Friday, August 13, 2010

Does a jerk brother count as a verbal abuser?

Dear Imprudence is another online advice column deconstruction (we're so unoriginal), with a particular focus on feminism and disability. Recently they posted a review of this July 19 Ask Amy column which interested us, too, since the writer is a high school student:
I feel like I am being verbally abused by my brother, who constantly tells me that I don't do things right...

Whenever he criticizes me, he says things like, "You're lazy." Or he'll say, "If you continue to make these choices then you probably won't have the greatest path you can have in life." His words hurt me and my self-esteem suffers, even if I know he doesn't really mean it. I do believe he loves me for who I am, but this bothers me.
Amy told the writer, essentially, to buck up:
Words do hurt. But they hurt less if you make a healthy choice to let the stuff roll off you that you know isn't true. Your parents should nip this in the bud, but you shouldn't leave your brother in charge of your self-esteem.
Dear Imprudence pointed out an inconsistency: Amy generally agrees with readers' assessments of abuse (as in this recent example), and suggests that Amy has a bias against young people.

Lulu: I was kind of surprised Amy blew her off. She usually errs on the side of calling abuse abuse.

Ashley: Right! Actually, I was impressed. Amy was encouraging the writer to stand up to the bully and not embrace victimhood.

Lulu: Yeah, I like the bit about not giving other people the power to hurt you. But I wouldn't be surprised if she wasn't taking the writer seriously only because she's young, and so is the purported abuser.

Ashley: Well, age does make a difference! We don't really know the extent of what the brother is doing, but I definitely made my sister cry a lot when we were younger. Now we get along great. I got over needing to be Always Right--

Lulu: You sure did.

Ashley: --shush!--and she got over Crying At The Drop Of A Hat. I think we're both better off for the experience. I should check in with her about that...


  1. Maybe she should stop being such a lazy waste of space. Big brothers rule!

    Also, there seems to be a wide disparity in hurtful words here.

    From: "You're lazy."

    To: "If you continue to make these choices then you probably won't have the greatest path you can have in life."

    To me the first seems like an off-handed insult about why she sucks so hard, the second seems to have some genuine concern to it, though it may be a little harshly worded - especially if her current choices are along the lines of blowing or snorting everything she can get her hands on.

  2. That's true, that is an important distinction! Amy, Ashley and I answered on the assumption that the brother's criticisms were largely unfounded, but you're right that, taken alone, "If you continue to make these choices..." doesn't really sound like a glib put-down at all.