If you’re someone who reads blogs written by parents of kids with Down syndrome, you’re probably aware of what’s been going on with GQ. This magazine–which, let’s admit here on a feminist blog, is problematic for lots and lots of reasons–has a current online article called “40 Worst Dressed Cities.” In this articles, they critique cities like Nashville and Omaha for the ways that men in these cities dress.
What makes this something other than just goofy or a waste of time is how they described the city of Boston:
“‘But Boston is the epicenter of prep style!,’ you say? That’s true, but due to so much local in-breeding, Boston suffers from a kind of Style Down Syndrome, where a little extra ends up ruining everything: Khakis!—with pleats. Boat shoes!—with socks. Knit ties!”
When I read this I thought, “Come on, y’all–are you in seventh grade? What the hell makes you think this is funny–or even acceptable?” But I have friends who did more than just think grouchy thoughts: they spoke out. For instance, my friend Brad wrote this to the magazine’s editors:
As a parent of a young child with Down syndrome I feel compelled to point out the DOJ statistic that people with DS are 1.5 times as likely to be the victim of a violent crime, and women with DS are 2 times as likely to be the victim of sexual assault. While stories of people with DS committing a violent crime are few and far between, stories of them as victims of such crimes are quite wide spread. These crime rates follow our society’s poor perception of this group of people; with poor attitudes come poor treatment.
According to your mission statement: “GQ is the authority on men….providing definitive coverage of men’s style and culture. With …award-winning writers, GQ reaches millions of leading men each month. ….. GQ is simply …smarter.”
I note you have just slandered my daughter and her right to be accepted in society to “millions of men” and told them that even in their “smarter, leading culture” it is okay to marginalize and make fun of people with Down syndrome for a cheap laugh.
To see a comment like this from an anonymous person in the comments of an article is one thing, but for it to be printed in a legitimate national magazine catering to well-educated and affluent people is quite scary to a parent who has to struggle just to ensure his daughter maintains her basic rights.
Lastly, I will point out that my 3 year old daughter has spent 750 hours in various therapies, she has undergone open heart surgery at three months, and she has undergone 5 surgeries and 4 other separate week-long hospitalizations in her short 150 weeks on this earth. Each time a nurse came at her with a needle, she cries, but she has fought back with a zest for life that is indomitable. She has worked harder in her first three years of life than most of us do in decades, and she comes back with a smile. I believe the adversity she has overcome and her attitude is quite admirable. But apparently, to GQ, she should be thrown under the bus because someone wore socks with boat shoes?!
He then attaches pictures of his beautiful daughter, one picture from her infancy when she was getting prepped for heart surgery, and one from today, of her delighted smile as she swings on the swingset. Yesterday he got this reply from the editor of GQ and the author of the article:
We received your letter and absolutely understand that we have caused you and your loved ones pain. Hurting anyone’s feelings or being disrespectful or cruel was certainly never our intent, but your letter helped us understand how poorly chosen our words were. What we initially posted was insensitive and ill-informed, and we’ve removed the offensive language from the website. We deeply regret our error in judgment. There is no excuse. We are both very sorry.
Sean Fennessey, editor, GQ.com
John B. Thompson, writer, GQ.com
Other folks got the same letter, and GQ has indeed revised the language on the website. This is an example of the kinds of change that can happen when we think of ourselves as people with a responsibility to speak out against unacceptable behavior.
I think it’s easy for those of us who are concerned about oppression to start feeling tired and overwhelmed, and to roll our eyes and complain to our loved ones about things like the GQ article, but to stop there. I did that! I hadn’t even blogged about it. Last night I asked Brad if I could share his narrative because I find that success stories like this encourage me to speak out. I suspect that Sean Fennessy and John B. Thompson might think twice about how they depict people with cognitive disabilities in the future. This has made a difference.
Meanwhile, Brad is pushing for more: he wants GQ to give a free page of ad space in their next issue to the National Down Syndrome Society or the R-Word organization. And when he’s successful, I’ll post about it here!