but…

….the majority? Well, they went in all guns blazing with the anti-feminist stance: “whores,” “sluts,” and my personal favourite, “disease ridden degenerates engaging in morally questionable perversions.” Like, really that word is so archaic it belongs in a dusty museum, but the sheer level of description made me chuckle. The rape and death threats, and tweets urging people to commit suicide that followed, did not.  

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It just made me feel terribly sad that we feel the need to hate on each other so vehemently and publicly! It also made me afraid of how severely and terrifyingly uneducated  and ignorant people are when it comes to sexual health.

The solution?

Honestly? I don’t know. The conversation in itself is pretty important. Perhaps just talking about it might reduce the problem. Get it all out in the open. Like bad feeling between friends. You fight and then realise both of you were being colossal idiots.

Stigma itself is defined as follows:

stigma

[ˈstɪɡmə]

NOUN a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person:

 

Disgrace is such strong terminology.

I mean, how do we think that this sort of attitude is helpful? How do we not realise that its increasingly dangerous to keep spewing out these notions? Like venom. Its paralyzing. And wholly untrue.

I, for one, am going to live my life without giving into stigma. I don’t accept it.

Quite frankly, it’s a load of fear-induced nonsense. I can’t be arsed to spend the precious time I have on this planet giving a fuck about what other people think they should think, what they think they should fear.

I urge you all to join me.

Reject stigma. It’s stupid. Pointless. Harmful. Invented. Unoriginal.

Have you ever felt stigmatised for an illness, belief or because of your sexual status/orientation? How are you fighting back? Do you feel the best way to fight stigma is to shout back, or do you think ignoring comments works best? How do you deal with your haters? Let me know. Discussion is key to breaking stigma!

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